Nicanor Parra Sandoval, one of eight children in a family plagued by economic insecurity, grew up in Chillán, in the south of Chile. His father was a schoolteacher whose irresponsibility and alcoholism placed considerable strain on the life and order of the family, which was held together by Parra’s mother. Parra was in his early teens when his father died. The earlier antipathy he felt toward his father then turned toward his mother, and he left home. He began a process of identification with his father, toward whom he felt both attraction and repulsion, and to whom he attributes the basic elements of his inspiration for antipoetry.
During his youth, Parra composedoccasional verses, so that when he went to the University of Chile in Santiago in 1933, he felt that he was a poet in addition to being a student of physics. He associated with the literary leaders at the student residence where he lived, and a year prior to graduating in 1938, he had published his first volume of poetry, Cancionero sin nombre.
After completing studies in mathematics and physics at the Pedagogical Institute of the university, Parra taught for five years in secondary schools in Chile. Between 1943 and 1945, he studied advanced mechanics at Brown University in the United States. Returning home in 1948, he was named director of the School of Engineering at the University of Chile. He spent two years in England studying cosmology at Oxford, and upon his return to South America he was appointed professor of theoretical physics at the University of Chile.
The publication of Parra’s second collection of poetry, Poems and Antipoems, formally introduced the antipoetry with which his name is associated. This new poetry shook the foundation of the theory of the genre in Latin America, winning for its author both condemnation and praise. In 1963, Parra visited the Soviet Union, where he supervised the translation into Spanish of an anthology of Soviet poets, and then traveled to the People’s Republic of China. He visited Cuba in 1965, and the following year served as a visiting professor at Louisiana State University, later holding similar positions at New York University, Columbia, and Yale.