Friday, December 02, 2011

Nicanor Parra Wins Cervantes Prize

What is an antipoet? That answer I'll leave to someone else, but a self-styled holder of that moniker, the Chilean poet Nicanor Parra (1914-), a trained mathematician and physicist who has been publishing since the 1930s and whose 1954 collection Poemas y Antipoemas electrified readers across the globe, yesterday received the 2011 Miguel de Cervantes Prize, widely considered the highest honor in Spanish-language literature.

Parra has famously rejected what he considered the pomp and formality of the poetry business, as well as the elaborate style of Spanish-language poetry, choosing instead a more colloquial, often humorous approach.  He has written poems with titles like "Chistes para disorientar la polícia/poesía" ("Tricks to disorient the police/poetry") "Toda la poesía es mierda" ("All poetry is shit"); "¡Silencio mierda!" ("Shut the hell up!"); "La muerte supersónica" ("Supersonic death"); and Like other writers who step outside the mainstream he has not received the sort of acclaim due him, though he did receive Chile's National Prize for Literature in 1969 (following in the footsteps of Nobel Laureates Pablo Neruda and Gabriel Mistral), and he is rumored to have been nominated several times for the Nobel itself.

There are several English translations of his work, including Antipoems, translated by Jorge Elliott (City Lights, Pocket Poets Series No. 12, 1960); Poems and Antipoems, edited by Miller Williams and translated by Fernando Alegría (New Directions, 1967); Poems and Antipoems, edited by David Unger (New Directions, 1985); Antipoems: How to Look Better & Feel Great, translated by Liz Werner (New Directions, 2004), and After-Dinner Declarations, translated by Dave Oliphant (Host Publications, 2009).


De estatura mediana,
Con una voz ni delgada ni gruesa,
Hijo mayor de profesor primario
Y de una modista de trastienda;
Flaco de nacimiento
Aunque devoto de la buena mesa;
De mejillas escuálidas
Y de más bien abundantes orejas;
Con un rostro cuadrado
En que los ojos se abren apenas
Y una nariz de boxeador mulato
Baja a la boca de ídolo azteca
-Todo esto bañado
Por una luz entre irónica y pérfida-
Ni muy listo ni tonto de remate
Fui lo que fui: una mezcla
De vinagre y aceite de comer
¡Un embutido de ángel y bestia!

Of medium height,
With a voice neither shrill nor low,
The oldest son of an elementary school teacher
And a piecework seamstress,
Naturally thin
Though fond of good eating,
With drawn cheeks
And oversize ears,
A square face,
And slits for eyes,
And the nose of a mulatto boxer
Over an Aztec idol's mouth
-All this bathed
In a light halfway between irony and perfidy -
Neither too bright nor totally stupid,
I was what I was: a mixture
Of vinegar and olive oil,
A sausage of angel and beast!

Copyright © Nicanor Parra, translated by Jorge Elliot, from Antipoems (translated by Jorge Elliott), San Francisco, City Lights Books, The Pocket Poets Series, Nº12, 1960. All rights reserved.


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