Tags: Nicanor Parra, Latin America, collection, Pablo Neruda, Chile, Cancionero sin nombre, Poems and Antipoems, Salem Press, Latin American poetry, Walt Whitman, Franz Kafka, Latin American, William Shakespeare's King Lear, CANCIONERO SIN NOMBRE Parra, collection of poems, Federico Garc� Lorca, Rosemary M. Canfield Reisman, Parra, Alfred W., Gale Virtual Reference Library, Latin American Poets, University of Chile, Biography Parra, Nicanor Parra Sandoval, Critical Survey, Emergency Poems, Nicanor Latin American Poets Ed., Alfred W. Jensen Source Citation, Jensen
Content: Biography Parra, Nicanor Latin American Poets Ed. Rosemary M. Canfield Reisman. Critical Survey of Poetry Ipswich, MA: Salem Press, 2012. p99-106. COPYRIGHT 2012 Salem Press, A Division of EBSCO Publishing, Inc. Alfred W. Jensen Full Text: Nicanor Parra PRINCIPAL POETRY OTHER literary formS ACHIEVEMENTS BIOGRAPHY ANALYSIS OTHER MAJOR WORKS BIBLIOGRAPHY
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Born: San Fabiбn de Alico, near Chillбn, Chile; September 5, 1914 PRINCIPAL POETRY
Cancionero sin nombre, 1937 Poemas y antipoemas, 1954 (Poems and Antipoems, 1967) La cueca larga, 1958 Versos de salуn, 1962 Canciones rusas, 1967 Obra gruesa, 1969 Los profesores, 1971 Artefactos, 1972 Emergency Poems, 1972 Antipoems: New and Selected, 1985 Nicanor Parra: Biografia emotiva, 1988 Poemas para combatir la calvicie: Muestra de antipoesia, 1993 Discursos de sobremesa, 1997, 2006 (After-Dinner Declarations, 2009; bilingual ed.) Nicanor Parra en breve, 2001 Antipoems: How to Look Better and Feel Great, 2004 OTHER LITERARY FORMS Nicanor Parra (PAH-rah) and Pablo Neruda coauthored Pablo Neruda y Nicanor Parra: Discursos (1962; Pablo Neruda and Nicanor Parra: speeches), which celebrated the appointment of the latter as an honorary member of the faculty of the College of Philosophy and Education of the University of Chile. The volume includes the speech of presentation by Parra, in which he proffers his point of view regarding Neruda's work, and that of acceptance by Neruda. Parra has been active on an international scale in poetry readings, seminars, conferences, and informal gatherings. Many of his poems composed since the publication of Cancionero sin nombre (untitled songs) are available in English through the two bilingual volumes published by New Directions--Poems and Antipoems and Emergency Poems--and one bilingual volume, AfterDinner Declarations, published by Host. ACHIEVEMENTS Nicanor Parra is the originator of the contemporary poetic movement in Latin America known as antipoetry. The antipoet, as this Chilean calls himself, is the absolute antiromantic, debasing all, even himself, while producing verses that are aggressive, wounding, sarcastic, and irritating. He has plowed new terrain in Latin American poetry Page 100 | using a store of methods that traditional poetry rejects or ignores. Parra's work is attacked as boring, disturbing, crude, despairing, ignoble, inconclusive, petulant, and devoid of lyricism. The antipoet generally agrees with these points of criticism, but begs the reader to lay aside what amounts to a nostalgic defense of worn-out traditions and join him in a new experience. Parra has established himself firmly in a prominent position in Hispanic American Literature, influencing both his defenders and detractors. BIOGRAPHY Nicanor Parra Sandoval, one of eight children in a family plagued by economic insecurity, grew up in Chillбn, in the south of Chile. His father was a schoolteacher whose irresponsibility and alcoholism placed considerable strain on the life and order of the family, which was held together by Parra's mother. Parra was in his early teens when his father died. The earlier antipathy he felt toward his father then turned toward his mother, and he left home. He began a process of identification with
his father, toward whom he felt both attraction and repulsion, and to whom he attributes the basic elements of his inspiration for antipoetry. During his youth, Parra composed occasional verses, so that when he went to the University of Chile in Santiago in 1933, he felt that he was a poet in addition to being a student of physics. He associated with the literary leaders at the student residence where he lived, and a year prior to graduating in 1938, he had published his first volume of poetry, Cancionero sin nombre. After completing studies in mathematics and physics at the Pedagogical Institute of the university, Parra taught for five years in secondary schools in Chile. Between 1943 and 1945, he studied advanced mechanics at Brown University in the United States. Returning home in 1948, he was named director of the School of Engineering at the University of Chile. He spent two years in England studying cosmology at Oxford, and upon his return to South America he was appointed professor of theoretical physics at the University of Chile. The publication of