Professor of English
The University of Vermont
Not long ago, I was teaching a class in American poetry of the nineteenth century, and at the end of the semester several students asked if I would supply them with a list of some things which I thought were worth reading during the summer, when they were not taking classes. From time to time, other students have heard about the list and requested it. So this is an updated list (would you believe it, the disk I had typed the list onto got mangled, and so I have to type the list all over again), with the original list/comments, and several additions.
Here goes. I will start with some of my favorite poets (aside from Whitman and Dickinson, who are right up there with Wordsworth and Williams):
1. William Wordsworth, The Prelude. Well, this is a behemoth. The first modern autobiography, the story of the growth of the poet's consciousness. At 250+ pages, this is not something you want to read unless you have a spare four or five days and are hiking through the wilderness. But it is magnificent, even richer than "Song of Myself." The best long poem in English of the past two centuries. For varied reasons, no one ever teaches it at U.V.M. (except me, and I have been known to teach it in freshman poetry courses!)
2. William Butler Yeats. The greatest Irish poet, died 1939. Try "Sailing to Byzantium," "The Second Coming," and "In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz." Try some of the late poems, hen he is tired of conventional wisdom, and embraces the body and the heart: "Politics," the overwhelming last stanza of "Circus Animals' Desertion," "Why Should not Old Men Be Mad," "Speech after long silence," and "Lapis Lazuli." No English poet, not even Keats and Shakespeare, ever sang as well as Yeats.
3. Seamus Heaney. Two years ago I wrote, "While we're int he Irish vein, this Northern Irish poet is, I think, the best poet writing in English today." This year he won the Nobel Prize. I particularly recommend a series of poem, "Station island," but they are tough; start with his early poems, like "Digging" and "Mid-Term Break."
4. I like Heaney because he confronts politics in his poetry. The greatest political poet of our century, I think, is the German leftist Bertholt Brecht. His poems will blow you away at times. [He sought refuge in the U.S. during WWII. After the war, the US Congress hounded him out of the country!]
5. Opposite end of the spectrum: the greatest German poet of our century is so damn esthetic I sometimes don't think I can stand him. But Rainer Maria Rilke is at times almost beyond belief, one of the truly great poets of all time. Try the sonnets "The Panther" and the overwhelming (the strongest poem I know) "Archaic Torso of Apollo," which is about how art can have more of life (yes, and sexual energy) than our own lives -- and how our lives might need altering because of that. Also, longer and more difficult, "Requiem;" and if you are a real glutton for punishment, the difficult but exceptionally rich series (long and hard) "Duino Elegies." I've read lots of translations: the translation by Stephen Mitchell is by far the best.
6. This year I finally made my way into Paul Celan. Profoundly influenced by Emily Dickinson, he is a Romanian who writes in German even though he as a Jew was imprisoned by the Nazis and saw his family exterminated. His "Death Fugue" is the most widely known poem on the concentration camps, a remarkable tour de force; but I like his late short lyrics, which owe much to Dickinson, even better. He, like Rilke, is tough and lyrical; unlike Rilke, he faces into history instead of away from it.
7. If Emily Dickinson has a rival for the finest woman poet of all time, it is surely Anna Akhmatova. Russian, intensely lyrical, after a brilliant beginning life closed down about her: her husband was killed, then her lover; then her only son was jailed for twenty years. She has many wonderful poem, but the most moving is a sequence dedicated to the Russian mothers who stood alongside Akhmatova waiting for news of their imprisoned children and spouses. Entitled "Requiem," the sequence of eleven poems may be the greatest work of poetry of our century. The translations by Thomas and Hayward/Kunitz are excellent.
9. My choice for the poet most likely to win a Nobel Prize is Zbigniew Herbert, a seemingly simple, ironic, engaged, brilliant poet with an unerring ear for non-rhetorical statement and a profound wisdom about our modern human condition. Polish, he is well translated by both Milosz and Carpenter.
10. Now that the movie "The Postman" has been widely shown, many people in the U.S. have heard of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. He is wonderfully lyrical, and throughout his life he kept changing the manner and subject of his poetry. Perhaps most accessible, and to me most wonderful, are his late poems, especially the three volumes of Elemental Odes. on simple everyday subjects, they are written in a language even common people and children can understand -- but are luminescent and lyrical nevertheless.
