Guernica: Do you think that poetry is something done more for yourself or for others, more of a political act or a personal one?
Maria Teresa Horta: I think it’s the two things. I think that if poetry is not a personal act, it’s a pamphlet. And I don’t make pamphlets, or poems that they ask me to. For instance: “Write a poem because it is the 25th of April.” No. It either comes out or it doesn’t. I am not a pamphleteer poet, I never was. Beyond this there has to be an interior work that I don’t even notice, for things to be said, unlike the way they would in a newspaper article. No, it is not like that. It is a metaphorical work.
We can say things in many ways. Even my erotic poetry is not poetry that uses vernacular words. It is a very erotic poetry, but I never use anything, for example, that is not in the dictionary. I don’t like to be ugly, I seek out what is beautiful, and if my great search is for freedom and beauty, I cannot, as we say in Portugal, be vulgar, ordinary, horrible.
Guernica: What do you think of the erotic poems of Carlos Drummond de Andrade of Brazil?
Maria Teresa Horta: There are some that I like, but there are others that shock me quite a bit.
Guernica: Do you think this poetry is more about its shock value?
Maria Teresa Horta: I think that this poetry is a very masculine poetry, but I think mine is very feminine, and I think that in my poetry, I am able to describe the sexual act in a way that is not really so traditional or orthodox. When you finish [reading it] you haven’t come upon one curse word. I don’t offend anyone, I don’t use anyone, I don’t exploit anyone. Men use women sexually. They use them, mistreat them, even from the point of view of vocabulary, the use of words. It baffles me. The stories of beatings, of men that were beaten and raped and then beat and rape others. I always saw the mistreatment of women, even with words, even in literature, even in poetry, and I don’t like to see treatment like that. I also don’t treat men like that. My erotic poetry is heterosexual. I therefore create poetry for men. For men I’m in love with, whom I go to bed with. These men don’t deserve that I treat them poorly, that I use unpleasant words. Drummond sometimes does this; I feel hurt, I feel assaulted. As a woman I don’t like that. I don’t think that to be erotic you have to do that. Do you know the work of a poet named David Mourão-Ferreira? It’s the opposite of that. David has written the most beautiful and erotic poetry that I have ever read in my life. It does not hurt anyone.
Guernica: Do you remember one?
Maria Teresa Horta: By heart, no. But David’s erotic poetry is gorgeous. You have to read it. I never ever feel degraded by a poem by David. It is not a question of morality. It is that I just don’t want women to be treated like that. I don’t like that it be necessary to describe the body with vulgar words.
Guernica: Why do you think you’ve only won two literary prizes in over 53 years of writing?
Maria Teresa Horta: Because I’m a feminist. Because I write as a woman, because I say this, because I fight for that, because they shut me up for years, and I write, I wrote, and published. They said, “She is a feminist! She is crazy, she’s nuts, a feminist.” For years it was like that. Now it is a little bit different. That’s why I received the prize, isn’t it?
And I think that even so, all of the other prizes that were not given to me because of Marquesa [As Luzes de Leonora], the book is here. And this [has] happened since my book Minha Senhora de Mim [banned when published in 1967]. But I wanted to write what I felt, and from then on my literary life changed. I began to be silenced. But that is not important. Prizes aren’t essential. What is essential is poetry itself, it’s what is said, it is clarity, it’s loyalty, those are the essential values, the literary values, time will tell.
Guernica: One of your books was only published in Brazil. Why?
Maria Teresa Horta: Ah yes. That [one] was called Poemas do Brasil. I think that my publisher was not interested in a book that has only poems about Brazil. I think this was a mistake. Because it was an unprecedented book of mine. I am much more studied in Brazil than here, aren’t I? Therefore, now they are starting to have a lot of young people, because before the women who wanted to do theses about my work, the academics would say: no, choose another person, therefore, this preconceived notion, this censorship, yes? Besides that, I write erotic poetry, what a thing, women don’t do erotic poetry. Because in Portugal a female writer has to be a lady, and a lady does not do erotic poetry.
Guernica: And how was this book received in Brazil?
Maria Teresa Horta: Quite well. Quite well indeed.
Guernica: You’ve published work with many different editors rather than just one. Why?
Maria Teresa Horta: I publish with the small presses because for a long time poetry was a bit marginalized, therefore the people who were interested were editors who did not have a lot of capital behind them. They were small [press] editors who were interested in the literary quality and did not care if it was erotic or not, if it was feminist or not. I have a whole book of poetry about menstruation, for example, and it is an extremely rare thing not only in Portugal but in the whole world. A Brazilian professor went to England last year, she was at Oxford and elsewhere, and what caused the biggest sensation was when she talked about the Bleeding Rose [Rosa Sangrenta, 1987], which is a book about menstruation. In Portugal they think it’s mad, don’t they?
Guernica: Do you think there’s a difference between the poetry of Brazil and that of Portugal, or does it depend on the individual author?
Maria Teresa Horta: I think that in Brazil they read more poetry. Now they study Portuguese writing a lot. There are a lot of Portuguese literature teachers in Brazil who are much better than the Portuguese ones. I think that there is more research in Brazil about Portuguese literature than in Portugal. Because in Portugal, this is a tiny chapel, so they only choose four or five writers who are the cousins of this one or the other, and therefore it’s just those who benefit. And in Brazil, they are very interested in Portuguese literature.
Guernica: Why don’t you have an international agent?
Maria Teresa Horta: There was this Spanish agent who looked for me but he disappeared and I did not even get [a chance] to talk to him. And there are no agents in Portugal, and foreign literary agents don’t come here. No foreign literary agent is very interested in coming to Portugal. Perhaps [because] it’s a very small country, and poetry does not sell, and that is what we are best at.
