Adília Lopes self-published her first book, in 1985, under the title A Rather Dangerous Game, a fitting epithet for her entire poetic career. The very fact of self-publishing entailed a risk, since it didn’t make for easy distribution, and the more than 15 books she has published since then have nearly all been issued by ‘alternative’ or ‘underground’ presses – very much on the margin of Portuguese publishing.
What was truly ‘dangerous’, however, in terms of forging a career, was the poetry itself. It had apparently little to do with the Portuguese poetic tradition, though it was firmly rooted in Portuguese culture and language, being full of word games, idioms, references to Portuguese proverbs, sayings, children’s songs and historical events, as well as frequent citations or borrowings from other national (and international) writers. But was it worthwhile as poetry? Many readers and critics had their doubts, but Adília Lopes seems to be winning the game. She has a strong and loyal following, not only in Portugal but also in Brazil, and some important critics and academics have taken up her cause. Others, meanwhile, continue to throw up their hands in exasperation.
As a young woman Maria José de Oliveira, born in Lisbon, battled with profound depression. When she emerged, she adopted her banal-sounding pseudonym – Adília Lopes – and began publishing poetry. Though the first poem of her first book evokes Esther Greenwood, the narrator of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, and a later poem evokes a persona of Anne Sexton named Elizabeth, Adília Lopes doesn’t write for therapeutic purposes, and her poetry, despite its candor, is not of the confessional variety. Her subject matter is much broader: the world, and her relationship with it. Put that way, the observation is trite: it could apply to the majority of poets. The difference is that Lopes writes about the world as she knows it (and this includes her childhood memories and extensive readings) in the crudest terms, without any attempt to aestheticize it or to endow her verses with a lofty aura.
Just about anything can go into an Adília Lopes poem, including material from other writers who aren’t necessarily identified. In ‘Elisabeth Doesn’t Work Here Anymore’, an epigraph does note that it contains a “few things” from Anne Sexton: various lines, it turns out, from ‘You, Doctor Martin’, which Lopes has “doctored” for her own, very different sort of poem, set in a beauty parlor rather than a mental hospital. This is one of Lopes’s most emotionally charged poems; many others seem merely whimsical. “A bad poem kills no one,” she writes in ‘Pleasures and Displeasures’, and she doesn’t seem very concerned to write ‘great’ poems.
So what is poetry for Adília Lopes? A number of her poems mention entropy (‘Childhood Memories’, for instance), and her poetic oeuvre may seem, at first glance, like a kingdom of entropy, but in fact her poetry is an attempt to counteract chaos, to establish some order, make connections, put things back together. This recalls the ambition of Sophia de Mello Breyner, a poet much admired by Lopes, but whereas the former longed for prelapsarian perfection, the latter is more pragmatic: she’ll settle for a makeshift whole and doesn’t mind chips and dents. Sophia assumed the voice of an oracle; Adília calls herself a housekeeper (‘The Housekeeper’ is the title of one of her recent books), engaged in trying to straighten out some of the world’s (and her own) confusion. Housecleaning, not therapy.
Um jogo bastante perigoso, Lisbon, 1985.
O poeta de Pondichéry, Lisbon, 1986.
A pão e água de Colónia, Lisbon, 1987.
O Marquês de Chamilly, Lisbon, 1987
O decote da dama de espadas, Lisbon, 1988.
Os 5 livros de versos salvaram o tio, Lisbon, 1991.
Maria Cristina Martins, Lisbon, 1992.
O peixe na água, Lisbon, 1993.
A continuação do fim do mundo, Lisbon, 1995.
Clube da poetisa morta, Lisbon, 1997.
Sete rios entre campos, Lisbon, 1999.
Florbela Espanca espanca, Lisbon, 1999.
Irmã barata, irmã batata, Braga-Coimbra, 2000.
Obra, Lisbon, 2000.
A mulher-a-dias, Lisbon, 2002.
César a César, Lisbon, 2003.
Poemas novos, Lisbon, 2004.
Il poeta di Pondichéry, tr. Carlo Vittorio Cattaneo, Rome, 1988.
Maria Cristina Martins & Le poète de Pondichéry, tr. Henri Deluy, Paris, 1993.
De dichter von Pondichéry, tr. August Willemsen, Rotterdam, 1997.
El poeta de Pondichéry, tr. Mario Morales Castro, Mexico,1998.
Klub der toten Dichterin, tr. Elfriede Engelmayer, Berlin, 2000.
Poems, reviews, articles and photos.
Review of the German translation.
Adília Lopes on Lyrikline