11. If one single poet can be said to have imagined and created our modernity, it was Charles Baudelaire. A Good place to start is his series of four poems entitled "Spleen," which give a remarkable sense of what depression/boredom/self-loathing feel like. No translator stands out particularly: he is best in French.
12. American poets? William Carlos Williams
is the height, for me, of twentieth century poetry. Try the short
lyrics in his selected poems, especially "This is just to say," "Between
Walls," "To a Poor Old Woman," and the slightly longer "By the Road to
the Contagious Hospital." The best love poem, as well as the best
poem on ageing, of the twentieth century is, in my view, "Asphodel,
that Greeny Flower": I cannot read it without crying, even though
I have read it often and know what it says. It is thirty pages
long, but you will not be able to stop reading it once you start.
Another long poem of his, about a walk over the Mexican border at El Paso,
is one of my favorites: "The Desert Music"
concludes with a lyrical and astonishing praise of poetry.
Both those long poems are in this last book, Pictures from Brueghel.
13. Williams' contemporary and sort-of friend, Wallace Stevens, is a different sort of aesthete than Rilke, but like Rilke is always concerned with the workings of the imagination. In fact, it is likely that no poet, ever, has charted the workings of the imagination more thoroughly than Stevens. He is a very great, and nowadays a very influential, poet. I recommend almost anything, but you might start with "Of Modern Poetry," The Idea or Order at Key West," and "Poems of Our Climate", all of which are about poetry. In my view his single most successful poem is the four page "Sunday Morning," the meditation of an old woman who dreamily wonders what death means and whether life might not be better than heaven. If you are really a glutton for reading, among the many confusions of his long poem "Poetry as a Supreme Fiction" there are passages of incandescent beauty, stanzas which are incandescent in their lyrical beauty and their seeming wisdom.
14. My great recent discover is a poet who came a bit after them, and whom I should have read more of years ago. Elizabeth Bishop wrote int eh 30's, 40's and 50's. Wonderful and accessible are "At the Filling Station" and "In the Waiting Room." My favorite is the superb meditation on truth and time, "At the Fishhouses."
15. Read Allen Ginsberg's "Howl" (on his own madness in crazy America) or his less-known "Kaddish" (on the death of his insane mother) for a sense of what the best of beat poetry could be.
16. I love A. R. Ammons' meditative poem, about taking a walk at the beach, "Corson's Inlet". If you prefer walking around cities, try some of Frank O'Hara's poems about walking around New York, like "The Day Lady Died" or "A Step Away from Them."
17. Of poets writing right now, I love Robert Hass (try "The Privilege of Being" and "Meditation at Lagunitas"); Rita Dove (try her most recent book, a sequence of sonnets called Mother Love); C.K. Williams (try "The Gas Station,"); Louise Gluck (try the flower poems of her recent The Wild Iris); Maxine Kumin (try "Morning Swim" and "Family Reunion").
Let's turn to the novel. Although I must admit something astonishing that occurred to me a few years ago -- and one of the reasons I only teach poetry classes nowadays. For many years I devoured novels: some I read once, some I read many times as I taught them or as I revisited them. But try as I might, most of the novels I have read seem to slip away from me, to be much more insubstantial that I ever would have believed twenty years ago. They seemed so powerful! As if they would last forever! But, strangely, I can remember poems I read fifteen and twenty and even thirty years ago with much more clarity than most of the novels I read at the same time. Perhaps it is the intensity of the words in poems, perhaps it is that the words themselves of the poems remain: or perhaps it is just my own idiosyncracies: but poems last, stay with me, longer than novels.
18. If you haven't tried her, and if you can stomach a novel about courtship and love, read Jane Austen. There never was a better novelist in English. Pride and Prejudice is so good, and so enticing, that I have read it eight or ten times. Even if I decide to read only a few chapters, I fall into the prose and read the whole book. I like all her other novels, too, but especially Mansfield Park. And, yes, the books are much better than the movies -- her language sparkles with wit, irony, life: she writes the way intelligent perceptive people, in their dreams of heaven, imagine the denizens of paradise speaking.
