The author of some forty books of poetry, fiction and essays, A. M. Pires Cabral was born in 1941, in a village of northeastern Portugal, and took a degree in English and German. Unlike many Portuguese writers, who left the interior of the country for the urban centers along the coast, Pires Cabral remained in the region where he was born and raised, working there today as an administrator in the area of culture. The human reality of the rural northeast is very much present in his novels and short stories, as well as in some of his poetry, which at the same time could not be farther removed from the stereotypes of regionalist literature. The dominant theme of his most recent verse collections is a universal one: the lamentable inevitability of death.
The author’s loyalty to his geographical origins is partly responsible for the tardy recognition of his poetic oeuvre, although one or another critic took note of its importance in the early eighties. His first books were published at his own expense, by local institutions or small publishing houses, which did not help his poetry gain the visibility it deserved.
In the 1970s, in Portugal as elsewhere, many poets wanted poetry to have a more vital, direct relationship with everyday reality. Without renouncing the cultural references and attention to form that characterized the preceding generation, they pursued a discourse that was more centered on personal experience and the expression of emotion, thereby hoping to restore poetry’s capacity to communicate, which they felt had been compromised by the militant efforts in the 1960s to achieve an autonomous poetic language.
Pires Cabral’s first book, Algures a Nordeste (Somewhere in the Northeast), published in 1974, when he was already 33, was a critical moment in this shifting of poetic priorities. If its significance in this respect has not always been noticed, this may be due to the unusual circumstances of its distribution. The author, out of his own pocket, paid for a print run of a thousand copies, which forthwith proved to be overoptimistic. With his home overrun by boxes of unsold books, he was relieved to accept an offer from the local volunteer fire department to buy out the edition, which the firemen then sold from door to door, as a novel means for obtaining funds for a new ambulance. All the copies were sold in no time, though we may doubt whether the book found its ideal reading public. Recently, upon recalling this episode, the poet suggested that homemakers may have used the book to light their fires, “unless,” he added, “it served for some less canonical purpose”.
Contrary to other poets, who clearly aspired to making a break with the sort of poetry that prevailed in the previous decade, it is unlikely that the author of Algures a Nordeste had such an ambition in mind. In fact, one of the most interesting aspects of the various books published by Pires Cabral in the following years was precisely how they were able to include characteristics from both of the apparently antagonistic programs.
In the early 1980s, the author stopped publishing poetry altogether and dedicated himself to fiction. But in the 21st century he returned to verse, bringing out a series of slim, highly structured poetry volumes, some of which are better understood as a single poem in various parts. In these books he manages to make rigorous and extreme poetic concision coexist with a discursive spontaneity that sometimes approaches colloquial speech. Many of these poems address the horror of knowing ourselves doomed to extinction. Pires Cabral shares none of the romantic vision of death as a mysterious night and moment of fusion with the unknowable all. Death, for him, is but a physical fact that we have the misfortune of being able to foresee.
Poetry in Portuguese
Algures a Nordeste, author’s edition, Macedo de Cavaleiros, 1974
Solo Arável, FAOJ, Vila Real, 1976
Trirreme, Centelha, Coimbra, 1978
Nove Pretextos Tomados de Camões, Núcleo Cultural Municipal, Vila Real, 1980
Boleto em Constantim, O Oiro do Dia, Porto, 1981
Os Cavalos da Noite, Publicações Setentrião, Vila Real, 1982
Sabei por Onde a luz, Comissão Regional de Turismo da Serra do Marão, Vila Real, 1983
Artes Marginais (selected poems), Guimarães Editores, Lisbon, 1998
Desta Água Beberei, author’s edition, Vila Real, 1999
O Livro dos Lugares e Outros Poemas, João de Azevedo Editor, Mirandela, 2000
Como se Bosch Tivesse Enlouquecido, João de Azevedo Editor, Mirandela, 2003
Douro: Pizzicato e Chula, Edições Cotovia, Lisbon, 2004
Que Comboio É Este, Teatro de Vila Real, Vila Real, 2005
Antes que o Rio Seque (collected poetry), Assírio & Alvim, Lisbon, 2006
As Têmporas da Cinza, Edições Cotovia, Lisbon, 2008
Irgendwo im Nordosten/Algures a Nordeste (bilingual edition), Com, Bremen, 1983
Sancirilo, Círculo de Leitores, 1983
O Diabo Veio ao Enterro, Nova Nórdica, Lisbon, 1985 (2ª ed. revised and expanded, Editorial Notícias, Lisbon, 1993)
O Homem Que Vendeu a Cabeça, Nova Nórdica, Lisbon, 1987
Crónica da Casa Ardida, Editorial Notícias, Lisbon, 1992
Raquel e o Guerreiro, Editorial Notícias, Lisbon, 1995
O Diário de C*, author’s edition, Vila Real, 1995
Portugal Terra Fria (bilingual edition), Marval, Paris/Assírio & Alvim, Lisbon, 1997
Três Histórias Trasmontanas, author’s edition, Vila Real, 1998
A Loba e o Rouxinol, Âncora Editora, Lisbon, 2004
O Cónego, Edições Cotovia, Lisbon, 2007
Bio and bibliographical information