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Jorge Carlos Fonseca Pigs in Delirium (selection)
translated by David Shook

First published in Cabo Verde in 1998, Jorge Carlos Fonseca’s Porcos em Delírio (Pigs in Delirium) stood and still stands alone in charting a new vision not just for Cabo-Verdean poetry, but for all of Lusophone poetry. While commonly referred to by Cabo Verdean critics as a surrealist, Fonseca is much more. Though the influence of Breton is clear, so too are those of jazz musicians like Jan Garbarek and Archie Shepp, filmmakers including Marco Ferreri and Luis Buñuel, and the orality of Cabo Verdean Krioulu.
     Paginated in reverse from 92 to 1, the book begins—or perhaps ends—with a 10-page “Summary Biography of the Author, Written by an Old Enemy, Today, Following His Death, a Confessed Admirer.” The grandiose biography, Spicerian in tone, recounts the poets strange birth, several body parts at a time, over the course of his first 19 years, a 27-day argument with René Char, already long dead himself, over the best title for the book, and even a failed heist of the Louvre. In addition to occasional sorties into French and Krioulu, Fonseca employs line breaks and commas to great effect, so that a line might make grammatical sense if read as a continuation of the previous line or the beginning of the following line. In the book's final section, “Women in Flames or New York Loves Burgers,” 11 of its 18 pages are crossed out with large unexplained Xs. Despite that act—rejection, censorship, or warning, and by whom?—the poems remain legible, as imagistic, lyrical, and hyper-referential as the rest of the book.
     As these innovations suggest, Porcos em Delírio is not an easy book. In fact, Fonseca clearly delights in difficulty—Joyce being one other influence cited by his fellow poet Arménio Vieira—and reflects that pleasure in a playful intellectualism that can at times approach the abstruse. Indeed, a perfect understanding of the poems may not be merely impossible but beside the point. As his translator, I am often confounded—a pleasure in itself—but always slightly grinning, too, as Fonseca’s delight in language shines through in even his darkest poems.

                                          Brief Lover-Trapezist Song

                                          Das flambierte Mädchen

Excerpts from “MOSAICS / 1980-1981-1997”


              the violin dozes
              on the night’s divan.
              In a pallid, disemboweled chord
              at the child
              belching out the happiness
              of her deferred death.


The stone and salt in your eyes,
chunks of suns and constellations
lost in your body.

Words and hips,
suspended from your bones,
syllables of nights
in the lease of your song.

salt and words,
bodiless heroes
slaughtered at the border of silence.


In death,
              the silence of desires.
              In voices revelrous and mute,
              the silences
              that burned up
              in your womb.


An anchor in your absence.
              The pitcher that safeguarded
              word body
              of poem of trotyl and sea
              dried up.


I don’t need
to inhabit
your breasts.
Emerging from your body,
the anemic redemption
of martyred verses.

Jorge Carlos Fonseca is a politician, jurist, academic, and writer born in Mindelo, Cabo Verde in 1950. A former freedom fighter, he is today the second-term President of Cabo Verde. He has written over 20 books, primarily focused on issues of jurisprudence. His literary output includes the collections Silence Accused of High Treason and Incitement to Public Bad Breath (1995), Pigs in Delirium (1998), and a selected poems, The Seductive Ink of My Nights (2019), as well as a novel, The Spanish Hostel (2017)
David Shook is a poet whose translations from Portuguese include Oswald de Andrade's Cannibal Manifesto and Saotomean poet Conceição Lima's selected poems. They're presently at work translating Jorge Carlos Fonseca's Pigs in Delirium and The Spanish Hostel.
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