19. No doubt about it, the greatest novelist to write in English was believe it or not, Charles Dickens. Really? Really!!! His greatest novels are Great Expectations, David Copperfield, and especially Bleak House. If you can get through thirty pages of the last of these, you won't put it down, except for a few minutes' sleep, for three days. No one ever told a better story, no one foresaw the life of the city and the tensions of class, better than Dickens. No one ever -- save Tolstoy and Balzac -- had a broader canvas. Every couple of years I read (or sometimes reread) a Dickens novel, and I am almost never disappointed. If you want an unheralded one which is wonderful, try Dombey and Son. But start with Bleak House.
20. I am sometimes conventional. The greatest novel, ever, is by someone who admired Dickens (as did all the Russian novelists): War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. It will take you a week to read it, and you will delight in every single minute of it. And I mean delight. And if you haven't had enough, after you take a deep breath plunge into Anna Karenina, which to many readers, including me, is just as good -- or almost.
21. No American ever wrote a novel as big and good as Tolstoy. Though two "greatest American novels" come damn close, though. One is -- you guessed it -- Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. It is full of crap at times, but the more I read it, and more importantly the more years I have lived with its phrases and thoughts in my mind, the more it consumes me. It is really worth reading. [Like Wordsworth's Prelude, it is almost never taught at U.V.M.]
22. The only novel that is as huge and powerful as Melville's
is one written in the twentieth century by the pre-eminent novelist of
our American century, William Faulkner.
Absalom, Absalom is to my mind the greatest
of all American novels. It is also Faulkner's toughest. But
it says more about race, class, history, stubborness, pride, family, than
any single book ever written here. If you are new to Faulkner, who
is always experimental, you might start with his novella
The Bear, and move on to The Sound and the Fury. None are easy, all are wonderfully rich and wise.
23. More or less forgotten these days, except by the movies, is E.M. Forster, another great modernist writer. Unlike Faulkner or Joyce, he never overwhelms you. He has no need to dazzle, though his novels reverberate on the deepest levels of the heart. The best is Howard's End, the most enjoyable Room with a View. I love them all, except for the posthumously-published Maurice.
24. While I'm on the modernists, the only novel other than Austen's Pride and Prejudice which I cannot resist reading in its entirety every time I read a paragraph (and that means I've read it well over a dozen times) is The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. A pared down but scintillant prose style, characters, vision -- it is one of the triumphs of American literature.
25. Nobody reads this one any more, but John Dos Passos wrote a trilogy of nobles in the 20's and 30's called U.S.A. I think it is brilliant -- and it is also a captivating read. It is about an entire week's worth of reading -- three 500-page novels. When I have assigned it (three times in 25 years) students died -- but loved it.
26. I am a great admirer of Saul Bellow's earlier fiction, especially the novella Seize the Day (a marvel of deep resonance, an extraordinary enquiry in what it is to be human) and the comic novel Henderson the Rain King.
27. My favorite novella --though favorite is too flimsy a term -- (along with Bellow's Seize the Day) is Tillie Olsen's extraordinarily moving story of an older woman facing illness, Tell Me A Riddle, in the book of that name. Writing doesn't get any deeper or better than this.
28. The most resonant (with life experience, be it politics or
searching for identity or the American cityscape) novel I have read is
Ralph Ellison's Invisible
Man. It is the best novel of the post-war period in America.
Period. More lines from that novel travel through my consciousness
reverberating with meaning than from any other novel.
29. Catch-22 is hilarious, and also deep. Joseph Heller never wrote another great novel (including his latest, a sort of Catch-22-Revisited) although I have a fondness -- I may be the only one in America who does -- for Something Happened. But that latter novel is pretty tedious going.
30. Oh. Want a comic and happy novel that is also a good novel? My favorite happy book is the British academic novel (truly uproarious) Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis. (He never wrote another good novel -- I know, I read them all, looking for him to duplicate his early success. He just grew meaner and meaner, and terribly conservative . . . )
31. I found Michael Malone's Handling Sin hilarious. A flawed novel, but happy and even slapstick. I recommend it to all my friends; all love it. On the road with a bourgeois middle-aged Southerner . . . In the same category of fiction which uses humor and an engaging style to entice and inveigle the reader into entering another world, I recommend Richard Russo's Nobody's Fool. [I first read Russo in his recent novel Straight Man, which is a hilarious account of an English Department and its bumbling Chairman -- given to me by a friend since I myself am a bumbling Chair of an English Department. Believe me, every weird person in the novel seems absolutely true to may experience of faculty in English departments!]
