Chile Culture slider — 05 September 2014

nicanor parra anti poet

 

Today is Nicanor Parra´s 100th birthday. This 5-time Nobel-Prize nominated Chilean poet is not as widely-known in the English-speaking world as in the Spanish-speaking one, where his fame is complete.  This is due, in part, to there being no suitable anthology of his complete or even major works translated into English and no great critic taking up his cause there. (No one would be reading “The Great Gatsby” if Edmund Wilson had not retrieved F. Scott Fitzgerald from obscurity.)

A short collection of his works in English includes AntiPoems, How to Look and Feel Great translated by Liz Werner.  (Allen Gingsburg translated a few of his poems.  You can read one translation here.)

Nicanor Parra last year won the Cervantes Prizes, which is the most prestigious award for poetry and literature in the Spanish-speaking world. That cements him in the the top tier of the greatest Chilean poets, a list that includes Roberto Bolaño (a poet who is actually more famous for his novels, which he said paid the rent), Gabriel Mistral (Nobel Laureate), and Pablo Neruda (Nobel Laureate).

There is rivalry and jealously among poets, as there is among mathematicians and physicists. (Parra was both a mathematician and a physicist.) Bolaño famously mocked Octavio Paz, the Mexican Nobel Prize winner, at open readings.  That rivalry and competition among poets is the theme of Bolaño’s first novel “Savage Detectives.”

Who can say whether Neruda (outspoken and famous) or Mistral (less outspoken and female) is the greater poet, but there is no doubt that Neruda was the greater publicist. Parra kept his distance and said of Neruda, “There are two manners to deal with Neruda: one is to avoid reading him, the other is to read him in bad faith.”

Parra coined the phrase anti-poet and referred to himself as the anti-poet. Harold Bloom, the Yale professor critic, said Parra should have won the Nobel prize.

Parra thought he should had won the Nobel prize for reading. In the collection translated by Liz Werner, he perhaps comments on almost winning the prize:

The Nobel Prize for reading
should be awarded to me
I am the ideal reader
I read everything I get my hands on…

One of my favorite Parra poems is What Does an Old Man Gain by Exercising?, which has nothing to do with going to the gym, but the endless effort to make oneself matter, so that one does not age into irrelevancy:

What Does an Old Man Gain by Exercising
what we will he gain by talking on the phone
what will he gain by going after fame, tell me
what does an old man gain by looking the in the mirror…

The poet is know for his drawings as well, which are like doodles, one of which we put atop this short post.  It reads “All poetry is shit, so says Clara Sandoval [his mom]. Obviously there are notable exceptions.”

 

 

 

 

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(1) Reader Comment

  1. Nicanor est une pute

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