The anti-poet

Cristobal Ugarte, grandson of Nicanor Parra, deposits the Chilean poet's old typewriter into a vault at Spain's Cervantes Institute.

For half a century

Poetry was

a solemn fool’s paradise.

Until I came along

with my rollercoaster.

Climb aboard if you want.

Though of course I can’t be responsible if you get off

bleeding from the mouth and nose.

His official web site, www.nicanorparra.cl, contains only the poem above in the original Spanish, set alongside a childlike drawing with the words, “You’re asking me?? Anti-poetry is you!” He was too fragile to make the trip to Spain but sent his grandson to collect the prize and to hand over the ancient typewriter he has used to write his poetry. That typewriter has just been deposited in a vault in Spain’s Cervantes Institute, which this week awarded Nicanor Parra the Spanish language’s highest literary honor. The typewriter holds an unpublished poem which may not be read until 50 years from now.

Parra is the third Chilean to win this award, following essayist Jorge Edwards (1999) and poet Gonzalo Rojo (2003). And Chile has two Nobel Prize-winning poets, Gabriela Mistral (who became the first Latin American winner in 1945) and Pablo Neruda (1971).

Parra, who turns 98 this year, was born into a family of folklorists and musicians in southern Chile, but distinguished himself as a scholar, studying physics at Brown University and cosmology at Oxford.  He counted San Francisco Beat poets Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allan Ginsberg as friends and influences, and on this site there’s a photograph of him with Ginsburg at the St. Mark’s Poetry Project in New York: http://ginsbergblog.blogspot.co.uk/2011/09/nicanor-parra.html

And here’s one of his best poems, “The Last Toast.”

 

Whether we like it or not,
We have only three choices:
Yesterday, today and tomorrow.

And not even three
Because as the philosopher says
Yesterday is yesterday
It belongs to us only in memory:
From the rose already plucked
No more petals can be drawn.

The cards to play
Are only two:
The present and the future.

And there aren’t even two
Because it’s a known fact
The present doesn’t exist

Except as it edges past
And is consumed…,
like youth.

In the end
We are only left with tomorrow.
I raise my glass
To the day that never arrives.

But that is all

we have at our disposal.


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