Nicanor Parra 1914-
(Born San Fabián de Aliceo) Chilean poet, mathematician, and physicist.
Parra is known as the founder of antipoetry—a term coined by the poet to describe a form of poetry that rejects the notion of the poet as a prophet and rejects the belief that verse holds some sort of mystical power. According to Parra, antipoetry embraces everyday life experience and language. Parra's work has influenced like-minded poets, although of the Chilean poets of his generation, he is the only one to have established a genre.
Parra was born on September 5, 1914, in Chillán, Chile, to Nincanor P. and Clara S. (Navarette) Parra. His childhood was marked by uncertainty and poverty, but he managed to concentrate on his studies and perform well in school. He received degrees in mathematics and physics from the University of Chile in 1938. He then taught secondary school until 1943 when he left to study advanced mechanics at Brown University in the United States. In 1948 he became the director of the School of Engineering at the University of Chile. From 1949 to 1951, he studied cosmology at Oxford University in England. He then worked as a professor of theoretical physics at the University of Chile until his retirement in 1991. In addition to his work as a scientist, Parra has been writing and publishing poetry since 1937. His most significant work was his first collection of antipoems, Poemas y antipoemas (1954). Parra has won numerous literary awards including the City of Santiago prize in 1937 and 1954, the Writers' Union prize in 1954, the National Literature Prize in 1969, a Guggenheim fellowship in 1972, and the Juan Rulfo prize in 1991.
Parra's earliest works, written during his teenage and young adult years, were heavily surrealist. His first published collection, Cancionero sin nombre (1937), was written before he had developed his idea of what poetry should be. Poemas y antipoemas was Parra's first attempt at antipoetry. In this and subsequent verse, Parra worked to demystify the form of poetry. Parra attempted to change poetry from being purely ornamental to a form of everyday expression. In these poems Parra fights against literary tradition in order to find his own original voice. The reader is typically challenged to question the traditions of poetry. Many of Parra's poems from this collection include a hostile dialogue between the poet and the reader. In Versos de salón (1962) Parra parodies everyday forms of written communication including tests, questionnaires, advertising, and campaign slogans. With Artefactos (1972), he incorporates street language and everyday jargon into his poetry. The poems from this collection mimic the informal rhythm of everyday conversations. Nostalgia is a common theme throughout Parra's poetry, along with disdain for chaos in the world and the human condition. Parra uses his antipoetic works to destroy the utopian images of poetry and replace them with the reality of the world. An outspoken opponent of social and political oppression, Parra has not subscribed to any single ideology. His only consistent response to the cultural world and the human condition has been humor.
Parra's Poemas y antipoemas brought him his international reputation among literary critics. Many reviewers praise the ease of Parra's language with its almost prose-like quality. Critics have often pointed out that while Parra's antipoetry illuminates the problems of human existence, it offers no solutions. Some critics have found his work limited in this respect, particularly his later poems from Sermones y prédicas del Cristo de Elqui (1977). Nevertheless, the critical consensus has been that Parra’s antipoetry—with its humor, irony, and irreverence–has been a definite influence on a significant number of poets, including the American Beats, many of whom admired and translated his works into English.