Parra's second collection of poetry, Poems and Antipoems, formally introduced the antipoetry with which his name is associated. This new poetry shook the foundation of the theory of the genre in Latin America, winning for its author both condemnation and praise. In 1963, Parra visited the Soviet Union, where he supervised the translation into Spanish of an anthology of Soviet poets, and then traveled to the People's Republic of China. He visited Cuba in 1965, and the following year served as a visiting professor at Louisiana State University, later holding similar positions at New York University, Columbia, and Yale. ANALYSIS Nicanor Parra avoids the appearance of didacticism, claiming that he is not a preacher and that he is suspicious of doctrines, yet his purpose is to goad the reader with Page 101 | his corrosive verses, caustic irony, and black humor until the poet's response to human existence is shared. Satiric rather than political, antipoetry's sad, essentially moralizing, verse of hopelessness contains a strange and infinite tenderness toward humanity in its fallen condition. Neither philosophical nor theoretical poetry, it is intended to be an experience that will elicit a reaction and simulate life itself. Even though he is a mathematician and a physicist, Parra does not consider life to be governed by a logical system of absolutes that, when harnessed, can direct humans toward organization and progress. On the contrary, he believes that the poet's life is absurd and chaotic, and the world is in the process of destruction and decay. Humans either accept this fact, together with their own powerlessness, or they deceive themselves by inventing philosophical theories, moral standards, and political ideologies to which they cling. Parra views his own role as that of obliging humanity to see the falsity of any system that deceives one into believing in these masks that hide the grotesque collective condition in a chaotic universe. Parra makes fun of love, marriage, religion, psychology, political revolutions, art, and other institutions of society. They are rejected as futile dogmas that attempt to ennoble or exalt humans above the reality of their insignificance. Poetry too comes under attack by this anarchist who claims he has orders to liquidate the genre. As the antipoet, Parra resists defining his own poetic structure, knowing that in such an event it too must be destroyed. Thus, he searches continually for new paths, his own evolution, a revolution. The prefix notwithstanding, antipoetry, however unconventional, is poetry, and Parra himself willingly explains his concept of the form. It is, he says, traditional poetry enriched by Surrealism. As the word implies, the "antipoem" belongs to that
tradition that rejects the established poetic order. In this case, it rebels against the sentimental idealism of Romanticism, the elegance and the superficiality of the Modernistas, and the irrationality of the vanguard movement. It is not a poetry of heroes, but of antiheroes, because humans have nothing to sing to or celebrate. Everything is a problem, including the language. Parra eschews what he considers the abuse of earlier poetic language in favor of a direct, prosaic communication using the familiar speech of everyday life. He desires to free poetry from the domination of figures and tropes destined to accommodate a select group of readers who want to enjoy an experience in poetry that is not possible in life itself. He has declared his intent to write poems that are experiences. He is hostile to metaphors, word games, or any evasive power in language that helps to transpose reality. Parra's task is to speak to everyone and be understood by all. The antipoet recreates or reproduces slang, jargon, clichйs, colloquialisms, words of the street, television commercials, and graffiti. He does not create poetry; he selects and compiles it. The genius of the language is sought in the culture of each country as reflected in the language of life. It is poetry not for literature's sake, but for humanity's sake. Its sentiments are the Page 102 | frustrations and hysteria of modern existence, not the anguish and nostalgia of Romanticism. Inasmuch as poetry is life, Parra also utilizes local or national peculiarities in language to underscore a specific social reality. The destruction of the traditional poetic language is the first step in stimulating readers to be torn from the sacred myths that soothe them. Parra avoids so-called poetic words or uses them in unfamiliar contexts (the moon, for example, is poison). His images astonish readers with their irreverence, lack of modesty, grotesqueness, and ambiguity. They inherit the oneiric and unusual qualities of the Surrealists. Placed in the context of daily life, they equate the sublime with the ridiculous, the serious with the trivial, the poetic with the prosaic. Comic clichйs and flat language are used