The Poem

“The Anti-Lazarus” is an “antipoem” composed of forty-seven free-verse lines divided nonsystematically into eleven stanzas. Its title is a compound word that encloses references both to the Western cultural heritage and to Nicanor Parra’s own innovative artistic ideals. It points, on the one hand, to the biblical figure of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha who was raised from the dead at Jesus’ command (John 11:1-44). In this sense, it refers to the miracle of resurrection, one of the most important miracles within the Christian tradition. On the other hand, the use of the prefix “anti” refers to the concept of the antipoem, implying a conscious attempt at breaking with traditional lyric forms and constituting Parra’s most significant contribution to contemporary poetics.

The speaker of the poem is addressing an absent interlocutor. Under the guise of an impossible and thwarting telephone call, the poetic voice speaks to an anonymous deceased poet, trying to dissuade him from rising from the dead. The poet reminds his addressee of the many negative aspects of earthly life—the daily routine, human needs and anxieties, the increasing loss of tolerance when facing setbacks, and the vacuity of literature. As a counterweight to all of these, he notes the many positive aspects that the dead man’s present condition has to offer: the happiness of being a corpse, which assures absolute independence and peace, and the perfect communion...

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Forms and Devices

The first example of Parra’s innovative approach to poetry may be found in his book Poemas y antipoemas (1954; Poems and Antipoems, 1967), which gained international recognition for the author. Although “The Anti-Lazarus” does not belong to this early collection, it marks a continuation of all the formal and thematic characteristics of the antipoem. Essentially, an antipoem aims to surpass the traditional language of poetry through the recovery of the language and topics of everyday life. The search for this voice implies a new treatment of linguistic resources and the inclusion of colloquialism.

“The Anti-Lazarus” challenges and subverts literary conventions in various ways. Reviving some of the innovations introduced in modern poetry by avant-garde and post-avant-garde writers, Parra puts aside the norms of punctuation and uses only occasional quotation and exclamation marks. He also abandons the principles of regular capitalization and mixes numerals and letters. In addition, the use of formulas typical of a telephone conversation (“hello-hello”), of colloquial and affectionate expressions commonly used to attract someone’s attention, and of the grammatical second person as well as several clichés taken from oral language (“my foot”) contributes to the creation of an atmosphere of informality.

Another characteristic that helps to strengthen the sensation of colloquial communication is the absence of stylized imagery, of conventionally poetic vocabulary and tropes. This does not mean that the poem lacks metaphorical elements—in fact, Parra uses some metaphors from everyday speech (“you used to explode/ in insults right and left”)—or other dominantly poetic devices such as chaotic enumeration (“pride blood greed”). The poet is looking for a way of generating a communication in which rhetorical and literary resources do not interfere in the fluency of the act of reading. The goal of all these expressive searches is to revive language, restoring to it a lost effectiveness.

As Naín Nómez remarks in Poesía chilena contemporánea (1992; contemporary Chilean poetry), “the antipoem is an inverted image of a poem, but it is not governed by the total principle of symmetry. Instead, it is governed by a particularly intense asymmetric force.” This distorting force, essential to the antipoem, is satire, conceived as the center of many literary resources such as duplication, inversion, and deformation. In “The Anti-Lazarus,” the satirical impulse intends to destroy the distinctive aureole that tradition has assigned to the poetic word through the ages.