Palavras dum faisão
Ao romper d'alva
Fui agora mexer nas tuas cartas
Envolve-me amorosamente
Curiosidades estéticas
Pedir amparo a alguém é uma loucura
A noite cai nos teus olhos

A streetcar ends desire:
Portuguese poet was major voice in gay literature
Accomplished literary works of António Botto to be re-released
by Michah Rynor

No, let us kiss, only kiss
In this evening's agony
Keep, for some better moment
Your manly body so brown

Although this poetic stanza sounds quite contemporary, these words are actually from the early 20th-century written by a modernist poet whose work has been ignored and suppressed for decades.

That will all soon change as Spanish and Portuguese professor Josiah Blackmore embarks on a mission to "recuperate and resuscitate" this little-known yet important poet.

António Botto de Menezes was born probably in 1897 in provincial Portugal and although married to his wife Carminda, there is no mistaking, through his poetry, journals and observations of the day from his contemporaries, the fact that 'Botto' was enamored of men.

Such explicitly gay verse was considered extremely scandalous in strongly Catholic Portugal which explains why most of Botto's books would be released in very low print runs.

The books that survive today are extremely difficult to find – in fact, they just don't exist in great numbers around the world even in major libraries.

"Botto's poetry very often reveals gay activity which in his day was very clandestine, furtive and secret," Blackmore says.

Although he also wrote about war and traditional elements of Portuguese society and penned plays, children's books and short stories, it is Botto's homoerotic poetry for which he is best known. Openly full of praise for the male form, it also describes the melancholic, sad and poignant elements of gay desire as well as describing the tragedy of lost youth and aging of both men and Botto himself.

"For example, Botto's small book entitled The Olympics describes his admiration of the classic Greek view of male beauty," Blackmore says. "It's a very personal, physical and confessional style that he exhibits and it is amazingly contemporary when it comes to gay social behaviour. He speaks of cruising the Lisbon docks for sailors, asking them for a cigarette, suggesting that they go for a walk together. You can understand why this kind of explicitness caused quite a stir in his day."

Luckily for Botto, Portugal's greatest modern poet, Fernando Pessoa, not only took him under his wing but translated much of his poetry, giving Botto a degree of protection and respect.

An official in the foreign service, Botto allegedly fell out of favour with the government and was dismissed from his job and returned to Portugal from Angola. Hoping to rebuild his fortune, he emigrated with his wife in 1947 to Brazil, where he would die after being struck by a streetcar in 1959. In 1965, his remains were returned to Portugal.

Blackmore is currently in the process of re-releasing one of Botto's most influential books, Songs of António Botto which will include both an updated introduction by Blackmore as well as never before released biographical information. Eventually Blackmore hopes to write the definitive biography of this most elusive of writers.

"Even though libraries include Botto's work in their collections, there is still a very tangible feeling of discomfort toward him from some scholars working in Portugal because of his homosexuality," Blackmore says.

"But his work is important not only because he was one of the first openly gay writers in Portugal, but because so much of his work is, literally speaking, quite accomplished. It is a simple, musical poetry with lucid, limpid images that aren't overshadowed by the revolutionary or strident themes of some his ideological contemporaries. It travels through time extremely well."



António Botto (1897-1959) nasceu em Alvega, concelho de Abrantes, indo muito novo para Lisboa na companhia dos pais. Trabalhou numa livraria, indo depois para África como funcionário público. Em 1947 partiu para o Brasil, morrendo atropelado no Rio de Janeiro em 1959. A sua obra poética, admirada por Fernando Pessoa e pelo grupo da Presença, é vasta. No entanto, a sua obra mais conhecida é Canções, publicada em 1921 e desde logo causa de escândalo nos meios intelectuais portugueses por ser uma obra explicitamente pederasta.

Além desta obra, publicou: Cantigas de Saudade (1918), Canções do Sul (1920), Motivos de Beleza (1923), Curiosidades Estéticas (1924), Piquenas Esculturas (1925), Olimpíadas (1927), Dandismo (1928), Ciúme (1934), Baionetas da Morte (1936), A Vida que te Dei (1938), O Livro do Povo (1944), Ódio e Amor (1947), Fátima - Poema do Mundo (1955), Ainda não se Escreveu (1959).