Nicanor Parra Parra, Nicanor (Vol. 2) - Essay

Parra, Nicanor (Vol. 2)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Parra, Nicanor 1914–

Parra, a Chilean poet, is Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Chile.

Nicanor Parra … is as prodigal a list-maker as Whitman (but no kin otherwise). He is perhaps a deuxième vague surrealist; he is certainly a high practitioner of the Latin American black humor that is like nothing else in the world ("a well-planned earthquake," "I have bought a plot of land not far from the slaughterhouse, she exclaimed") whereby coffins, mummies, and skeletons darken Parra's thoroughly modern pronouncements until he seems to be more of a sombrely troubled folk artist than a physicist who writes poems. Parra has pushed the extremes of his mind as far apart as possible: the poet in him identifies with shamanism….

Guy Davenport, in Hudson Review, Autumn, 1968, pp. 571-72.

[Nicanor] Parra is an antipoet. Antipoets, according to Parra, dread the very idea of Poetry and its attendant metaphors, inflated diction, romantic yearning, obscurity and empty nobility. "I always associated Poetry with the voice of a priest in the pulpit," he says. Poets sing, he maintains, but man talks. "Let the birds do the singing." When there is Poetry, there is antipoetry. There has always been a Villon, a Goliard Poet, a Brecht, a Catullus, a Corbière or a Parra to take poetry back out into the streets and crack our heads with it. The weapons? Irony, burlesque, an astringent barrage of clichés and found phrases, all juxtaposed in a welter of dictions that come out in a wholly original way, laying open everybody's despair.

And yet, one senses a coherent self speaking to us, a mind of philosophical and even religious resonance, all within this antiworld of comic deflation. It is an extraordinary experience reading these pieces, and I can't imagine anyone even vaguely interested in new poetry that won't devour [Emergency Poems]. After reading a few aloud, you'll have the inevitable reaction: "Is it poetry?" or, even better, "It isn't poetry." Just so, it is antipoetry…. But make no mistake: Nicanor Parra is a poet (or an antipoet or whatever) of total command and total grandeur.

Alexander Coleman, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1972 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 7, 1972, p. 40.

Nicanor Parra can write stark and beautiful poetry. He seems to be performing, on Spanish, somewhat the same operation that was earlier done on the English language by writers like Williams and Hemingway, trimming away the excess accumulations of "literary tradition," in order to re-establish the intimate connection of sounds and things. At the same time, Parra is, simply, another possible mode of consciousness in Latin American verse. Alongside Neruda's eloquence and Vallejo's daring, we also have the abrasiveness of Parra….

It is not just abrasiveness that distinguishes Parra from most of the Spanish-language poets one reads in this country. He is also an international voice of our moment. If he has roots in some folk culture, it doesn't show up in Emergency Poems, which are the kind of bare-bones statements one might expect to find in postwar European verse. This is partly a matter of Parra's flat style….

[His] earlier collection, Poems and Antipoems, though at least as harsh as Emergency Poems, never seemed to be less than passionately involved with the human race and its prospects. In Emergency Poems the anger is still there, but it sometimes lacks depth.

David H. Rosenthal, "Nicanor Parra's Hard-Edged Poetry," in Nation, August 7, 1972, pp. 91-2.

First I thought Parra was a typical citizen of the Fourth World [i.e., Young explains in a footnote, "the young"], an undergraduate smart-alec blithely against everything because it's fun to be fashionable. I discovered that he is fifty-three and a professor of physics! The "antipoems" his host [Miller Williams, author of the preface to Emergency Poems] finds so intoxicating and revolutionary are, like Yevtushenko's, more often cute than subcutaneous. At his best he writes self-emptying, plain-language vignettes and odes about his parched and remote nation….

Vernon Young, "Nature and Vision: or Dubious Antithesis," in Hudson Review, Winter, 1972–73, pp. 659-74.