Guernica: Why do you think so little of your work is available in English?
Maria Teresa Horta: It is translated more into French. I have books translated in French because French was the second language in Portugal for a long time, up to my son’s generation. More than Spanish. Portuguese people have a great facility with languages, a great deal of ease. It makes us able to understand Spanish, Italian, and “we navigate well,” as we say in Portugal. Portuguese is like that. It is made up of leaving and coming back and journeys, it has always been like that [since] the discoveries. And after that, English starts to appear. English only started to appear among us in my son’s generation. Yes, exactly after April 25th it started to appear in high schools.
Guernica: Do you have books you would like to see translated in English?
Maria Teresa Horta: Yes. Very much.
Guernica: It’s the 40th anniversary of the trial of the Three Marias.
How do you feel about the book Novas Cartas Portuguesas [The Three Marias: New Portuguese Letters] now?
Maria Teresa Horta: I feel a great connection to the Novas Cartas, I feel an extremely profound connection. The Novas Cartas to me was the most interesting thing of my life. Yes, there were nine months, exactly, it was not premeditated but they were the months of the seasons. We were three friends, and three writers of the same generation, and after Minha Senhora de Mim there was a huge, horrible void around me. The book was seized. The publisher was threatened with closure if they published my books again, and I could not use my name in the newspaper because they would not let me. It was a terrible period. The PIDE went to my house every morning, at dawn. And we decided to write a book about the condition of women in Portugal, about the dangerous situation, really then, when the Cartas came out, it was a strange thing at that time in Portugal.
There is not one text [in the book] that is not signed by all three of us; therefore any person who would say that that text is very good [is referring to] the three of us. All authors have the desire to say, “That is mine,” but it did not cross any of our minds. And this we maintained all these years. The Novas Cartas are 40 years old and in 40 years none of us has ever said who wrote what. It is a book that grabs you because it is a book of political struggle. Nothing is extinguishable in my work, to me, [but] least of all, the Novas Cartas. That is, it is a thrilling work. It is a very important work in the world.
Guernica: What do you think of Pussy Riot in Russia? About their actions?
Maria Teresa Horta: What do I think of their actions? The act can be extremely positive if it is an act to call attention [to the fact that] things in their country are really bad for women, otherwise it is purely a media event that only obfuscates women’s struggle. That is why I’d love for someone from that country to tell me more, to give me more information, because all we know is what was on television. I can’t condemn or condone because I don’t understand [it], I don’t understand if that was a way of telling us that there’s something very wrong happening in that country in relation to women there, and they were doing something like that so it would traverse borders, or if the reality is that it is an act of pure…media theatrics, and that is wrong, profoundly wrong.
It’s just that, we three, what we did was to write a literary work. What projected us abroad, media-wise, was censorship. If that book was written and censorship had not forbidden it and not imposed a process on us and not put us in jail, no one would have known abroad, because that was fascism. And we only wrote a book. We did not remove our bras, we did not come to the streets naked. We did none of that. We did what we three writers knew how to do: write a book. There was no freedom. I think [what the members of Pussy Riot did] was something very different. I think that they did something that was an exhibitionist act. If that act of exhibitionism has interest, if it calls attention to the struggle of women in the country and to the situation of women, [then it’s useful]. If not, it is just an act of exhibitionism. We here did not want [our struggle] to go abroad. We only took it abroad for the simple reason that what was happening to us was very dangerous. We would never see the light of day unless it was through the bars of a prison cell. It had to be known, [we had] to create a certain movement to prevent that, because we were in a fascist country. They are not, and I think that it is completely different.
Guernica: What is the situation of women today in Portugal, broadly speaking?
Maria Teresa Horta: Even though they are a majority in the universities this is something that very much deludes people. They continue not to be employed; they continue to be marginalized. And the reality is that the majority of women in Portugal don’t like this women’s fight because they don’t want to be angry with men. It comes down to this—they don’t want to be mad at men. But if they’re alone with me or you, they say, yes, yes, but later they say no, no, feminism, no, how awful, I’m very feminine, as if the feminists were not feminine.
The situation of women continues to be very bad in Portugal. Terrible. Every day there are beatings. Every year there are normally 50, 60 women killed by their husbands, their lovers. Every year. Statistics say that this year  already 53 women have been killed in Portugal. We are talking about a tiny country, very tiny.
Guernica: And attitudes in this century haven’t improved?
Maria Teresa Horta: It’s gotten better. It got better after April 25th. Women didn’t even know that they could have rights. They had no rights under the law. Absolutely none. Women could not receive a man’s salary, they could not leave the country without their father or husband’s permission. Women had no life as citizens, they had none. There is a popular saying that goes: “Mother, what is it to be married?” And the mothers say: “Daughter, it is to give birth and to cry.” This is the image of the Portuguese woman. It is this. To live without joy. I usually say all people have the right to be happy when they are born. All. It is a right of every citizen, male and female, and I, as a feminist, fight for that in relation to the woman.
People ask me why I am a feminist. Because I am a woman of freedom and equality and it is not possible to have freedom in the world when half of humanity has no rights. Because we are more than half of humanity. There are more women than men. This is not a fight of so-called “minorities.”
People ask me almost every day: “Why? You are successful, you have kids, you have grandchildren, so why?” Feminist women are seen as unsatisfied. But all women in the world, if they are well aware of [inequality], are unsatisfied women. They don’t have the same rights as men, and there is no freedom until there is equality between men and women.
Oona Patrick and Dean Ellis
Oona Patrick‘s essays, reviews, and interviews have appeared in Provincetown Arts, Post Road, Gulf Coast, Guernica, and elsewhere. She is of Azorean descent and serves as the Luso-American Liaison for the DISQUIET International Literary Program (http://