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The Songs of António Botto

2010
Author:

António Botto
Josiah Blackmore, editor
Translated by Fernando Pessoa

The Songs of António Botto

The rediscovery of a major voice in modern gay poetry and twentieth-century letters

António Botto was one of Portugal’s first openly gay writers. His unapologetic and candid verses about homosexual life and passion were both praised and reviled when they appeared in 1922 under the title Canções. The Songs of António Botto recovers this important, urgent voice in modern poetry by making available the English-language translation of Canções.

In António Botto’s poems, the mouth trembles, kisses, lies, tells the truth, bites, bleeds, laughs, pleads, and sings, while the hand writes it all down, trying to create something beautiful out of the dirty silences that surround unsanctioned love and sex. Even reading the poems a half century after they were written, one feels the flesh burn.

Henri Cole

António Botto was one of Portugal’s first openly gay writers, a poète maudit whose unapologetic and candid verses about homosexual life and passion were both praised and reviled when they appeared in Portuguese in 1922 under the title Canções. Botto’s poetic voice—confessional, personal, and intimate—revels and luxuriates in eroticism while expressing the ache of longing, silence, and suffering. Yet for all of his acclaim and notoriety—he was both hailed as one of the great poets of his day and condemned for his frank depictions of male-male desire—Botto and his work fell into oblivion after his death.

The Songs of António Botto recovers this important, urgent voice in modern poetry by making available—for the first time since its private publication in 1948—the English-language translation of Canções that Botto’s friend and artistic collaborator, Fernando Pessoa, completed in 1933. Pessoa, Portugal’s preeminent modernist literary figure, considered Botto the only Portuguese poet worthy of the label ‘aesthete’ and, as a critic and publisher, championed his work. Featuring an introduction to Botto’s work and Pessoa’s previously unpublished foreword to the 1948 edition as well as a new translation of Botto’s 1941 elegy to Pessoa, The Songs of António Botto establishes Botto as a pioneering figure in modern gay literature and places him alongside C. P. Cavafy and Federico García Lorca as one of the major poetic voices of the twentieth century.

The Songs of António Botto

António Botto (1897–1959) was a Portuguese poet who wrote during the Modernist period in Portugal and published more than thirty volumes of poetry, short stories, and plays in his lifetime. In 1947, he immigrated to Brazil and died there in an accident.

Fernando Pessoa (1888–1935) was a poet, novelist, and literary critic who is widely considered one of the most important literary figures of the twentieth century. Among his many works are The Book of Disquiet and A Little Larger Than the Entire Universe: Selected Poems.

Josiah Blackmore is professor of Spanish and Portuguese at the University of Toronto.

The Songs of António Botto

In António Botto’s poems, the mouth trembles, kisses, lies, tells the truth, bites, bleeds, laughs, pleads, and sings, while the hand writes it all down, trying to create something beautiful out of the dirty silences that surround unsanctioned love and sex. Even reading the poems a half century after they were written, one feels the flesh burn.

Henri Cole

Antonio Botto...preserves in his lyrics the essence of queer life in early 20th century Portugal.

Lambda Literary

This handsomely designed book, well-edited with a well-informed introductory essay by Josiah Blackmore and a useful selected bibliography, should be welcomed warmly by the many students of Fernando Pessoa. Perhaps it may even bring to the poetry of António Botto to the English-language readership Pessoa desired for him almost ninety years ago.

Bulletin of Spanish Studies

The Songs of António Botto

Contents

Introduction: António Botto’s Bruises of Light
A Note on the Text of the Songs

The Songs of António Botto

Foreword by the Translator

I. Boy
II. Curiosity
III. Small Sculptures
IV. Olympiads
V. Dandyism
VI. Birds in a Royal Park
VII. Motifs
VIII. Sad Songs of Love

To the Memory of Fernando Pessoa

Acknowledgments
Notes to the Introduction
Editor’s Notes to The Songs of António Botto
Selected Bibliography
Index of First Lines

The Songs of António Botto

UMP blog: Rediscovering António Botto, a major voice in modern gay poetry and twentieth-century letters

One early summer afternoon in the early '90s, soon after arriving at the University of Toronto, I was perusing the astounding collection of Portuguese literature in the Robarts Library. I came across a copy of Cartas que me foram devolvidas ("Letters Returned to Me"), which was signed on the title page by António Botto, in his exuberant signature, in still-bright green ink. I recalled having come across Botto’s name in graduate school, but hadn’t read much by him. So I kept looking and reading, charging out copies of all the books Robarts had by Botto, which, thankfully, was many. I was struck time and again by the lyrical intensity and eloquence of the poetry. Read more ...