by the protagonists in the antipoems to express their hurt and despair. The irony thus created by these simultaneous prosaic and tragic elements charges the work with humor and pathos. The reader laughs, though the protagonist, or antihero, suffers. The antihero's ineptitudes, failures, and foolishness are viewed with pity, scorn, and amusement. Parra's placement of familiar language and everyday failures in the life of the antihero, however, catches up with readers and compounds the irony, reducing the initial distance between readers and the protagonist. Readers become uncomfortable as this distance closes, their laughter not far from sadness. The antihero in Parra's poetry is a rebel, disillusioned with all aspects of life, who suffers and is alone. He is a wanderer, distrustful and doubting, obsessed with suicide and death. Too insignificant, too ridiculous and nihilistic to be a tragic hero, he is merely the caricature of a hero. In need of communication, he undermines himself at every turn, belittling all of his efforts at self-expression. The grotesque inhabitants of the antipoetic world, comedians in an absurd play, unfulfilled in love and in their potentialities, suffer the passage of time, the agonizing problems of aging, and the inevitable confrontation with death. They are incapable of heroic gestures in any realm because their environment, habits, and nature make them ridiculous. The antipoet holds nothing sacred. The serious, the traumatic, is presented in a casual and burlesque fashion. Life is absurd and death is trivial. The antihero's self-destruction and demoralization are simply mirrors of the malaise of contemporary society. Antipoetry views the world as a sewer in which humans, reduced to the level of vermin, live and multiply. Any effort to alter the situation is destined to failure. Humans nurture their own importance and worth, self-centered creatures obsessed with the need to possess and to consume. Love is false, friendship insincere, and social justice neither exists nor is desired; the environment becomes more and more artificial at the expense of nature and beauty. Political revolutions are deceits that benefit the new leaders but alter nothing. Love is viewed as an egotistical pursuit to fulfill sexual desire; spiritual bonds are denied. Although a few of Parra's poems present women as fragile, innocent beings who are invariably abused by men, the majority of the antipoet's female characters are aggressive rivals who threaten and humiliate men. Yet man, who fears woman, desires and seeks her as a sexual object. Finally, Parra mocks a corrupt Catholic Church;
greedy, lascivious priests; a hypocritical pope; and an omni-impotent God. Full Text:
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Parra's first collection of poems, Cancionero sin nombre, was inspired by the gypsy ballads of Federico Garcнa Lorca. The poems are stylized versions of traditional Spanish folkloric ballads, but in Parra's volume the action remains a dreamlike illusion without taking form. This volume had more attackers than defenders, and although some of the elements of his later work are evident, Parra himself calls this work a sin of his youth, better forgotten. Parra attributes the roots of antipoetry to an independent response to human circumstances, not to any traditions in literature. Nevertheless, he recognizes those writers who have influenced his own literary development. After the publication of his first collection, Parra became enthusiastic about the poetry of Walt Whitman. He delighted in the metric freedom; the relaxed, loose, unconventional language; the narratives and descriptions; and the passionate vehemence that characterized Whitman's verse. When Parra returned to Chile from the United States in 1946, he came to know and appreciate the works of Franz Kafka. Kafka showed Parra the alienation and neurosis of modern culture, the comic deformation, the ironic treatment of the absurd in the human condition, the peculiar importance of atmosphere, the distortions and deformations that entrap the helpless protagonist. Parra was much more comfortable with Kafka's struggling protagonists than with Whitman's heroic vision of humanity. The Chilean's developing poetic style, new to the Spanish-speaking world, was antiromantic, antirhetorical, antiheroic, and antipoetic. Parra's two-year stay in England beginning in 1949 crystallized this style into that of the antipoet. He was moved by the poetry of John Donne, W. H. Auden, Cecil Day Lewis, Stephen Spender, and especially T. S. Eliot. Parra appreciated Eliot's radical transformation of poetic diction and his inclusion of prosaic and colloquial language in his poems. These English-language poets inspired Parra in their observation of contemporary humanity and of humanity's environment, politics, manners, and religion and the didactic opportunities they exploited in treating these themes.
