From visual artist and award-winning writer of Delicious Foods, a book of prose and images that uses the poetry of Fernando Pessoa and the history of air disasters to investigate con men, identity politics, failures of leadership, the privilege of ineptitude, the slave trade, and the nature of consciousness.
Early in 2017, on a plane trip from Cape Verde to Lisbon, James Hannaham started reading Pessoa & Co., Richard Zenith’s English translation of Fernando Pessoa’s selected works. It was two months since the presidential election; like many people, ideas about unfitness for service and failures of leadership were very much on his mind.
Imagine his consternation upon opening the Pessoa anthology to discover that the first line in the first poem, The Keeper of Sheep is: “I’ve never kept sheep/But it’s as if I did.”
The Portuguese, Hannaham had been musing, were also responsible for jump-starting colonialism and the global slave trade, which gradually became racialized based on false beliefs about people of African descent. Pessoa published only one book in Portuguese in his lifetime, Mensagem, which consisted of unselfconscious paeans to European explorers.
Hannaham felt compelled to respond to Pessoa’s work in some way: to undo it in certain respects, and to rescue from it what still felt relevant. Once in Lisbon, he began a quasi-daily practice of reading a poem from Zenith’s anthology, meditating on a response, and writing a piece in whatever mode seemed to click, regardless of form or genre. This book is the result of that practice.