Rui Knopfli

Mozambican poet, Rui Knopfli was born in 1932, in Inhambane, Mozambique, and died in 1997.

From the late 1950s on, he developed a solid poetic work which is not easy to incorporate in the Mozambican literary currents – his work is probably an extension of the western lyrical tradition. Knopfli was born in the middle of the Mozambican savannah, and his imagery represents African places but, nevertheless, Camões, Carlos Drummond de Andrade, Fernando Pessoa or T. S. Eliot can well be used as references to an analysis of Knopfli’s poetics. The concision and the formal discipline of his poems reveal a contained and disenchanted felling, facing a reality that is often aggressive.

Rui Knopfli lived in Mozambique until the age of 43, having contributed to several newspapers and having directed, with Eugénio Lisboa, the literary supplements of the publication A Voz de Moçambique (Voice of Mozambique) and of the diary A Tribuna (The Tribune). His first books were O País dos Outros (The Country of the Others, 1959), Reino Submarino (Submarine Kingdom, 1962) and Máquina de Areia (Sand Machine, 1964), but the book that revealed his maturity as poet was Mangas Verdes com Sal (Green Sleevs with Salt). In this book he wrote: «I carve, firmly and strongly, / the hard wood of my verses, / syllable after syllable, word after word », testifying the detachment and precision that characterizes his style.

Knopfli held at distance the 1950s’ literary currents, with some irony. Despite having experimented concretist poems, he was always more interested in a more classical and formal style. On the other hand, he is frequently branded as a baroque poet, for dealing with subjects such as time and disenchantment, as well as for using precise words to shape his poems. This leads to his independence and originality, which makes it difficult to integrate him in a literary current.

The disenchantment of the poet doesn’t sound like revolt but like an indifferent passivity. The metaphors are, sometimes, violent or threatening, but this is almost subliminal, since what prevails is the serenity of things, well harmonized with a sober style that reveals what lies beyond pain.

In 1975 he had to leave to London, where, in 1982, he started working as media advisor in the Portuguese embassy. Rui Knopfli, whose poetry had always been characterized by a strong urban incidence, where the artificial was surpassed by nature, is now involved in an intense cosmopolitism, which, far from harmonizing his feelings, increases the feeling of exile and, consequently, of dislocation. Therefore, as other lusophone poets, he admits, in 1978, in the book entitled O Escriba Acocorado (The Cowered Scribe): «my country is the language in which I verbalize myself ». His literary career continued in 1982 with a collection of all his poetry, in a book entitled Memória Consentida - Vinte Anos de Poesia (Conceded Memory – Twenty Years of poetry). He also published O Corpo de Atena (Athena’s Body, 1984) and co-published a poetry booklet, Calibán, together with Grabato Dias.

Bibliography: O País dos Outros, Lourenço Marques, 1959; Reino Submarino, Lourenço Marques, 1962; Máquina de Areia, Lourenço Marques, 1964; Mangas Verdes com Sal, Lourenço Marques, 1969; A Ilha de Próspero, Lourenço Marques, 1972; O Escriba Acocorado, Lisboa, 1978; Memória Consentida, Lisboa, 1982

05-01-2015