Estrela D’Ouro’s Fado
I set it up for half past eight
in front of the Cinemateca (Film Library)
I rolled a weed joint
to see if it wore off
only tired song remained
playing in my head
There’s nothing I don’t pick,
chamomiles of nattiness
and I don’t even care for it
The will of the person doesn’t count anymore
It’s the rocks from the sea
It’s things I have seen
and I don’t even deserve this
when it’s the man’s fault
I met you at midnight
at the Estrela d’Ouro (Star of Gold)
it’s over there in Graça (Grace)
on Senhora do Monte (Lady of the Hill)
Pega Monstro. "Fado da Estrela d'Ouro", Casa de Cima, Upset The Rhythm/Cafetra Records, 2017.
I like this poem because it reminds me the best poetry is usually provincial and toponymical. This poem’s virtuosity is enhanced by its opposition to a provincial idea about what counts as poetry, forcing the distinction between two uses of the word “provincialism”. The obsolete notion about poetry presumes that the poetic goal is to make feelings and images consonant: an external image makes explicit what is going on inside the poet (usually, when the images are of natural settings, as they are in this case, we call it bucolic poetry). Here, the quality depends precisely on failing to make this consonance, forcing the poem to depend on another type of provincialism, the one intrinsic to knowing places, customs, and people from specific locations.
The poem is easy to sum up: someone set up a date at Cinemateca (first stanza). While she waits, she smokes to calm herself down (presumably due to the anxiety caused by the date) and the wait comprises hearing music, supposedly because the other person failed to show up (“Only tired song remained / Playing in my ear”). Later on, this theory, the one presuming someone did not show up, is confirmed when the meeting happens in another part of town (third stanza). We are not exactly sure about what happened in between, because the narration is replaced by a feeble attempt at poetry (which might be self-referential, if we take the “tired song” playing in her head to be the song itself, or at least the stanza following those lines).
It is naturally ironic for this poem to start at Cinemateca, considering cinema to be, very fairly, the art of ellipsis. Well, the narrative ellipsis between the first and the third stanza is precisely what makes this poem so special; the pause in the description, that is, the time elapsed between the hour set for the date and the actual meeting (the three and a half hours between half past eight at Cinemateca and midnight at Estrela d’Ouro), is described by the feeble poetry that issues from the shortage of suitable images to explain the feelings of being left alone. Maybe that’s the reason why this stanza starts precisely with the notion that the person left waiting is able to pick anything, any image that might be of service to her, from chamomiles to sea rocks (such an odd finding in the center of Lisbon), as if anything goes to express her feelings.
The ineffectiveness at making poetry able to account for what she feels might be given to sentimental turmoil or to the poet’s inability, but in any case the second stanza is a spasm, an attempt at making poetry to pass the time (bucolic poetry at that, presumably because it is thought a more pristine poetical act). Even the poor quality of the two only rhymes in the poem — “mazelo” and “tê-lo”, “visto” and “isto” — support the idea of a failed project. The crucial moment is then defined in the last line, in the way the dragged voice identifies the name of the hill where Graça is, denoting a certain resignation: the most powerful feeling in the poem. In the city, toponymy is often the only bucolic available.
Telmo Rodrigues completed his PhD in Literary Theory at Faculty of Letters, University of Lisbon, with a thesis entitled For a Lark: The Poetry of Songs. In his thesis he explores relations between popular music and poetry. Currently he is the director of the magazine Forma de Vida.