Poetry News

Remembering Nicanor Parra

By Harriet Staff
Nicanor Parra

We mourn the loss of Chilean poet Nicanor Parra, who died today at the age of 103. John Otis at the Washington Post writes, Parra "revolutionized Latin American verse by rejecting its flowery diction and forging a stripped-down, confrontational and darkly comic form that he dubbed 'anti-poetry'" which "had a liberating effect, especially in Latin America, where since the 1930s poets had favored Wagnerian language, romantic yearnings and heroic gestures." Learn more from there: 

By contrast, Mr. Parra preferred street argot and dwelt on the small frustrations of put-upon office workers, alienated students, bag ladies and hoodlums. His blunt style and bleak outlook were influenced by the precise formulas and rational theorems of science as well as by the nightmarish visions of Franz Kafka and T.S. Eliot.

The result was an outpouring of “anti-poems” about an off-kilter world in which love begets exploitation, sex becomes torture and miscommunication reigns. They often feature lost souls unable to connect with other people as their minds wander from the heads of lettuce in the kitchen to concerns about the reproduction of spiders.

Humor was a key ingredient.

In “Help,” the joyous narrator chases a phosphorescent butterfly only to see pastoral bliss dissolve as he trips and smashes his face into the ground. He ends with a plea: “Save me once and for all/Or shoot me in the back of the neck.”

In “Lullabaloo,” an angel tries to shake the hand of the narrator, who responds by grabbing the angel’s foot and ruffling his feathers.

Enraged, the angel swipes at him with a sword, but the narrator ducks, then bids a sarcastic farewell:

Be on your way

Have a nice day

Get run over by a car

Get killed by a train.

Mr. Parra once explained: “I think that the poet should be a specialist in communication. Humor makes contact [with the reader] easier. Remember that it’s when you lose your sense of humor that you begin to reach for your pistol.”

Read on at the Washington Post

Originally Published: January 23rd, 2018