Rui Torres’ Cantiga in class – digital poetry in Portuguese schools

Abstract (in English): 

Although the most recent curricular documents issued by the Portuguese Ministry of Education (ME, 2017; ME, 2018) recommend students to read multimodal texts, there is still a print-based culture among Portuguese schools and among language and literature teachers. As part of the project “Inanimate Alice: Translating Electronic Literature for an Educational Context”, held at the Centre for Portuguese Literature – University of Coimbra, we have already conducted some experiments with digital narrative in Portugal (Machado et alii, 2018), which we hope to be extended by the inclusion of Alice Inanimada (the Portuguese version of Inanimate Alice) in the National Reading Plan in 2018, as Ana Maria Machado, the project coordinator, presented at the ELO Conference 2018. However, we do not have available data concerning teaching digital poetry to children and teenagers in our country, which led me to include Cantiga in the corpus for the empirical research I am conducting for my doctoral thesis in Materialities of Literature. Cantiga, a combinatory poem ( by Rui Torres (2012), retrieves the homonym poem by Salette Tavares (1967), in which the experimental poet recreated the structure, the rhythm, the vocabulary and the ambiance of Galician-Portuguese medieval songs, particularly the ones from the “cantigas de amigo” genre (characterized by a feminine voice). It is the first, a “prototype” (Torres, 2012), of a set of poems to be created in which contemporary poets dialogue with medieval songs. The textual engine created by Rui Torres operates lexical permutations that lead to semantic variations in a text that presents itself to the reader in a digital screen parchment, more specifically in a fac-simile folio from the Cancioneiro da Ajuda. Readers are thus confronted with the intersection of media, forms and languages from both medieval and contemporary times, as well as with the different voices that emerge from the electronic poem. As Portela states (2012: 49-50), “Rui Torres’ generative text is a text upon another text which was already a text upon another text, showcasing citation and iteration as exponential functions in the production of literary meaning.” Moreover, the poem repeats itself in a mirror-like position and symmetrical relation, written, on the left side, using a gothic font, and, on the right, on a font evoking graffiti art. Therefore, past and present reflect one another in a mirror game, progressively changing through the combinatory movement. Although Rui Torres’ poetic engine contains lexical items collected exclusively from the Galician Portuguese medieval songbooks corpus, it also allows the reader to introduce new words and to produce new meaning(s). Readers (now writers) can crystallize their own poems, publishing them on the Poemário blog ( In this paper I intend to show how 10th graders from Portuguese schools read Cantiga and how they reacted to reading digital poetry, a first-time experience for all of them, by analysing the answers they gave on a questionnaire created for evaluating the reception of the digital poem. By re-membering and (re-)re-creating “cantigas de amigo”, Rui Torres defies readers not only to unveil all those voices that cross and emerge from this “shapeshifting text” (Côrtes Maduro: 2018), but also to join their own to the stream of voices, creating new poems. So I will talk about the importance of the blog Poemário has for students and for teachers, as an opportunity to engage in a new creative experience.

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Vian Rasheed