A Chilean poet and physicist born in 1914, Parra has taken the precision of scientific language and the plain speech of North American modernism and mixed it with his own sardonic humor to invent what he calls “antipoetry,” a poetry pitched against Latin American high rhetoric. New Directions has published Poems and Antipoems (1967); Emergency Poems (1972); Antipoems: New and Selected (1985); and Antipoems: How to Look Better & Feel Great (2004). Also in English translation is Sermons and Homilies of the Christ of Elqui.
Poetry by Nicanor Parra
translated by Liz Werner
"Real seriousness," Nicanor Parra, the Antipoet of Chile, has said, rests in "the comic.” And read in that light, this newest bilingual collection of his work––the first in twenty years––is very serious indeed. It is an abundant offering of his signature mocking humor, subverting received conventions and pretensions in both poetry and everyday life, public and private, ingeniously and wittily rendered into English in an antitranslation (the word is Parra’s) by Liz Werner. Of the fifty-eight pieces in Antipoems, the first twenty-three are taken from Parra’s 1985 collection, Hojas de Parra ("Vine Leaves" or "Leaves of Parra"), two others appeared in his Páginas en Blanco ("Blank Pages," 2001 ), while the rest come straight out of his notebooks and have never been collected before, either in Spanish or English. The book itself is divided into two sections. "Antipoems” (im)proper and a selection of Parra’s most recent incarnation of the antipoem, the hand-drawn image of his "Visual Artefactos.” Born in 1914 in the southern city of Chillán, Parra spent many years as a teacher of mathematics and a professor of physics. As his antitranslator Liz Werner expIains in her introduction, Parra’s scientific training infuses his work. "Viewed through the lens of antimatter," she writes, "antipoetry mirrors poetry, not as its adversary but 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. A native New Yorker, translator, poet, and novelist Liz Werner has lived and studied in Valparaíso, Chile, where she worked closely with Nicanor Parra in preparing this book.
Poetry by Nicanor Parra
Antipoems: New and Selected, a fresh bilingual gathering as well as retrospective of the work of Chile’s foremost poet, reintroduces him to North American readers after thirteen years. Though he has been hardly unproductive, the politics of his homeland have channeled his inventiveness into new modes of expression, which remind us of the sometimes sly hermeticism of Italian writers, Eugenio Montale and Elio Vittorini among them, during the Fascist regime. As Frank MacShane makes clear in his introduction, Parra has not tried to escape repression, but by “using his wit and his humor, he has shown how the artist can still speak the truth in troubled times.” Since much of Parra’s early work is now out of print, editor David Unger has included many of the poems which influenced North American poets such as Ferlinghetti and Merton in the ‘50s and ‘60s, some in new or revised translations. Of Parra’s more recent work, there are generous selections from Artifacts (1972), Sermons and Preachings of the Christ of Elqui (1977), New Sermons and Preachings of the Christ of Elqui (1979), Jokes to Mislead the Police (1983), Ecopoems (1983), Recent Sermons (1983), and a section of “Uncollected Poems” (1984). Antipoems: New and Selected is edited by David Unger, who contributed many of the translations to Enrique Lihn’s The Dark Room and Other Poems (New Directions, 1978). Professor Frank MacShane of Columbia University, in his critical introduction, gives a full evaluation of a poet who is “unquestionably one of the most influential and accomplished in Latin America today, heir to the position long held by his countryman, Pablo Neruda.”
Available: November 01 1985
Poetry by Nicanor Parra
translated by William Carlos Williams
with a contribution by Nicanor Parra
The Chilean poet Nicanor Parra is one of those significant figures who appear from time to time in all literatures and through a profound originality and sense of the Pound/Confucius principle of "Make It New" revitalize the poetry of their language. Just as the Imagists and William Carlos Williams rechannelled the course of American poetry, so Parra’s "antipoems," with their directness of metaphor and rejection of rhetoric and "poetic" decoration, are influencing young poets throughout Latin America. "Antipoetry," Parra has said, "seeks to return poetry to its roots." The reader may judge from this collection, which is drawn from all of Parra’s published books, how well he has succeeded. Poems and Antipoems has been edited, with an introduction, by Miller Williams and presents Parra’s Spanish texts opposite the English versions which are by the editor, W. S. Merwin, Denise Levertov, Thomas Merton, William Carlos Williams, Allen Ginsberg, Fernando Alegria, J. Laughlin, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who first discovered Parra for North American readers with a book in the City Lights series in 1960.