Nicanor Parra 1914–
[Born San Fabián de Aliceo] Chilean poet and physicist.
The following entry presents an overview of Parra's career. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volume 2.
Parra is known as the founder of antipoetry, a term used by the poet himself to overcome the concepts of poet as prophet and poetry as having some mystical power. Antipoetry is the poetry of everyday life experience and language. Parra's work influenced a generation of poets, and of the Chilean poets of his generation, he is the only one to have established a school.
Parra was born on September 5, 1914, in Chillán, Chile, to Nincanor P. and Clara S. (Navarette) Parra. His childhood was a difficult one filled with uncertainty and poverty, but he managed to concentrate on his studies and perform well in school. He obtained 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 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. He worked as a professor of theoretical physics at the University of Chile until his retirement in 1991. Parra has been married twice: his first marriage to Ana Troncoso was dissolved and his second marriage to Inga Palmen resulted in seven children. In addition to his work as a scientist, Parra has been writing poetry since the late 1930s and began publishing in 1937. Parra's 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, Writers' Union prize in 1954, National Literature Prize in 1969, a Guggenheim fellowship in 1972, and the Juan Rulfo prize in 1991.
Parra's earlier work, written as a teenager and a young man, was heavily surrealist. His first collection, Cancionero sin nombre (1937), was written before Parra had developed an idea of what poetry should be. Poemas y antipoemas was Parra's first attempt at antipoetry. In this and subsequent works, Parra was trying to demystify the form of poetry. Parra wanted to remake poetry from purely ornamental to an ev-eryday expression. In these poems Parra fights against literary tradition in order to find his own original voice. The reader is typically drawn into this battle as representing tradition. Many of Parra's poems from Poemas y antipoemas include a hostile dialogue between the poet and the reader. In Versos de salón (1962) Parra parodies our everyday forms of communication such as tests, questionnaires, and advertising and campaign slogans. With Artefactos (1972) he added his use of street language and everyday jargon into his poetry. The poems from this collection have the informal rhythm of everyday conversations. Nostalgia is a common theme running throughout Parra's poetry, and he tries to infuse it in his work in waves. Parra's work is also filled with desperation at the chaos in the world and the human condition. Parra uses his antipoetry 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 did not hold to any one ideology. His only consistent response to the chaos of the world and the helplessness of the human condition was humor.
Parra's Poemas y antipoemas brought him his international reputation. Many reviewers praise the ease of Parra's language with its almost prose-like quality. Critics often point out that while Parra's antipoetry illuminates the problems of human existence, it offers no solutions. Some critics find his work limited in this respect. Some critics find his later poems from Sermones y prédicas del Cristo de Elqui (1977) weaker than his original antipoetry. Reviewers often comment on the humor, irony, and irreverance common in Parra's poetry. Critics agree that his version of antipoetry has influenced a generation of poets.