(1969 – )
The Portuguese contemporary poet José Miguel Silva (born in 1969) published, until 2017, the following books: O Sino de Areia [The Sand Bell] (1999), Ulisses já não Mora Aqui [Ulysses Doesn’t Live Here Anymore] (2002), Vista para um Pátio seguido de Desordem [View of a Patio Followed by Disorder] (2003), Movimentos no Escuro [Movements in the Dark] (2005), Walkmen (with Manuel de Freitas, 2007), Erros Individuais [Individual Mistakes] (2010), Serém, 24 de Março (2011) e Últimos Poemas [Last Poems] (2017). In 2002 he participated in the anthology Poetas sem Qualidades [Poets Without Qualities], organised by Manuel de Freitas. He has also been regularly publishing poems and essays in the magazines Telhados de Vidro e Cão Celeste. He keeps a frequent presence in the blogosphere writing in Achaques e Remoques (https://eumeswill.wordpress.com/), a personal blog created in March 2009.
Although José Miguel Silva assumes the “political vocation” of his poetry (apud Bonifácio 2011: s/p) and assiduously reflects about the contemporary world, the word Europe and its derivatives are almost inexistent in his poetry. Even so, the reader can easily perceive what this author thinks about Europe.
In his second book, Ulisses já não Mora Aqui, there is, right in the title, the idea of loss, reinforced by an epigraph by Bernardo Soares, which the author selects to open the first part of the book: “We inherited the destruction and its results”. Ulisses já não mora aqui, i.e. we live at a time in which there is no more space for heroes (nor myths). Without ever explicitly mentioning Europe, José Miguel Silva still includes countless references to Ancient Greece, contrasting a past of values and ideals with a hollow and disenchanting present. The ironic illustration of this opposition is made, for example, in the poem “Colheita de 98” [Harvest of 98], in which the poetic subject approximates “Good, Beauty, Truth” [Bem, Beleza, Verdade] (2002: 38) to “a bottle of red mature wine from Ribatejo”, bought “yesterday at the supermarket” (ibidem). In another epigraph chosen by José Miguel Silva, this one by Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, preceding a poem of Erros Individuais one can read: “The first theme of Greek reflection is justice” (apud Silva 2010: 22). But justice, José Miguel Silva concludes in another poem (“Lamento e exortação”) [Regret and Exhortation], “is an oath written in Esperanto / and the law the hard axis where privilege circulates” (2017: 7).
Therefore, the sole ideal the poet observes nowadays in Europe is that of capitalist profit, in which “only the invisible spirit / of credit cards punctures, rodent, / the nickel of human hearts” (2005: 17). Consequently, the language of economics inserts itself in an obsessive way in many poems, of which “Too big to fail” is one of the starkest examples: “My only fear is that we will wake / the envy of Gods, in Brussels Olympus, / and that Market, the monstrous Titan, decides / to lower to trash, the rating of our relation” (2011: 18). José Miguel Silva’s vision, actually seems to be in concordance with that of Hans Magnus Enzensberger, who in the same year published O Afável Monstro de Bruxelas [The Affable Monstrous from Brussels] or Europa sob Tutela [Europe under Jurisdiction], essay in which he foresees the “failure” of the European project (idem: 68).
On the other hand, in a poem like “Feios, Porcos e Maus — Ettore Scola (1976)” (Silva 2005: 42-43), the poet registers the promiscuity of Portuguese politics (where “only the worst” manage to reach the most important positions), in lockstep with the European reality (“executive director, ambassador in Provence”). And so, “the bumpy bubble of democracy” (Silva 2017: 31) seems to prevail globally: “between the ridicule and a black hole, we choose, / today and yesterday, the elite that represents us so well: / no difference” (2005: 45).
There is not, in José Miguel Silva’s poetry, the faith in a Europe united around values like justice, liberty, nor compassion. There is, essentially, ironic pessimism, denunciation of globalisation and capitalism. Cities like London, Paris and New York (idem: 54) are equivalent as urban centres where all concerns are, firstly, economic. Accordingly, Europe is, for the poet, mirror of a selfish world where “compassion [is] reduced / to the complacent taste of a cheap liberality” (2010: 22) and where the apocalypse is materialised as a more plausible future reality: “While we omitted limits, / disguised as a unbridled titan / we celebrated the stain of progress / and oil for lunch (thinking / that we ate Portuguese stew!) / entropy entered the scene and declared, / emphatically: «The fun is over»” (2017: 41).
And the worst is calling freedom
To a mat that, rolling, does not listen anymore
To our feet’s opinion, taking us
where we concede, aloof
to the mechanical designs of power.
We breathe padlocks, we consume
injustice, the two of us go around several times
the smiling tourniquet that we use as
a hat permutating the head
for a plate of aspirins.
