Saudade: An anthology of fado poetry

Saudade book cover
19 apr 2010

How do you translate saudade – the yearning soul of Fado music? How do you turn poetic songs in one language into song-like poems in another? What is lost – and gained – in the process?

18 of our finest poets, including Elaine Feinstein, Don Paterson and George Szirtes, have taken up the challenge to create versions in English of the poems on which Fado songs are based. The result is Saudade, the first ever anthology of Fado poetry in English, published today by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation and launched at the London Book Fair’s new Literary Translation Centre.

Fado music – Portugal’s urban ‘blues’ tradition – has taken its rightful place on the world stage. The Fado diva Mariza is an international phenomenon, selling over a million records worldwide, and other Fado stars have flourishing international careers, but Fado poetry is still little known outside Portugal.

Edited by the poet Mimi Khalvati, Saudade: An anthology of fado poetry provides the English-reading world with unique access to this distinctive body of Portuguese literature. 53 poems from across the repertoire are published alongside their English ‘versions’: peasant songs from Fado’s earliest days, songs from the genre’s greatest poets, exuberant evocations of the low-life Fado ‘scene’, metaphysical speculation, songs of resistance, and, above all, of love. The poems have been selected by the distinguished Portuguese poet, Vasco Graça Moura.

Translation inevitably involves negotiation between cultures, but the poets have also faced the dilemmas of poems designed to be sung and emblematic of a national identity. Their approaches have spanned the range from literal translation, through versions, to the time-honoured tradition of hommage, but they seek to convey some essence of the culture and music of Fado.

‘The spirit of improvisation, desgarrada, is also important to Fado, just as the singers, styling and interpreting the fixed tunes, establish their own distinctive claims,’ said Mimi Khalvati. ‘By extension, our poets, through the act of translation, carry on this tradition of interpretation, embellishment, improvisation.’

‘The publication of Saudade is a central element in the Foundation’s developing strategy to promote literature in translation. We are delighted that it will be launched at the London Book Fair’s new Literary Translation Centre, another venture we are part of,’ said Andrew Barnett, director of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation UK Branch. ‘Literature in translation is a vital art form, bridging cultures, broadening our understanding of other people lives and enriching our own.’

In many ways, Saudade has become a work about translation itself, a reflection on its possibilities and limitations, how, in David Constantine’s words: ‘All poetic translation, even if you keep close, is an answering back, in your own tongue.’

For further information and review copies contact: Louisa Hooper or Isabel Lucena

Tel: 020 7012 1400, e-mail: [email protected], website:

Notes to Editors

  1. Saudade: An anthology of fado poetry, edited by Mimi Khalvati, is published by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation on 19 April 2010 as a paperback original, price: £8.50, 192pp, ISBN: 978 1 903080 13 9. Available from all good bookshops,
  2. Saudade will be launched at the London Book Fair on 19 April 2010 at 5.30 pm in the new Literary Translation Centre, Stand P440, Earls Court 2.
  3. Saudade comprises 53 Fado poems published alongside newly commissioned versions in English by the poets Moniza Alvi, Judith Barrington, David Constantine, Alfred Corn, Ruth Fainlight, Elaine Feinstein, Grey Gowrie, Marilyn Hacker, Philip Jenkins, Fady Joudah, Sarah Maguire, Eric Ormsby, Don Paterson, Pascale Petit, Carol Rumens, Fiona Sampson, Michael Schmidt and George Szirtes.
  4. Mimi Khalvati has published six poetry collections with Carcanet Press. Her most recent book, The Meanest Flower, was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize 2007. She is the founder of The Poetry School and co-editor of its anthologies of new writing published by Enitharmon Press. She has received a Cholmondeley Award from the Society of Authors and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
  5. Vasco Graça Moura is a Portuguese lawyer, writer, translator and politician who is currently a Member of the European Parliament. He is an expert in Fado poetry and has also written poems for the younger generation of fadistas.
  6. The Portuguese originals were carefully selected to include a wide range of Fado poems – old and new, traditional and erudite, romantic and political – in order to provide a comprehensive picture of a genre that celebrates love and longing, but also reflects the complexities of Portuguese history and culture over the past two centuries.
  7. The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation is a charitable foundation established in Portugal in 1956 with cultural, educational, social and scientific interests. The Foundation’s Headquarters are in Lisbon with offices in London (the UK Branch) and Paris. The purpose of the UK Branch is to help enrich and connect the experiences of people in the UK and Ireland and secure lasting and beneficial change in their lives. One of its strategic aims is to promote cultural understanding, helping to improve people’s perception of each other by providing opportunities for interaction through culture and between cultures.

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