domingo, 9 de noviembre de 2014

Poemas y antipoemas

Poemas y antipoemas (Cátedra, 2009)
by Nicanor Parra
Chile, 1954

Nicanor Parra, the Chilean poet & antipoet who just celebrated his 100th birthday a couple of months ago, actually published his signature work Poemas y antipoemas [Poems and Antipoems] more than half a century ago now.  So what the heck is antipoetry anyway?  More on that in a moment. For now, though, it's surely worth noting that René de Costa, whose amusing and info-packed introduction to Poemas y antipoemas posits a tripartite division among anti-Gabriela Mistral, anti-Pablo Neruda, and even anti-Nicanor Parra strains of poetry (!) within the three groupings of 29 poems, reminds us that the poet himself considered the first part of the work to be "neorromántica y postmodernista" ["neoromantic and postmodernist"] (18-19) in nature: i.e. poems rather than antipoems at the outset. Be that as it may, the first poem, "Sinfonía de cuna" (see the complete text in Spanish here accompanied by an English translation by Naomi Lindstrom here), illustrates several typical features of Parra at work from the title's wordplay (the Spanish term for lullaby is "canción de cuna," literally a "cradle song," but the poet has gone beyond that by composing a "sinfonía de cuna," or a "cradle symphony"), to the conversational tone which takes the starch out of more self-important varieties of poetry via the ironic promotion of clichés or the wry introduction of a foreign word here or there ("Dites moi, don angel,/Comment va monsieur"), to the poet's insult of the reader (he describes an angel he had once met as "Fatuo como el cisne,/Frío como un riel,/Gordo como un pavo,/Feo como usted" or what Lindstrom renders in "Lullabaloo" as "As silly as a swan/As cold as a crowbar/As fat as a duck/As ugly as you"), to the poet's abusive, gender-bending farewell to the angel (Parra's "Que le vaya bien,/Que la pise el auto,/Que la mate el tren," translated by Lindstrom as "Have a nice day/Get run over by a car,/Get killed by a train," is equally blunt in both languages, but the English misses out on the him/her gender-bending in the switch from the masculine "le" to the feminine "la" in the Spanish), and so on until the very end of the poem when the poet abruptly signs off with an "unpoetic" ending borrowed from a popular refrain: "Ya se acabó el cuento,/Uno, dos y tres" [literally: "The story's over/One, two and three"; Lindstrom's non-literal but probably more effective translation: "So that's the story of the angel./The End"].  Parra, as one can very clearly see here, wants to drag poetry down to earth from the Parnassian heights it had once inhabited kicking and screaming if at at all possible, and this humorously anti-putting on airs sentiment only intensifies throughout the rest of Poemas y antipoemas.  In the so-called anti-Neruda second part of the work, for instance, which Parra once described as "transicional" ["transitional"] between poetry and antipoetry (29), René de Costa calls attention to "Oda a unas palomas" ["Ode to Some Pigeons"] (see the complete text in Spanish here) for the way it imitates several technical aspects of Neruda's Odes before plunging the reader down into the "abismo de lo feo" ["abyss of ugliness"] (30) by dwelling not on the wonders of nature but on the "moscas" ["flies"] that these "divertidas" ["entertaining"] subjects the pigeons are eating in the garden of doom in the poem.  As a guy who happens to have fond memories of some of Neruda's humble odes (or at least his succulent "Oda al caldillo de congrio" ["Ode to Conger Chowder"]), even I was tickled by the Lautréamont-like scorn Parra heaped on the elemental nature of Neruda's verse (and outside of Poemas y antipoemas, in the semi-insulting double-edged sword of a comment in which P took a swipe at N by referring to him as this "monstruo de la poesía" ["monster of poetry"]) (20); however, lest you be put off by one poet mocking a rival by saying that pigeons "más ridículas son que una escopeta/O que una rosa llena de piojos" ["are more ridiculous than a shotgun/Or than a rose full of lice"], you should know that Parra's also willing to turn the shotgun of ridicule on himself as can be seen in his "Epitafio" ["Epitaph"] (see the complete text in Spanish here accompanied by an English translation from Jorge Elliott here); the description of the poet as the possessor of big ears and "Y una nariz de boxeador mulato/Baja a la boca de ídolo azteca/--Todo esto bañado/Por una luz entre irónica y pérfida--" [Elliott: "And the nose of a mulatto boxer/Over an Aztec idol's mouth/--All this bathed/In a light halfway between irony and perfidy"] is a winning one, but I'm also partial to the forward-thinking change of tense in the final lines: "Fui lo que fui: una mezcla/De vinagre y de aceite de comer/¡Un embutido de ángel y bestia!" [Elliott: "I was what I was: a mixture/Of vinegar and olive oil,/A sausage of angel and beast!"].  This "sausage of angel and beast" begins the final third of his work with an "Advertencia al lector" ["Warning to the Reader"] (see the complete text in Spanish here accompanied by an English translation from David Unger here) and concludes it with a "Soliloquio del Individuo" ["The Individual's Soliloquy"] (see the complete text in Spanish here accompanied by an English translation from, surprise, surprise, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg here), from which we can deduce that antipoetry isn't so much anti-poetry as anti-the poet Parra himself (Parra: "Mi poesía puede perfectamente no conducir a ninguna parte"; Unger: "My poetry may very well lead nowhere"), anti-the reader (when Parra jokingly threatens to bury his quills in the heads of his readers in "Warning to the Reader"), and above all anti-snobbery.  Fun is an important part of Parra's poetic project or, as René de Costa more helpfully puts it in terms of the Chilean poetry of the day, "lo que hizo Parra en Poemas y antipoemas (1954) --y no supo, o simplemente no quiso hacer Neruda, hasta después, en Estravagario (1958)-- fue ridiculizarse, autoironizarse" ["what Parra did in Poems and Antipoems (1954)--and what Neruda did not know how, or simply did not want to do, until later, in Extravagaria (1958)--was to mock himself, to subject himself to self-ridicule"] (21).  Why the mocking?  Maybe that's just the way Parra rolls, and maybe it's just because "la vida no tiene sentido" [Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg: "life doesn't make sense"] as the poet tells us in the final verse of Poemas y antipoemas.  Who am I, a mere prose fan, to argue with that?