32. The novel I recommend to my good friends these days is one that may be best suited to people older than you -- I don't know, I never recommended it to a student. Deft, funny, wise, it is Last Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor. And funny, too, in a witty, ironic way.
33. And now back to non-hilarious novels. The most captivating novel I ever read was a romance by the great French 19th century novelist Stendhal, The Charterhouse of Parma. I didn't know what it was about, but I loved it. I can no longer remember its plot, but that may be because it was such a dream to fall into it for a couple of days.
34. While we are looking at romantic novels of the romantic period, the greatest of them all may be the first: Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther. But I don't recommend it nearly as highly as a strange novel (not reputed to be his best) by Thomas Mann, the towering figure of German fiction in this century. His The Beloved Returns is a gem: it is about Goethe's love affair with Charlotte (the basis of Goethe's novel) and how years later this lover comes to visit him. If you read this and like it, and are ready to take on the BIG classics, you could also try Mann's great novella "Death in Venice" or his huge novel, The Magic Mountain. Both are immensely rewarding, although on second thought the latter is too large, and I might not really recommend it.
35. The great 'humane' or 'humanist' novel of the nineteenth century -- the golden age of fiction -- is George Eliot's Middlemarch. I don't like her quite as much as I like Dickens (though when I was in college I liked her more than anyone), but I cannot for the life of me see how she disappeared from the literary horizon. She seems to me more capacious, more accomplished, more visionary, than the Brontes -- yet no one reads her greatest novel anymore. She is I think the greatest of women novelists, yet she has slid away . . . although the tv series of Middlemarch was so popular several years ago in Britain that once again Eliot became a best-seller!
36. Another way to enter the nineteenth century is to read novels about it, not written in it. In this vein, I highly recommend Gore Vidal (stepbrother to Jackie Kennedy, by the way), whose Lincoln and Empire are marvelous. Especially if you like history.
37. I don't read much history. But spellbinding, truly spellbinding, on the 1960's and the civil rights movement is Taylor Branch's huge book, Parting the Waters, the first volume of his biography of Martin Luther King. It truly reads like a novel, and the characters! And the history! How much America had, and how much we may have lost in the past forty years! (the second volume has just appeared, to fine reviews.)
38. I read biography, but not with great passion. I don't go to much drama, or read it. I don't get short stories, so I tend not to read many of them. So there are no recommendations in these veins, save two: Even for someone as dense as me, who doesn't get short stories, Anton Chekhov is astonishing. No one I have ever read can so seamlessly move from life to words on a page: his stories have the irreducibility and resistance to explanation that life itself has, yet they shimmer with depths of meaning. My favorite of them all -- he wrote hundreds -- is "Gooseberries." And if you want short fiction, no one ever wrote more dense and suggestive stories than Franz Kafka: read "The Metamorphosis," "The Judgement," "In the Penal Colony," and his claustrophobic and overpowering novel The Trial.
38. We don't talk, except when reading earlier poetry, about souls any more. But we have souls. Or at least so I am convinced when I listen to the operas of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. When our souls speak their own language, it seems to me the sing in Italian to the melodies of Mozart. My feeling is that his best opera is the comic The Marriage of Figaro. Get a videotape -- opera has to be seen performed, and the words do matter, so don't just listen to a record. The best movie of an opera I have ever seen is Ingmar Bergman's The Magic Flute, which is pure magic even though it is sung in Swedish (it was originally written in German) by less-than-world-class singers. It even blew the mind of my 10 year old when I dragged him to it (we had nothing else to do that day) . . .
39. Listen to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. It's gigantic, but the second time you hear it you will be bowled over -- and even more so if you read a translation of the words of the "ode to Joy" which is sung in the last movement. ( If you can bear symphonies of even longer duration, it is worth trying Gustav Mahler. The older I get, the more I think there is something wonderful about Mahler.) The most powerful and moving piece of classical music is, I think the "Heilege Gedanksang", the slow movement of Beethoven's Fourteenth String Quartet. In it he gives thanks for his blessings, a remarkable situation since he -- a composer -- had turned deaf. It captures the aspiration to the heavenly (since I have already spoken of souls, perhaps I can speak in such quasi-spiritual terms again) better than anything ever written, anywhere.
