Manuel de Freitas was born in 1972 and has lived in Lisbon since 1990, where he took a degree in Modern Languages and Literatures, majoring in Portuguese and French. He made his debut as poet in 2000, with Todos Contentes e Eu Também, and since then has published eighteen further books of poems and chapbooks, a number of essays on contemporary Portuguese poetry, as well as an anthology provocatively entitled Poetas Sem Qualidades [Poets without Qualities], in which he brings together some of the most significant names of his generation such as Rui Pires Cabral, José Miguel Silva and Ana Paula Inácio. He is also a translator, a literary critic for the weekly Expresso and runs the small Lisbon Publishing House, Averno, with Inês Dias, which not only publishes books by national and foreign poets, but also the most interesting Portuguese literary magazine to have appeared in a number of years: Telhados de Vidro. Considering the importance of his own poetry and also his activities as an essayist, critic and editor, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to predict that he will come to be considered the central figure in Portuguese poetry of the first decade of the 21st century.
Freitas has been indicated as a figure who has continued the work of those poets who, during the 1970s and 80s, wanted to direct poetry back to the real and to the disillusionment of living in a world given over to market forces and to quantity. Though it is not necessarily false, this affiliation silences something distinctly new that he has brought to contemporary Portuguese poetry. What makes Freitas different is, above all else, the fact that the author feels inescapably part of this reality, which others, before him, might denounce with the vehemence of an approach that could still refuse to entirely abdicate its own exteriority.
Still more equivocal would be to see in his poetry a kind of new social realism. Neo-realism, the name that the movement took on in Portugal, loved the workers and the peasants and believed in glorious tomorrows. Freitas prefers the drunks of Lisbon taverns and refuses to feed the illusion of changing the world. The most that he will bring himself to admit is that “Perhaps everything would be different / if the world had begun as well / as the Goldberg Variations.” And even so, he is quick to qualify: “I don’t know, I don’t want to know, I have no idea.” An indifference that, being real, is also a mask for rage. This “fury for life”, which, the less it is mentioned, the more intensely it is felt, gives the lie to that label of nihilism, by which the poems have as well been characterized.
In his preface to Poetas Sem Qualidades, he writes: “Of a time without qualities, like the one in which we live, the least we can demand are poets without qualities.” It is in this context that his poetry dispenses, in a large part, with metaphor and rhetorical ornament in favor of a risky prosaism, which Freitas knows how to balance, as though on a knife edge, on the one hand effectively avoiding prosodic blunders, and on the other repressing the temptation towards euphony, which is just as difficult.
It would seem that his is a poetry of the single theme, death, which serves as the dark backdrop to all the other subjects: music (from the Baroque to Pop and the music of Latin America), taverns, amorous encounters and evocations of childhood and early adulthood. Freitas knows that from the beginning everything is lost but sees himself condemned to the pain of continuing to lose that which he has already lost. This is his curse, which is only softened by the ephemeral sparkle of certain brief moments of happiness, during those instants when death itself is distracted, or his attention is diverted from death.
Perhaps one could say that, besides death, or in a kind of fragile counterpoint to it, this poetry has one other true subject: the work of Bach – an indescribable absolute that rests beyond the music, if not – though miraculously part of it – beyond this world.
Poetry in Portuguese
Todos Contentes e Eu Também, Campo das Letras, Oporto, 2000
Os Infernos Artificiais, Frenesi, Lisbon, 2001
Isilda ou a Nudez dos Códigos de Barras, Black Son, Lisbon, 2001
BMW 244, author’s edition, Lisbon, 2001
Game Over, & etc., Lisbon, 2002
[SIC], Assírio & Alvim, Lisbon, 2002
Levadas, author’s edition, Lisbon, 2002 [2ª ed. expanded, Assírio & Alvim, Lisbon, 2004]
Büchlein für Johann Sebastian Bach, Assírio & Alvim, Lisbon, 2003
Beau Séjour, Assírio & Alvim, Lisbon, 2003
Blues for Mary Jane, & etc., Lisbon, 2004
Juxta Crucem Tecum Stare, Alexandria, Lisbon, 2004
O Coração de Sábado à Noite, Assírio & Alvim, Lisbon, 2004
Jukebox, The Vila Real Theatre, Vila Real, 2005
Aria Variata, Alexandria, Lisbon, 2005
Vai e Vem, Assírio & Alvim, Lisbon, 2005
Qui Passe, For My Ladye, author’s edition, Lisbon, 2005
A Flor dos Terramotos, Averno, Lisbon, 2005
Cretcheu Futebol Clube, Assírio & Alvim, Lisbon, 2006
Juros de Demora, Assírio & Alvim, Lisbon, 2007
El Cielo del Occidente, Calambur, Madrid, 2004. Tr. José Ángel Cilleruelo
El Arte de la Pobreza. Diez Poetas Portugueses Contemporâneos, Diputación Provincial Málaga, 2007. Tr. José Ángel Cilleruelo
A Noite dos Espelhos: Modelos e Desvios Culturais na Poesia de Al Berto, Frenesi, Lisbon, 1999
Uma Espécie de Crime: ‘Apresentação do Rosto’ de Herberto Helder, & etc, Lisbon, 2001
Poetas Sem Qualidades, Averno, Lisbon, 2002
Me, Myself and I: Autobiografia e Imobilidade na Poesia de Al Berto, Assírio & Alvim, Lisbon, 2005
/>Averno’s site. Manuel de Freitas’ work as a publisher.