Corsino Fortes’ collection Pão & Fonema [Bread & Phoneme] appeared in 1974, the year that Portugal’s dictator Antonío Salazar was overthrown, which triggered the decolonization of the Cape Verde Islands in 1975. Though not overtly political, the images in these poems reverberate with approaching renewal – drums surround the island, dead caravels await revival, children scatter seeds near the quiet strings of instruments. Growing out of a Modernist tradition yet composing with a distinctly singular vision, Fortes excavates the gut, heart, and mind, giving us vivid and often hallucinatory glimpses of the land, sea, and people of Cape Verde. His poems become earth- and word-scapes rooted in the land and the body. This first substantial English-language collection, selected and evocatively interpreted by Sean O’Brien and Daniel Hahn, pulls from Fortes’ entire body of work.
I would recommend this magnificent, generous, and bilingual presentation of Corsino Fortes’s work to anyone who enjoys grappling with the poignant, the sensuous, and the esoteric. It will be difficult for me to forget the “Tree and drum of the ancient viola” and the sardine as “a flickering tongue in the sea’s mouth”; nor “Eating the earth eating the earth eating the earth,” when “the earth is flesh”; nor Fortes’s prayer-command to the sunflower to “enter [him] / Before the sun / Disorients you Sunflower!"
— Asymptote Journal
Author of works like Pão e Fonema [Bread and Phoneme] (1974) or Árvore e Tambor [Tree and Drum] (1986), his work expresses a new awareness of Cape Verdian reality and a new reading of cultural tradition from the archipelago.
— Antonio Miranda
English speakers can finally experience how Fortes addresses the exile’s status common to so many around the world.
— Publishers Weekly
...the poems of this collection are not just water-based, permeated also, as they are, by the fragrances of blood, pollen and tobacco. His sleep is a goat ‘Eating the earth eating the earth eating the earth/Eating the earth eating the earth eating the earth’. Soil and bread abound as Fortes constructs his world ‘Year by year/skull by skull’, continually weaving together the elements of his memory, the substantial things of this planet.
— Dylan Brennan, The Bogman's Cannon
It is the seductiveness of [the] “dynamism of expression” through which the reader will best remember this significant translation.
— Douglas Messerli, Hyperallergic
Concerned with giving voice to Cape Verdean life, Fortes writes in Cape Verdean Creole – and not just standard Portuguese – a powerful statement reinforcing the islands’ distinctive African nature. However, his poems are often written from the perspective of an exile – and themes of exile and redemptive return recur in his work. This collection introduces English readers to Fortes, and the poet’s beautiful and unique use of language.
— Portuguese-American Journal