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Nicanor Parra: the centennial of the most subversive voice in latinamerican literature

Nicanor Parra: the centennial of the most subversive voice in latinamerican literature

Posted by José Peralta on September 08, 2014

Physicist, mathematician, artist, folk dancer, and (anti)poet Nicanor Parra turned 100 years a few days ago. That he’s living to celebrate his own centennial could be a detail from one of his magnificently wry, aphoristic, self-mythologizing antipoems, which he has long characterized as a type of literary material analogous to antimatter. In her translator’s introduction to Antipoems: How to Look Better and Feel Great (New Directions, 2004) Liz Werner writes that “…antipoetry mirrors poetry, not as its adversary but as its perfect complement…it is as opposite, complete, and interdependent as the shape left behind in the fabric where the garment has been cut out.”

Parra has been cutting vivid shapes from the fabric of Latin American poetry and poetics since 1937, when his first book, Cancionero sin Nombre, appeared (Pablo Neruda’s book responding to the Spanish Civil War, España en el Corazón, appeared a year later). He went on to study physics and cosmology at Brown and Oxford, and teach those subjects at universities in Chile.

Nicanor Parra Sandoval was born on the September 5, 1914. He is the self-proclaimed founder of antipoetry, or an attempt to debunk what is understood as poetry in traditional contexts.

He started as a math and music teacher before he became one of the most important characters of culture and poetry in Chilean literature; in addition, he inspired many American artists such as Allen Ginsberg involved with the counterculture movement, or Beat Generation in the 1950’s.

Santiago de Chile has planned a few events to honor the work and the engagement of this artist. One of them is called “Voy Y Vuelvo” and takes place at the Biblioteca Nicanor Parra of the Universidad Diego Portales.

The exhibition brings works from various stages of development of the artist’s career, like “El Quebrantahuesos” and “El Pago de Chile,” as well as a selection of artifacts and practical papers, among others.

Parra 100.

A halo created by white tufts of surprisingly robust hair may lead the uninformed viewer to confuse him for the likes of Einstein or “Back to the Future’s” “Doc.” But the simultaneously skeptical and amused look on his face — a careful arrangement of slightly raised eyebrows, corner-smile and steady, penetrating gaze — is unmistakably Nicanor Parra’s.

Parra 100, the Gabriela Mistral Cultural Center (GAM)’s “visual biography” of the iconic Chilean “anti-poet” — thus named because of the man’s rejection (if not outright hatred) of lyrical poetry’s “pomp” — commemorates Parra’s Sept. 5 centennial.

The man who described himself as “a sausage of angel and beast” has captivated worldwide audiences with his unique brand of unsentimental poetry, characterized by heavy use of colloquialisms and a biting sense of irony.

The Parra 100 exhibition space — a dark room filled with blown-up black-and-white pictures of the poet — is divided into seven sections corresponding to different phases of his life.

As the Universidad de Chile was the place Parra used to study,  a commemorative canvas was installed at the front of the principal building. Beginning tomorrow, works of Parra will be read out by students, academics, poets and citizens.

At the Facultad de Ciencias Físicas y Matemáticas, guests can follow activities in a memorial of Nicanor Parra throughout the faculty. There will be conferences and other activities to participate and to join in the work of the artist Nicanor Parra, which are detailed on the university faculty’s site. Browse some of his antipoems via the “antiwebsite” dedicated to the life and works of the prolific artist.

Another event is called “El hombre imaginario” and it is organized by the National Council of Arts and Culture, CNCA, and the Santiago municipality. It started at 12 p.m. today and several celebrities, like the musician Gepe and the writer Jorge Baradit, will be presenting a live read of one his most important works “El hombre imaginario.” The event will take place at the Mercado Tirso de Molina in Recoleta.

Also, to celebrate Parra’s birthday Chilean press Ediciones Universidad Diego Portales is releasing a long-lost long poem by Parra, titled Temporal. Written in 1987, the poem was lost by Parra in the chaos of the end of the Pinochet regime. However, Parra’s secretary, Adán Mendez, recently discovered cassette tapes of Parra in conversation with critic Rene de la Costa in which he reads the entire piece aloud. Mendez transcribed the poem from audio. The unlikely survival of a great poem in the body of a now-obsolete technology seems perfectly appropriate to Parra’s style.

This article was co- curated with materials from, Circumference Magazine and The Santiago Times


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