Antipoetry and Nicanor Parra

Anti-poetry is a genre of Latin American poetry that emerged in Chile and is distinguished by innovation and radical politics. In A Cultural History of Latin America: Literature, Music and Visual Arts in the 19th and 20th Centuries, Leslie Bethell notes how critics match Anti-Poetry to the style of the post-1950s period because of the way in which it questions “the value of poetry and of the inflated egos of poets from within the poems.”  Bethell describes how Anti-poetry arose out of the urge to “communicate as directly as prose” and arose out of “an acute distrust of all the devices by which lyrical poetry had maintained autonomy”. The movement, and its title, emerged with from the Chilean poet Nicanor Parra’s 1954 collection Poemas y antipoemas. Anti-poetry is intended to “reveal socio-political concerns without metaphors, and it uses humour and irony to deflate, to de-mythify”. Fernando Alegría, the Chilean writer and literary critic,  defines the Anti-poetry genre by reference to these three three elements:

1.) It narrates

2.) It uses humour

3.) It uses colloquial language

Joao Cabra de Melo Neto is a Brazilian poet whose work enjoins in the “paring down of lyrical poetry” so distinctive to Anti-poetry.  For Bethell, the correlation between the Brazilian poet’s work and Chilean Anti-poetry is articulated most succinctly in the ending of his long poem Uma faca so lamina, (A Knife All Blade) (1955).  Kerry Shawn Keys translated the text into English in collaboration with the poet, and the full text it available to read here.

Joao Cabra de Melo Neto’s poetics articulate the presence of reality as more pressingly real than an image of it,” though Bethell reminds, he is not one of the Hispanic antipoets. Stephen Tapscott’s Twentieth-century Latin American poetry: a bilingual anthology says the poet’s Surrealist, Constructivist remained “skeptical of the lyrical celebration of the autobiographical self”.

The writing of Peruvian poet, Antonio Cisneros (b. 1942), bears resemblance to Parra’s Anti-poetry. In A Cultural History of Latin America, the poet’s work is described as “narrative, mocking poetry with sudden shifts, juxtapositions, collage quotations and colloquialisms reminiscent of Ezra Pound and the US beat poets like Allen Ginsberg”. The lyrics of Canadian singer-songwriter, Leonard Cohen, have appeared, interfused in Cisneros’s poems, and his oeuvre works towards a literalist antipoetry.

Parra was born in San Fabian de Alico in north-western Chile and worked as a professor of theoretical physics at the University of Chile since 1952 after studying at Brown University and Oxford Univeristy. The poet, who will turn ninety-eight this year, was recently awarded the Cervantes Prize by Spain’s Ministry of Literature, the most prestigious award that exists for Spanish-language literature.

In Huga Zambelli’s 1948 text, 13 poetas chilenos, Parra described his affinity for “a poetry based on facts and not combinations or literary figures. “In this sense,” he says, “I feel closer to a scientist. I am against the affected form of traditional poetic language.” Parra struggled for satisfaction in his writing up until 1972 when he gave up writing poems altogether. The decision seemed strange, and yet there are clues to his decision from his earliest commentaries on writing. Poetry, to Parra, was always outside the poet’s subjectivity, in “cosas,” “things.” For years, the poet  had progressive eliminated lyrical elements from his verse, and by the time he published Artefactos in 1972, his poems were amalgamations of graffiti or cut- outs from newspapers.

The University of Chile is an excellent website on the poet which includes more information on the poet, as well as poems, speeches and criticism  in both Spanish and English – http://nicanorparra.uchile.cl/english/index.html.

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