Parra's third collection, La cueca larga (the cueca is a native dance of Chile), exalts wine. Written in the popular tradition of marginal literature, the book is anti-intellectual and vulgar, a frivolous contribution to Chilean folklore akin to antipoetry in preference for the masses and its position on the periphery of established literature. In Versos de salуn (salon verses), Parra returns to the antipoetic technique, but with some significant differences. The ironic attack on the establishments of society remains
Page 104 | (the collection should be titled "Antisalon Verses"), but these poems are shorter than the earlier ones. They are fragments whose images follow one another in rapid fashion and mirror the absurd chaos of the world. The reader, forced to experience this confusion at first hand, is left searching for a meaning that is not to be found. The chaotic enumeration of the Surrealists, a favorite technique with Parra, abounds, while the anecdotal poetry of Poems and Antipoems, with its emphasis on dialogue, all but disappears. The sense of alienation is sharper, the bitterness and disillusion more deeply felt, the humor more pointed. The antihero changes from a victim into an odd creature who flings himself at the world in open confrontation. His introverted suffering is now a metaphysical despair.
CANCIONES RUSAS Canciones rusas (Russian songs) was a product of the antipoet's visit to the Soviet Union. These poems are gentle, serene, lyrical, serious, a bit optimistic. The caustic spirit of the antipoet is not entirely absent, and the poet is not enthusiastic, but there is an expression of hope. The Soviet experience, not a political doctrine but a hope for underdeveloped nations symbolized by the progress of a people, is responsible for the change in tone. This is visual poetry, simple, stripped of images. The title notwithstanding, however, there is no music in these verses. ADDRESSING SOCIAL ILLNESSES In Obra gruesa (basic work), Parra returned once again to antipoetry. The Soviet Union is no longer an ideal, and hope for humankind is extinguished. This volume includes all the poetry Parra had published to 1969, with the exception of his first collection. Los profesores is a parody of the world of education, in which overly serious teachers fill the minds of their students with worthless information unrelated to human needs. Parra overwhelms the reader with lists of stifling questions, and the pedagogical idiom of the teachers contrasts with the picturesque colloquialisms of the students. Emergency Poems is a reprinting of the verses that appeared in "Straight Jacket," a section of Obra gruesa, as well as thirty-one new poems. These titles both refer to symptoms of a social illness that is becoming epidemic. A state of emergency is declared (hence the title) as inflation, pollution, and crime increase; wars exist in crisis proportion while people are controlled by the very monsters they invented to protect themselves from reality. Society has placed humans in straight jackets, and the antihero, an old person, is reduced to waiting for death; the sum of the antihero's life equals zero. Parra's cynicism allows for no program of hope; the symptoms are not accompanied by a proposed remedy. The author uses himself as an example of the critical state of things. These poems enjoy a greater coherence than the author's most recent verses. Anecdotes again begin to appear. Parra's poetry becomes more aggressive and more social, with the appearance of a host of frustrated, unhappy characters, including beggars, drug addicts, and revolutionaries.
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In Artefactos, Parra moved to a new poetic form. The antipoem had become fashionable in Latin America, and with the imitators came the risk that Parra's creation might become a mere formula. Artefactos, not in truth a book but a box of postcards on which each "artifact" appears, along with a brief illustration, approximates antipoetry in purpose and spirit. If some of the lines of poetry from the author's more recent collections were isolated from the poem, they would become artifacts. Indeed, Parra defines them as the result of the explosion of the antipoem, which became so filled with pathos it had to burst. The brief and self-sufficient artifact reduces the antipoem to its essential element, its strength resulting from its brevity and freedom from poetic context. Thus, the once complex antipoem has evolved into the most basic of fragments while still retaining its essence.