40. We've all got our favorite pieces to listen to again and again. For me, when I have a paper tow rite, and need to put something on the cd player for endless replays for hours to blot out the world, I use Johannes Brahms' endlessly inventive Variations on a Theme by Handel. (Not the lovely Haydn variations, which are for orchestra: this one is for piano, and more complex and wonderful.)
41. There is so much wonderful music to listen to: I can't really give you a list. Don't be satisfied only with what the hype tells you is the music of the moment: try to extend the range of what you try, especially into classical music, jazz and blues, and music of other cultures.
42. Go to art museums.
My most depressing experience of the past two years has been teaching Robert
Lowell's wonderful 'last' poem, "Epilogue," in which he compares what he
does with words to what Vermeer did with paints. In two years, two
classes, 60 students, no student knew who Vermeer was! (Well, one
knew he was a painter, but not when/where he lived or what he painted.)
You are missing much of what the world has to offer if your visual understanding
ranges only from Michael Jordan's leaps to sunsets over lake Champlain
to Homer Simpson's outbursts, with maybe a rock video or Seinfeld thrown
in for variety.
Don't feel you have to be sophisticated to go to museums, or that you have to admire brushstrokes to look at paintings. Just stand in front of paintings and look at them, and see if the painter is envisioning for you whatever it is that sight would like to see if it could get outside of the ordinariness of seeing.
When I was your age, I went to museums and looked at paintings as if they were religious objects (the religion of art) that I had to worship and struggle to understand. Bullshit. Go to a museum and look to see whatever it is that delights your sight. And your soul. When you walk through a summer meadow, and a particularly beautiful flower strikes your eye -- or a deer leaps across an open glade -- you stop in delight. That is what a museum should be -- and can be -- and, for me, usually is.
Unlike literature, art can be directly perceived by the senses. So standing in front of a painting is, at its most fundamental level, a physical experience even before it is an intellectual one. That's worth remembering, so that you can revel in delight instead of feeling unworthy because you do not understand . . .
43. So here is a list of my favorite painters. I'll start with
the Italians (and be snotty, though I don't mean to be: they are best seen
in Italy). Duccio, Giotto, Piero della Francesca,
Giovanni Bellini, Fra Angelico.
The Italian Renaissance really was a golden age, and if you get to Italy you should see: the Tomb of the Medicis in Florence --overpowering sculptures by Michelangelo; Raphael's "School of Athens" in the Vatican, which I find more accessible and even marvelous than the more famous Sistine Ceiling of Michelangelo; all of Venice (the most captivating city in the world) and especially the Bellinis in churches all over the city, and his "Madonna Enthroned" in the Frari, which I think is the most beautiful painting ever painted; Sienna, with the most civilized serene and beautiful town square in all of Europe, and in the Palazzo Publico which faces it two remarkable paintings, one of a horseman against a stunning blue background by Simone Martini and the other the magnificent "Allegory of Good Government" by Ambrogio Lorenzetti; and not far off, next to the magnificent cathedral, is a small museum with Duccio's best paintings, the Maestà).
44. Florence is over-touristed and to me slightly disappointing, but contains more painterly wonders than any other city. In addition to the recommendations of guidebooks, if you go there be sure to see the frescoes of Fra Angelico: no one ever used such angelic colors; Massaccio's "Expulsion of Adam And Eve from the Garden of Eden," unbelievably dramatic; and the West's most interesting and wonderful purely decorative painting, Bennozzo Gozzoli's The Journey of the Magi in the Medici-Riccardi Place.
The two most famous places in Florence are definitely worthy of being famous: Brunelleschi's dome over the cathedral, viewable from all over the city, cannot be forgotten once you have seen it, so lovely and harmoniously does it rise; and the Uffizi museum is, to my subjective judgement, the single museum in the world I most love going to. Although Ghiberti's baptistry doors are justly famous, I prefer (in terms of bas-relief) the more whimsical "Choir" sculptures by Luca Della Robbia in the cathedral museum.
