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New Directions Leads Us to Nicanor Parra’s Antipoesía. . .

By Harriet Staff


Happy World Poetry Day! So says New Directions: “Perhaps today is the day you finally put pen to paper. And if you need encouragement, look no further than Chilean poet Nicanor Parra’s ‘Young Poets’ from Poems and Antipoems for sagely advise on composing poetry. And because this is World Poetry Day, we’ve included the Spanish original as well.” Oh oh, read Parra’s “Young Poets” in both languages here. And here’s a 2009 BOMB article on Parra’s antipoesía that we just dug up–super interesting. Writes Raúl Zurita:

We all love Nicanor Parra. He’s now 94 years old and a resounding consensus as to the nature of his writing is growing. This is good news. Parra is one of the greatest living poets and his work is not poetry but antipoesía: a sustained attempt to debunk what we understand as poetry. Antipoetry interprets something never before expressed regarding our life and world, something that profoundly bounds poetry to life. That’s the way it is, and yet, there’s something disturbing, something that doesn’t quite fit together. I am referring to a Gordian knot underlying his antipoetry that obstinately opposes institutionalization. Skeptics attribute a premature rigor mortis to Parra’s project, deeming it impossible to fully acknowledge antipoetry’s implicit subversion and demolishing force without first turning it into a stuffed animal. This is the exaltation and burial: on the one hand, readers admire antipoetry. On the other, they deny it by converting the most revolutionary vision of poetry in Spanish of our time into something neither more nor less acceptable than what could be the inopportune laugh of a student during mass. If it were just this, there’d be no problem, except for the fact that the church that this student goes to is horrifying. This student is a victim of sexual abuse and for some time now we’ve known that mass is a bloody ritual. Antipoetry shows us this brutal scenario.

Readers avoid antipoetry’s insubordination at all costs and, if we believe in collective automatisms, it’s logical it should be this way, because the definitive consequences of Parra’s work exceed the literary realm and are so destabilizing, so contrary to the prevailing private property system and capitalist model, that no one has truly wanted to accept them. The ultimate expression of this destabilization is in his last work, Lear Rey & Mendigo (King Lear & beggar). In this book, Parra synthesizes the totality of what antipoetry suggests, merging Marcel Duchamp’s readymade—art is whatever the artist wants it to be—with the radical criticism of usury, and consequently, greed, in Ezra Pound’s “Canto XLV”: “with usura, sin against nature, / is thy bread ever more of stale rags, / is thy bread dry as paper / with no mountain wheat, no strong flour” Authorship is inscribed in the private-property system: if anything can be art, the notion of the author aspiring to make unique, valuable works of art is nothing but an obsolete manifestation of avarice. As Parra reads Shakespeare, he affirms him, yet as he writes Shakespeare when translating him into Spanish, he tears him apart. In his Lear, he tells us that Shakespeare is absolutely all men for the simple reason that language is Shakespeare. And all the world’s great works are contained in one single particle of that language that men speak. This discovery is just as crucial as when Joyce demonstrates in Ulysses that the Odyssey is the story of a day in the life of any human being. This, in sum, is the fundamental communism of words. Words make everything and all of us, belong to us all. But what this implies is intolerable—it represents the possible abolition of any coercive system of property, not only on a theoretical plane, but on that of tangible societies as well.

Parra’s vision was gradual. First he limited himself to the artistic, to the literary—antipoetry in its classical sense—checkmating anything else understood as literarily “superior.” Then, with his series of visual poems Artefactos (Artifacts), he annihilated sacred emblems of culture and suppressed, along the way, any idea of hierarchy by placing everything from pornography, to politics, to lyricism, to jokes, on the same plane. This included the medium of the book, which he literally exploded—the 1972 edition of Artefactos consisted of a box filled with hundreds of postcards destined to be slipped under the front doors of people’s homes, as if shards from a grenade. The dismantling of categories of high and low can be seen in the following brief lines, the first of which cites typical graffiti ubiquitous throughout Latin American cities:

Pero llévame contigo

But take me with you

Read the rest.

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Posted in Poetry News on Thursday, March 21st, 2013 by Harriet Staff.