Vasco Graça Moura (d. 27 April 2014) interviewed by Bernardo Pinto de Almeida in October 2013
Q. Fifty years of published poetry: how have the poems changed?
A. Each poem is a new experiment with language and the energies that come out of it – a new way to relate word and world. The changes are to do with that: at first I was more open to avant-gardeism. But that never went very deep. Gradually I matured till the very obscurities of my poems were a kind of quest for clarity.
Q. Tell me about constants and changes?
A. I gradually gave up techniques deriving from surrealism. I wanted more and more to combine two things: reawakening classical forms and meters and a diction that tends, as Montale said, towards prose – but rejects it.
Q. What kind of a thing is a good poem? Which poem by someone else would you most like to have written?
A. A good poem comes to life by escaping definition. It takes its energy from our very being. Its verbal power goes on reverberating long after it has struck us. I should like to have written some of Camões’ sonnets and Brodsky’s ‘Elegy for John Donne’.
Q. You’re not only a poet and novelist. You’ve earned international recognition for your lifelong work as a translator of poetry. Your translations include some major classics. How has this affected your poetry? How has your own poetry helped the translator?
A. I only translated works that challenged me, that spoke to me personally. It was hand-to-hand combat with the source language and even more so with my own. There were moments of the great European literary traditions that I wanted to bring into Portuguese. So it was a kind of training in expressive form. And it left traces that germinated in my own work. Now and then you hear the echoes.
Q. You have been critical of Pessoa and the space he occupies in the Portuguese literary scene. What other family trees do you recommend?
A. The line of Camões, obviously. The line of Césario Verde. And someone later than Pessoa: Vitorino Nemésio. And don’t forget the major Brazilian names, especially Carlos Drummond de Andrade and João Cabral de Melo Neto.
Q. What do you think of the new Portuguese poetry? What voices would you pick out from the Poems from the Portuguese website?
A. There’s a young poet, Tatiana Faia, you’ll hear a lot more about. I recommend her latest book, Lugano. Another name to keep in mind is Margarida Vale de Gato, who wrote ‘Mulher ao Mar’. There’s a fascinating poetry being made now in Portugal that combines experiment with the great literary tradition.
Q. Is there a poem you still want to write?
A. Yes. My best one yet.
(translated by Ana Hudson, 2013 and edited by Chris Miller, 2015)