In my house, we hated people well-
-spoken, fancy words. Once, Maria Lucília
appeared, the cousin, saying I still don’t know why:
– I was very consternated.
We started to call her ‘the consternated’.
Each time someone appeared on TV to
read poetry or talk of poetry, we turned
off the TV.
Adília Lopes, "Fancy words", translation Christina Chalmers. Published as “Palavras Caras”, Manhã. Lisboa: Assírio & Alvim, 2015. © Adília Lopes e Assírio & Alvim / Grupo Porto Editora.
I like this poem because, firstly, it forces me to confront linguistic doubts and to pick up the dictionary to find out the difference between “consternated” (confrangido) and “embarrassed” (constrangido), reminding me of the consternation I pass through as I hesitate to use the word. To avoid the embarrassment of the hesitation of not knowing which is the right word for the circumstance, I prefer to say, unlike the cousin in the poem, that “I was upset or distressed”.
Secondly, I like this poem because, similar to the poet and her family, I have a strong aversion to the nonsensical use of fancy words, particularly when it signifies an attempt to exercise over others some type of intellectual superiority. In the poem, the family of the poet, in which she is also included, as becomes clear by the use of the first person plural (“we hated”), does not like well-spoken people nor fancy words. Well-spoken people seem to be those who use fancy words, often inappropriately. The disgust is not so much with fancy words as much as with people who simulate eloquence by employing fancier terms, instead of using everyday language. The cousin Maria Lucília, a double-barrelled name, just like the phrase “well-spoken”, personifies supposed eloquence through the line in direct speech, which is separated clearly from the rest of the poem: “ – I was very consternated”.
A progenitor of this poem is the column “Make Prose, Make Rose” (“Fazer Prosa, Fazer Rosa”), of 2001, published in Público. I summon it to this analysis, so that we can read this poem in it, but with a presentation of ideas in reverse order. Adília begins by speaking of the fact that the family does not like poetry and turns off the TV every time that anyone recites poems, to later refer to the mentioned aversion to fancy words, configured in the figure of a well-spoken cousin: “Whenever, on the TV, someone would appear to recite a poem, the sound would be turned off. […] In my house, we all were horrified by fancy words. My cousin Maria Lucinda, when she came here for tea, would say – in relation to what, I don’t know – ‘I was very consternated’. Aunt Paulina soon nicknamed her ‘the consternated’”.
Finally, perhaps the greatest reason to like this poem is the fact of making an association between well-spoken people and a certain type of poetry, not the one Adília practises in this poem. In the house of the poet, well-spoken people, those who declaim poetry or who speak of it on TV, don’t deserve airtime. What made the cousin feel “consternated” – and we will never know if the cousin of the poem and the column used the term correctly – is absolutely irrelevant. What’s interesting is rather the poem’s sarcasm. The three last lines – whose simplicity (see the repetition of words like “poetry” and “TV”) is the polar opposite of the style of well-spoken people – reject the pomposity that many often want to assign to poetry. I read in them an unpretentious poetic program, and an attempt to confer upon poetry a notion of truth. Fancy words which are used by well-spoken people are sometimes a form of cloaking the truth, and too much eloquence is the enemy of good poetry. In turn, to declaim poetry is a haughty gesture, and, better than reciting or speaking of it in a correct manner, is to do it speaking the truth. This poem illustrates, then, the ethical and aesthetic principles of Adília Lopes, which I synthesise in a shortened version of a phrase from the column already mentioned: to write poetry is to not tell lies.
Translation Christina Chalmers
Joana Meirim is a professor at the Catholic University of Portugal. When she was 18 or 19 years old, she wrote and published several poems, which she now regrets. She enjoys poems with a sense of humour, a characteristic that in her opinion defines good poetry.