Orides de Lourdes Teixeira Fontela was born on April 21, 1940 in São João da Boa Vista, São Paulo, Brasil. She was licensed in Philosophy by the University of São Paulo in 1972, taught philosophy for a time, and was a librarian until her early retirement. Her third book of poems, Alba, won the Prémio Jabuti, one of Brasil's most prestigious literary awards. Bitter, difficult, solitary, sickly, she died of tuberculosis exacerbated by alcoholism on November 2, 1998. She wrote about 250 poems which were published in 5 books between 1970 and 1997.
The title of this book is the poet's own epigraph to her book Alba: A um passo / do pássaro / res / piro. Piro is also the 1st-person singular present of the verb pirar, which is Brasilian slang meaning "to split," "scram", and "to go nuts," "to flip out," "to blow one's mind," etc.
Orides Fontela might be seen as a kind of symbolist. Her "bird" and her "flower" have usually been abstracted. I think she means us to see (and not merely to read) "bird" and "flower" and "blood" and "garden" as quintessential, imagic beings--icons, but representing what, if not things-in-themselves? I think of Heidegger's strange essays about the thing and how we perceive it, and of the ecstatic Islamic poets, with their sophisticated iconography of divine love--the eyebrow, the lip, the mole on the cheek of the beloved . . . the abandoned encampment . . . she was a quiet visionary, was perhaps gnostic in her beholding of duality, and can be ecstatic and very, very bitter, but it's terribly clear that she was wounded-not alienated, but wounded, spiritually, and her work is at least partly a way to deal with that wound, which must have had something to do with her being born syphilitic into an impoverished and illiterate working-class family and being constantly faced with literary people who took their educations for granted and who for the most part simply weren't her equals as poets-she was very much aware of her unique worth.
The Portuguese language is a very good medium for paranomasia. I've done my best with her wordplay and her wry, and very sly, humor. But there is one thing I'll never solve in translating this poet: she almost never wrote the word "eu," which is the Portuguese word that means "I." She used all the other personal pronouns, but the first-person singular personal pronoun is almost never present. It will be noticed that there are many instances of the word "I" in this translation. These instances are the results of direct translations of first-person singular verbs. I feel that any attempt to mirror her practice would result in ambiguities that do not exist in the Portuguese originals. I ask the reader to consider every instance of the word "I" to be a deep, insoluble flaw in my translation, and to think of that word as silent.
These poems are taken from "One Step From the Bird I Breathe In," a manuscript to be published in 2002 by Inscrutable Press.
Chris Daniels, August 2001
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