In After-Dinner Declarations, Parra uses the mundane and boring after-dinner speech as the foundation for his poems-- what could be more ordinary, more "antipoetic," than an after-dinner speech? The book is made up of five long speechsequences, each consisting of a number of short poems. In "There Are Different Types of Speeches," he writes "... the reader will agree with me/That all kinds of speeches/Come down to two possible types:/ Good speeches and bad speeches." The book's translator, David Oliphant, writes in the introduction that Parra's book is a "book of antipoetic homilies, maxims, jeremiads, homages, mathematical puns, and literary histories" that nevertheless take things very seriously, however playful the poet's style and method.
OTHER MAJOR WORKS NONFICTION: Pablo Neruda y Nicanor Parra: Discursos, 1962; Discursos de sobremesa, 1997; Pablo Neruda and Nicanor Parra Face to Face, 1997. TRANSLATION: Lear, Rey and Mendigo, 2004 (of William Shakespeare's King Lear). MISCELLANEOUS: Obras completas and algo [mбs], 2006. BIBLIOGRAPHY Carrasco, Ivбn. Para leer a Nicanor Parra. Santiago, Chile: Editorial Cuarto Propio, 1999. An insightful analysis of the perception of Parra's work as antipoetry. An expert on Parra's work analyzes the evolution of his poetry from its rejection of thematic and syntactic structures to the development of a unique yet mutable voice that responds to its social and political environment. In Spanish. Neruda, Pablo. Pablo Neruda and Nicanor Parra Face to Face. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1997. This is a bilingual and critical edition of speeches by both Page 106 | Neruda and Parra on the occasion of Neruda's appointment to the University of Chile's faculty, with English translations and a useful introduction by Marlene Gottlieb. Bibliographical references. Parra, Nicanor. Antipoems: New and Selected. Translated by Frank MacShane, edited by David Unger. New York: New Directions, 1985. This bilingual anthology focuses on representative antipoems in an attempt to demonstrate how Parra's poetry has revolutionized poetic expression globally as well as within the sphere of Latin American poetry. Notes by the editor enhance understanding for English-speaking readers. Parrilla Sotomayor, Eduardo E. Humorismo y sбtira en la poesнa de Nicanor Parra. Madrid: Editorial Pliegos, 1997. This study identifies and discusses the elements of humor and satire in Parra's antipoetry. It analyzes the poet's technique as well as unique antirhetorical style and language that creates a direct link to contemporary Latin American society. In Spanish. Rowe, William. "Latin American Poetry." In The Cambridge Companion to Modern Latin American culture, edited by John King. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Rowe's chapter in this collection on Latin American culture in modern times includes discussion of the life and work of Parra. Rudman, Mark. "A Garland for Nicanor Parra at Ninety." New England Review 26, no. 2 (2005): 204-213. Rudman, in this article celebrating Parra's life at the age of ninety in 2005, remembers meeting the Chilean poet for the first time in 1973. An intimate perspective on Parra and his life and work. Sarabia, Rosa. Poetas de la palabra hablada: Un estudio de la poesнa hispanoamйricana contemporбnea. London: Tamesis, 1997. This study analyzes the oral nature of the literary production of several representative contemporary Latin American writers with roots in oral literature. In her chapter titled "Nicanor Parra: La antipoesнa y sus polнticas," the author explores the origins and consequences of antipoetry in its political and social milieus in contemporary Latin America, especially the Cono Sur, Chile, and Argentina. In Spanish. Taylor, John. Review of After-Dinner Declarations, by Nicanor Parra, and Before Saying Any of the Great Words, by David Huerta. Antioch Review 67, no. 3 (Summer, 2009): 594-601. Taylor compares and contrasts the works of these two
authors. Alfred W. Jensen Source Citation (MLA 7th Edition) Jensen, Alfred W. "Parra, Nicanor." Latin American Poets. Ed. Rosemary M. Canfield Reisman. Ipswich, MA: Salem Press, 2012. 99-106. Critical Survey of Poetry. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 13 Mar. 2013. Document URL Gale Document Number: GALE|CX4001900017

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