Not everyone can answer questions like, What´s your favorite movie? Or your favorite book? Usually we´re moving so fasting consuming new things it´s hard for us to keep a hierarchical list of all of them.
But if someone were to ask me for my favorite poet (highly unlikely as it is) I would say Nicanor Parra. I wouldn´t hesitate. I wouldn´t even let them finish their question. Even when I´m tired of reading I pick up the first volume of his complete works (with two hands) and dive in. I read his Artefacts, a collection of images with brief text printed on postcards.
They share a striking resemblance to the meme. They share that quick ability to make meaning visually, and strike quickly, the way a quip might if delivered orally. They are profound and not. True and a sham. Seriouly kidding. And kidding, not really.
Sidenote: via google alerts (how else could I keep track of my favorite poet) I found out in Chile they are re-publishing his Artefactos. I have already asked a friend to pick me up a box of the postcard poems.
But I don´t only read those. I return to the Poemas y antipoemas. I used to carry a copy around with me everywhere I went, which in the end meant I had a . I read these in Spanish, but I´ve written about the translations made of them in Bookslut. Here´s some of what I said about Poems and anti-poems five years ago:
His first book to be translated to English, Anti-poems by City Lights in 1960 is the most gloom-doom, doldrum, guffawingly dastard and enduring book of poems I’ve ever read. It is the silver molar in the teeth of Latin American poetry that´s back cover in squiggly almost illegible script, “The author is grateful for your purchase of this book.”
The title stands alone: at once declarative and reactionary. Another manifesto? Another anti-book like the anti-memoir (merci Malraux) or the anti-novel (merci beaucoup Sartre)? Perhaps. But in comparison to other anti-genres, an anti-poem is more polemical. Anti excludes; anti isn’t; anti won’t; while poetry — as we tend to think of it — does just the opposite. And still, according to the original title (Poemas y anti-poemas) the volume contains poems as well, so Parra challenges us to separate the poems from the anti-poems, and there’s the crux: many of the obvious anti-poems in their piss-on-it-all attitude ironically creates another kind of beauty, something surely poetic, but not Poetic.
The first poem of the collection “Lullabaloo” begins: “As I was walking in / The park one day / I chanced to run into / An angelorium.” When Parra tries to finds the right language to address him, it doesn’t work out; when he tries to shake his hand, the angel gives him his foot; and when he tries to describe, he resorts to asinine similes, “As silly as a swan / As cold as a crowbar / As fat as a duck / As ugly as you.” This leads to a fight and the angel tries to cut him with his sword. None of this really bothers Parra, who dismisses him: “Be on your way / Have a nice day / Get run over by a car, / Get killed by a train.” And it all ends: “So that’s the story of the angel. / The End.” This is just the beginning of the book. When not brawling with angels he’s contemplating lettuce (while trying to not to), remembering a girl he can’t remember (“I swear I no longer remember her name, but I know what to call her: Maria”), violently psychoanalyzing himself, even contemplating what his tombstone will read ( “a sausage of angel and beast!”).
The mash-up of medieval tomfoolery and modern skepticism tricks, criticizes, but mostly plays. As he warns in his poem “Roller Coaster”: “Go up, if you feel like it. / It’s not my fault if you come down / Bleeding from your nose and mouth.” He’s kidding. He’s kidding. None of these poems can break your nose or your mouth, unless you had a friend drop it from a high building while you waited to catch it with an open mouth.
There are other voices that inhabit his work, albeit in a kind of type-casting of Parra himself. I love his character Cristo del Elqui. There’s his brutal and violent version of Lear. And yet all of these voices resonate so deeply with me, but in the way Mad magazine used to when I was a kid: it’s irreverent and so deeply true.
In the corniest fanboy, just-met-you-actor-who-played-Q way, I say, Thank you, Nicanor Parra!