Alice R. Clemente and George Monteiro (editors). The Gávea-Brown Book of Portuguese-American Poetry. Providence: Gávea-Brown Publications, 2012. Pp. 269. Paperback.
Reviewed by John M. Kinsella
In 2012, Gávea-Brown brought out a handsome and valuable anthology of Portuguese-American poetry. At 266 pages, it contains an enormous variety of poets: the nineteenth-century Emma Lazarus, a descendant of the first Portuguese Jewish population in the United States, as well as younger contemporary poets such as Carlos Matos and Millicent Borges Accardi. The selection also includes the more established names of Frank X. Gaspar, Sam Pereira, Lara Gularte, Art Coelho, and George Monteiro himself. The authors from towns, cities, and regions as diverse as New Bedford and Fall River, Massachusetts, New York, and California form an entire chain whose associations can eventually be discerned within the construct of a common Lusophone heritage. As generation succeeds generation, this communal bond develops from adaptations or adjustments to fluctuating circumstances. Just like an atoll of islands in the mid-Atlantic, new and previously hidden floes emerge from within the American continent. A poetry of subtle connections and at the same time complex disjunctions furnish the utterances of a new reality.
What is especially striking is not simply the appearance of these talented younger writers or the presence of the more distinctive and established ones, but the criterion used to make the selection in the first place. More specifically, Alice Clemente and George Monteiro have given prominence to works conceived and fashioned on the basis of aesthetic merit rather than relying on the more specifically cultural anchor of identity with all its attendant complexity. While such systematic integrity does run the risk of omitting certain poets of note, it also renders the service of underscoring many of the more significant voices in over a hundred years of American-Portuguese poetry, revealing a measure of sensitivity to the assorted clusters of both personal and social memories and experiences.
In this manner a clear vantage point for genuine poetry is established.
Given the extraordinary richness of the poems and poets selected, it should be said that the compilers have chosen to represent poets whose native language by birth or early acquisition is English. The anthology has thus excluded such names as Jorge de Sena, José Rodrigues Miguéis, Alberto Lacerda, João Teixeira de Medeiros, José Baptista Brites, Alberto Machado de Rosa, José Costa and Luís Amorim de Sousa, some of whom have written in Portugese on themes of import related to American topics. However, this exclusion is not intended to underestimate the importance of such figures but rather to restrict the selection to those poems composed in the English language. One reason for this focus is that they are also asking the question: how does one write Portuguese-American poetry in the twenty-first century ? Many of the poets still recognize their ancestry as a significant part of a perspective that frequently adds intensity to the feelings evoked and also establishes a strong bond in terms of its interpretive sense of continuity. However, the main vehicle for their communication is no longer Portuguese itself even as the English language is clearly enriched by the Portuguese echos and resonances.