António Botto

Posted on October 28, 2010

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Born to working-class parents in Concavada, Portugal in 1892, poet António Botto  moved with his parents to Lisbon in 1902. Poorly educated, he worked a series of menial jobs, including a stint as a bookstore clerk, before entering the Portuguese civil service.

Botto’s first book of poetry came out in 1917, but it was his third collection, Canções (Songs), that gained him notoriety because of the unapologetic homoeroticism of the poems. The first edition actually went unnoticed; it was when a second edition came out in 1922 with a glowing introduction by the great Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa that he attracted the attention of the police, who confiscated the book. Conservative Catholic students called for it to be burned, but the Portuguese literary establishment stood up for him, with Pessoa in the lead, and the ban was removed.

Botto was flamboyant and open about his homosexuality (though he had also long lived with a woman), cruising sailors in the dockyards and writing about it. He was a dandy, prone to exaggeration and gained himself many enemies, though his work was praised by everyone from Virginia Woolf to Federico Garcia Lorca. And in 1942, he was dismissed from his job for reading poetry aloud during work and for making a pass at one of his male co-workers.

In 1947, he moved with his companion to Brazil, where he lived first in Sao Paulo and then in Rio de Janeiro. He was struck by a streetcar in 1959, and died 12 days later.

António Botto has a Wikipedia page, here, and his book Canções can be found on Project Gutenberg, here (in Portuguese). A translation of Canções by Pessoa can be found on Amazon, here.

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