The life classics with no sadness
nor remorse (Cinderella, Varadero,
off-shore) illuminate the scenery where
we sleep, innocent as bullets,
and I do not even know how we are not happier.
To the centre of hell, we drive
this son, this car’s son, captive
of the conquered right to deliver
our days, like cattle,
to the chopper of unfaithful dispatches.
To live, in this siege, is a question
of extending discouragement: we seal
a suicidal door, undo
the tie, give thanks when the ice
in the drink slowly melts.
If we look at the floor, the horizon
disappears, if we look at the sky
we get lonely. I do not understand how we laugh
when they ask to pose for the family
photo. Somebody fooled ourselves.
Confused by the outbreak of lie,
Auctioned by the last hypnosis,
grafted onto the peduncle of death,
tell me if these faces of crumpled cardboard,
if this soul mirrors a stony field,
if these feet grow fond the thorn,
if this that we see is a man.
in Ulisses já não Mora Aqui (2002: 18-19)
Down and Dirty — Ettore Scola (1976)
At fourteen they buy the first tie
with the colours of the party that deceives them best.
at fifteen they show off in the congress
of the youth organisation, follow the rank and file caravan, they cheer
or jeer according to the leaderships’ frowns, they experiment
the ball of the students’ federations.
Always willing, always ready,
For the post-combat cleaning chores.
These are called the training years. There they learn
To set the gesture, to interpret humours,
To lie honestly, there they learn of
the words’ lightness, to choose the wine, to froth
with a smile, the yes and the no
when appropriate. At twenty they already know,
by scent, the charisma of some, the minor worth
of others, while they pursue vague studies
in Law or Economics. Afterwards, they start
using the membership card: the first
positions in sight, there is groundwork ahead,
one needs to undermine, to demine, to intrigue, to unite.
Only the worst can overcome this phase.
There are others who go the city council way, those who prefer
the public administration — all depends on the shrewdness
or the sponsorships you have, or not.
At thirty-two is the moment to start
integrating the lists, preferably in an electable
position, always placing lowness above everything else.
Once in Parliament, anything can happen:
Manager of a county company, coordinator of,
a minister’s advisor, minister, commissar or
executive-director, ambassador in Provence,
chairman of Caixa**, or PT**, or PQP and, further ahead
(jubilee and the corollary of a solvent career),
the golden-share of a chair at the sunset.
At the end, for the more obstinate, there can be
A street name (with or without a statue)
and panegyric flowers, bombards, formaldehyde fanfares.
in Movimentos no Escuro (2005: 42-43)
Too big to fail
How can such a reliable investment
guarantee this growing return, in a
daily distribution of kisses and other gains,
and, to top it all, tax-free?
Although I trusted your competence
to create value, I confess I did not expect
this much when I decided to invest in your sensitive bonds
my scarce emotional assets.
The strangest thing, in today’s world, is the fact that this is,
apparently, a business without losers
immune to the nervousness of your shares
or to the fluctuations of my libidinal commerce.
My only fear is that we may arouse
the envy of the Gods, in the Olympus of Brussels,
and that Market, the monstrous titan, decides
to lower to junk the rating of our relation,
leaving us without credit in the Romanesque square
and the heart in default. But, let us not be
pessimistic. Actually, both of us know that Cupide
helps us with his invisible hand. And even if
we fell into depression, I am
sure that the Portuguese state would give us
full support, concurring that a love like
this is simply too big to fail.
in Serém, 24 de Março (2011: 18-19)
Selected active bibliography
SILVA, José Miguel (2017), Últimos Poemas, Lisboa, Averno.
— (2011) Serém, 24 de Março, Lisboa, Averno.
— (2010) Erros Individuais, Lisboa, Relógio D’Água.
— (2005) Movimentos no Escuro, Lisboa, Relógio D’Água.
— (2002) Ulisses já não Mora Aqui; ed. ut.: Lisboa, Língua Morta, 2014.
Selected critical bibliography
BONIFÁCIO, João (2011), “Realista não, político sim”, in Público, www.publico.pt/culturaipsilon/noticia/realista-nao-politico-sim-277204 (last access in 15/11/2019).
ENZENSBERGER, Hans Magnus (2011), Sanftes Monster Brüssel oder die Entmündigung Europas; ed. ut.: O Afável Monstro de Bruxelas ou a Europa sob Tutela, Lisboa, Relógio D’Água, 2012.
Vítor Ferreira (trans. Rui Miguel Ribeiro)
How to quote this entry:
FERREIRA, Vitor (2017), “José Miguel Silva”, trans. Rui Miguel Ribeiro, in Europe Facing Europe: poets write Europe. ISBN 978-989-99999-1-6. https://aeuropafaceaeuropa.ilcml.com/en/term/jose-miguel-silva-3/