Nicanor Parra

Parra's Poemas y antipoemas was read with Rise of in lieu of a field guide and Tom of Wuthering Expectations.  Rise's post on Parra's antipoems can be found here; Tom's two posts have been added here and aquí now that he's hit the publish button.  Also, here's a vintage 2011 post from Tom announcing Parra's plea to be awarded the Nobel Prize...for Reading.  Good stuff.
P.S. Since Poemas y antipoemas seems to have been published in piecemeal fashion only (the 1967 New Directions title Poems and Antipoems, for example, is actually a hodgepodge of four separate Parra works featuring very few poems from its Spanish-language namesake), I'll list the index of the Spanish collection for those wanting to read the poems in the order Parra intended them:

Sinfonía de cuna
Defensa del árbol
Catalina Parra
Preguntas a la hora del té
Hay un día feliz
Es olvido
Se canta al mar

Desorden en el cielo
San Antonio
Oda a unas palomas

Advertencia al lector
Cartas a una desconocida
Notas de viaje
Solo de piano
El peregrino
Palabras a Tomás Lago
Recuerdos de juventud
El túnel
La víbora
La trampa
Los vicios del mundo moderno
Las tablas
Soliloquio del Individuo

8 comentarios:

  1. Roberto Bolaño's character Amalfitano cites "Soliloquy of the Individual" as one of the two foundational works of contemporary Latin American poetry -- the other is "Trip to NY" by Cardenal.

    1. I didn't remember that Amalfitano comment, Jeremy, but I'm really glad you weighed in with that because it will def. motivate me to dig up Cardenal's "Trip to NY" at some point. Parra's "Soliloquy" is a fine poem, but I had run out of gas by that time in my post to go any further with Poemas y antipoemas "analysis" (such as it is). Anyway, nice to hear from you!

  2. Thanks for this post, Richard, reading about Parra is fun!

    1. My pleasure, Miguel, but I'm glad to hear that I didn't let you or Parra down in that regard. He's nothing if not fun! By the way, I just added a link to an older post of Tom's on Parra which I'm convinced you'll enjoy if you can find the time to read it.

  3. Yes, the publish button plus all the other buttons to get the thing written. But now it is. I did the "Soliloquy"! I'll do at least one more post, I think.

    1. I should do another Parra post too, but I'm too lazy! Anyway, looking forward to your next post and was glad to see you spend some quality time on a single antipoem since Rise and I both turned in generalist/survey posts. Was a pleasure to read along with you two poetry titans, by the way!

  4. The old man is so accessible he makes poetry a field of standup comedy. On my wish-list is his new anti-poetry series, After-Dinner Declarations.

    1. Totally agreed, Rise, and of course thanks for providing your poetry reading expertise company during Parra's Chilean stand-up routine. I bought a new Spanish-language edition of After-Dinner Declarations over the summer, so I look forward to comparing notes with you when you get your own wished for copy!