ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Biography of Chilean "Anti-Poet" Nicanor Parra

Updated on August 25, 2011

Nicanor Parra is a Chilean writer best known for his peculiar brand of poetry that defies established literary conventions. Often compared to the American Beat poets, Parra sought to write poems that would make the genre accessible to all, bringing real-world concerns to what was often considered an isolating academic pursuit, as well as providing a response the bloody events of the Chilean Revolution.

Nicanor Parra was born in San Fabian, Chile, in 1914. He came from a well-known family, and his sister was a popular folk singer. Parra himself exhibited a taste for the threatrical. Early in his poetic career, at a reading by the famous poet Gabriela Mistral, Parra jumped on the stage and recited a poem that he had written for her. Despite the interruption of her poem, Mistral took a liking to Parra, and helped him to publish his poetry.

Though Parra is considered one of the great Chilean poets, and a contemporary of Pablo Neruda, his actual career was as a physics professor. He studied math and physics in Chile, then at Brown University in the United States. He was a physics professor at the University of Chile until his retirement in 1991, even though he was often criticized for his Marxist philosophies.

Nicanor Parra
Nicanor Parra

Despite his career in the realm of science and mathematics, Parra wrote poetry that was accessible and relatable to everyday people. He utilized the speech patterns and humor of the Chilean lower classes in much of his poetry, which he dubbed “antipoetry.” This antipoetry was experimental and rejected the classical or traditional forms, as well as a sense of poetic grandiosity and largesse.

Parra frequently crossed between traditional poetry and prose, attempting to create a technique that was innovative, unexpected, and new. Of his contemporary Neruda, Parra stated: “Neruda is a great poet, no question. His poetry may be as great as poetry gets. But he is a nineteenth-century man.”

“Poetry is all around us,” said Parra. “It is in the graffiti on the walls. I walk around and write down the graffiti, and those are my poems.” This is evidenced in much of Parra’s antipoetry and found poems. Hence such lines as “The automobile is a wheelchair,” “Running is absolutely forbidden,” “No sleeping permitted in this precinct.”

Parra utilizes irony, humor, cynicism, to express feelings of deep dissatisfaction. In “Letters from the Poet Who Sleeps in a Chair,” Parra says: “The poet’s duty is this/ To improve on the blank page/ I doubt if it’s possible.” Yet in another poem the same line is repeated. This time it is directed at “Young Poets” as he deconstructs the traditional forms. “In poetry everything is permitted./ With only this condition of course,/ You have to improve on the blank page.”

Parra’s justification is that “Too much blood has run under the bridge/ To go on believing/ That only one road is right.” There’s a sense of doubt that poetry can “improve on the page” can speak for what is in the mind and heart in such a complex time and space as the Chilean Revolution, but also hope that this can be done, that there can be change and a better future, that the rivers of blood may eventually wash clean.

In a country, a region, a continent with so much “blood…run under the bridge,” there is a necessity of finding expression that can encompass it all, and the means to this are rich and varied. Parra did not retreat to an apolitical realm of physics, but was vocal about his ideas, and chose to stay in Chile even as he faced harsh political criticism.

Some of his poetry reflects this idealism as much as the common language that he sought to represent. It is important to note that this common language antipoetry is only a facet of his work, and not representative of his entire body of poetry. There’s more to it than just the found items, the Chilean aphorisms. Like many other poets of witness, the theme of time and temporal disclocation surfaces in works like “Chronos” and “The Last Toast.” Parra talks about the days being “interminably long” in Chronos although “the years have wings.” In Last Toast, after rejecting both the past and the present, Parra states that “In the end/ We are only left with tomorrow./ I raise my glass/ To the day that never arrives/ But that is all/ we have at our disposal.”

Parra was a poet of the social and political realms, but he also wrestled with that designation. His poetry speaks to a struggle going on internally within his country, as well as within the man himself. Some of the poems speak directly to this personal struggle, as in “The Trap:” “During that time I kept out of circumstances that were too full of mystery….I preferred to stay at home inquiring into certain questions/ concerning the propagation of spiders.” Later in the poem: “My soul lost altitude like a punctured balloon/ the instinct of self-preservation stopped functioning.”

Within Parra's poetry, there is a range from the common language to the more philosophical questioning of time and self, to the personal struggle and experience. His poetry is at times contradictory, at times ironic and cynical, but overall there is a sense of search, of struggle, and of heartfelt expression, and ultimately, hope.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 

      7 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      Outstanding hub! Loved it a LOT! I envy your creative spirit. Care to lend me a sparkle or two of your creativity? I will pay you back. I promise. Keep up the fine work.

    • Anaya M. Baker profile imageAUTHOR

      Anaya M. Baker 

      7 years ago from North Carolina

      BWD316- Sorry for the late response, I stink at keeping up with things. Anyways, love the cat and mouse analogy!

    • FloraBreenRobison profile image

      FloraBreenRobison 

      7 years ago

      I'm not familiar with Chilian poetry, but I know the American Beat poets. Thanks for introducing me to this poetry.

    • BWD316 profile image

      Brian Dooling 

      7 years ago from Connecticut

      Excellent hub! I never heard of him before now or of anitpoetry! Very informative, I liked the part of one of his poems you inserted in your article, “In the end/ We are only left with tomorrow./ I raise my glass/ To the day that never arrives/ But that is all/ we have at our disposal.” it's like life is a cat and mouse game where we live for the constant hunt that we will catch the mouse and that's what drives us! Weird form of hope. At least that's how I interpreted it, hope I'm not too far off the ball! Voted up!

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)