45. The great surprise of Italy is the city of Ravenna, in which 8-9th century mosaics will blow you away. It looks like an old nondescript beach town (actually, over the years the Mediterranean has receded, and it is no longer on the coast) until you walk into the nine sites which contain mosaics -- and then you are transfixed, transported, transformed. It was not for nothing that Yeats though the age of Byzantium represented the highest point of human imagination' and the "byzantium" to which he sails in the poem I recommended earlier is, in point of fact, Ravenna.
46. Not all the great art is of the Renaissance. Believe it or not, the period of modernism, and the period following -- the age of abstract expressionism, especially in New York City -- are among the golden ages of painting. For modernists, the great fascinating figure (whom I go up and down on) is the endlessly inventive Pablo Picasso; the most wonderful (and satisfying) painter is Henri Matisse. Never pass up a chance to see a Matisse. Everything he touched is wonderful, even to the cut-out pieces of paper (Instead of paints and brushes) he had to use when he was disabled by age and stroke. And for abstract expressionists -- there are lots who can blow you away, from Jackson Pollack to Willem de Kooning to Mark Rothko. It's often called action painting, because the work seems to reveal the activity of its coming-into-being.(That is not so true of Rothko, who is immensely spiritual). And then there's, earlier -- mid and late nineteenth century -- Vincent van Gogh with his fabulous colors and brushstrokes and immediacy, and Edouard Manet, whose committed (but lyrical) realism is more powerful than any of the impressionists who painted in the same era.
47. There are wonders of art in every culture. Unfortunately, I am not a good guide to the non-Western ones, although I would recommend, if you are in Washington DC, you go to the Museum of African Art. It will blow you away -- it does me. While on museums, since most of you live on the east coast, here are the premier places to see the artist mentioned above: New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Modern Museum of Art (the world's best modern-art museum), the Frick Gallery (small but unbelievably rich); in Boston, The Museum of Fine Arts and maybe the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum; in Washington, the National Gallery (don't just go to the East Wing, with its blockbuster shows: go to the older part, and look especially at the art of the Italian Renaissance and the art of the nineteenth century, and the Vermeers and Rembrandts), the Phillips, and the Corcoran Gallery; Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
48. Long ago I said you should, if you want to see opera, view Ingmar Bergman's movie of The Magic Flute. Bergman was the great "artsy" director of my youth, and I never particularly liked him. His last film, Fanny and Alexander, however, is a veritable wonder: color, setting, acting, story. Other films which come to mind from a lifetime of watching films are: The African Queen, one of my two favorite Hollywood movies (how can you miss with two hours of wit and adventure starring Bogart and Hepburn?). And Italian film of a decade ago, The Night of the Shooting Stars was truly wondrous. My wife has always believed that notwithstanding the hype the first two Godfather films were as good as any American film has ever been (and you get Brando and Pacino, too). My kids adore -- I'm sure you have all seen this, many times -- Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and since I've recommended all sorts of high art, I guess I can recommend Ferris as well, in compensation. Oh -- my other favorite Hollywood movie? It's about baseball (sort of), appears often on late night tv, and every time I see it I get sucked in and watch the whole thing: Bang the Drum Slowly, and it stars Robert de Niro in his first major role. My vote for the most visually arresting film would go to Louis Bunuel's Le Chien Andalou, a short surrealist film of extraordinary visual power. The most visually luscious film ever made is François Truffaut's Jules and Jim. Historically, the film I would say you've got to see is Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin.
I could go on longer, but I have temporarily run out of ideas, and my fingers are tired of pounding the keyboard . . .
49. Recently I been reading, with great pleasure, the Canadian novelist Carol Shields. She is remarkably ‘readable,' using conventional plotting, recognizable (but quirky) characterization, and yet always experimenting with narrative form. I love the sentimental The Republic of Love and also the moving insight into an "ordinary" woman's life, The Stone Diaries.
50. I was recently blown away by the Israeli novelist Aharon Appelfeld's three lectures in the slim volume Beyond Despair, which try to assess what writing is and does in the aftermath of the immensity of the Holocaust. He is a fine novelist, too, and well worth reading.
51. Usually the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa is regarded as the finest Portuguese poet of our century. That may reflect the bias of the ‘mother' country: I find him experimental, interesting, but not as moving or fecund as Carlos Drummond de Andrade, a Brazilian poet who writes with measured irony about family and self: one of the great autobiographical poets of our century, one who takes life and transforms it into art.
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