We don’t ask long questions about the works of our interviewees, nor do we posit any theories about their poetics. Instead, we present our own Proust questionnaire, in order to hear the ideas our interviewees have on poetry, which is no more, no less than the life we all lead. We choose questions which are, for the most time, brief and almost trivial.
On the poet’s birthday, we met in the coffee shop at the Museum of Modern Art. “18.05.1961” is the title of a poem by Eucanaã (from Livro Primeiro) who was born, so the poem goes, “in a pauper’s place,/ where the hospital stood far” (“num lugar pobre,/ onde o hospital era longe”), but from which happiness could be anticipated; this was in fact a topic broached in our conversation and which has been neglected by many poets and critics who tell us we would do better to suspect joy and happy things in life. Because Pessoa’s line holds true – “Mas o melhor do mundo são as crianças” (“But what’s best in the world are children”) – we also talked about poetry for childhood and how writing for children is to write free from censure.
On a sunny Sunday, Chus Pato came from Lalín, where she lives, to Vigo, to talk with Jogos Florais. We chose the deck of the Hotel América for a talk about various subjects, among them mornings reading Montale, how uncomfortable she feels to be spoken to in Spanish when passing through Caminha and how her unexpected adventure in Harvard went. In the end she offered us an unpublished poem that sprang from a dream of being lost in the woods.
We met Michael Longley at Magdalene College (Cambridge University), during lunchtime. Longley had given a poetry reading the day before when he managed to make ‘everyone feel the hairs on their forearms’, which, as will be seen, is a valuable criterion for judging poetry. Whilst having a bite, we talked about orchids, long walks to see otters, poems about animals, patterns, kilts, Carrigskeewaun, and the difference between a translation and a poem.
We met Harryette Mullen in Lisbon thanks to an invitation from Casa Fernando Pessoa. We spoke about writing tanka, teaching poetry and someone who was fired (and then rehired) for using the word “niggardly”. We also talked about discovering unexpected things about one’s family history and suddenly realizing the meaning of clichés like “tighter than Dick’s hatband”. In the end, we learned there is only one instruction to writing poetry: “You can break the rules, but do it with flair and intention”.
We called Rui Caeiro to ask if he would like to be interviewed. Before any assent, came a warning: “I haven’t anything interesting to say. Trust me, this is going to be a flop.” Despite the caveat, he set an appointment with us at the Palácio do Egipto café, and the interview had a bit of everything, save that foreseen flop.
Fleur Adcock kindly received us at her house on a rainy afternoon. We chatted about different topics, such as knowing Alfred Noyes' 'The Highwayman' by heart, quitting cigarettes, certain critics' lack of imagination, bossy editors, poetic discoveries and about learning Romanian and other foreign languages through poetry. We also talked about "human being poets" and the wonderful line “Art's whatever you choose to frame”.
We were welcomed at Luísa Ducla Soares’ house by Queen Margot, an affable cat that has recently left the streets. Luísa Ducla Soares is the author of more than 165 books; her name stands over the gates of one elementary school, one kindergarten and 10 libraries. Maybe all this would not have been possible had she dedicated herself to so-called poetry for grown-ups. Surely in that case she would have never received so many prizes as those she showed us on our way out: a generously-sized room filled with trophies imagined, painstakingly conceived and produced by many hundreds of readers from schools all across the country – material for a proper museum house...
Wendy Cope received us at her house on a slightly cold English morning. We chatted not only about her last book, Anecdotal Evidence, but also about Shakespeare, Eeyore’s failure to write a poem, poor rhymes, whether certain forms match a poem, her dislike for the term “light verse”, funny poems, happy poems, and comprehensible poems. Wendy Cope’s husband and poet Lachlan Mackinnon joined us for a little while and we happily discussed epigrams, Pope and Dryden, before returning to the interview.
We asked Pedro Tamen if he would let us interview him, and promptly received a “yes”. With it came two options: conduct the interview in writing or have it done by someone close to him. The interview took place at his place, and in little more than 23 minutes we got to know a great deal about Pedro Tamen’s views on poetry and how to overcome the pain of talking about oneself. This interview was conducted by our collaborator, Sebastião Belfort Cerqueira.
We met Paulo da Costa Domingos at Galeria Monumental. The author, editor and second-hand bookseller brought a first edition of a book by Herberto Helder he’d just bought and which set the tone for some of the questions about chance encounters with books stuffed with cookie crumbs, unpublished works by Gomes Leal and king Dom Ferdinand II’s drawings. We spend the next hour and a half talking about poems, blunders of literary criticism, the patient work of the reader, “nearly as persistent as that of the writer,” undervalued poets and about authors, such as Cesário Verde, who are not realists.
On September 29, Alberto Pimenta welcomed us to his house, deep in Calçada dos Cavaleiros, on a Mouraria that is no longer what it was in 2000, when he moved there. After climbing some steps we noticed the sign warning “beware of the head bump,” three steps from his door. We took with us a sheet with 20 possible questions and we didn’t expect the 20 answers we received. But Alberto Pimenta asked us to read them and said that, despite the resemblance some shared with TV questions, he would address all of them, anchoring his answers on his life experience, the only thing about which anyone can talk, and not what he had read on books. And this is the interview that was possible to make, an inter-view, as Alberto Pimenta phrased it, a view between reality and fantasy.
On the 14th of August, we met Lorraine Mariner outside the National Poetry Library, at the Southbank Centre in London. We spoke for about an hour about poetry and poets, but also about Ikea furniture, the dress we never had and the musicians we would keep in a basement at our disposal to write and play for us forever.
For our interview, we met at café Danúbio, in Lisbon. The Portuguese poet Adília Lopes was already waiting for us there (she’d arrived at least 20 minutes before the time we agreed on). We brought the questions we prepared, the interview went as planned, but we also talked about her neighbourhood, about poplars and cherry trees, about dreams and nightmares, and about eating cakes before enjoying the beauty of cathedrals.