Monday, September 5, 2011

Why Nicanor Parra? Why today?

Today is the great Chilean antipoet's 97th birthday. I expect he is celebrating it by the ocean in Las Cruces. I missed a chance to visit him last year, but hope to visit this coming spring.

This blog is a simple act of admiration & an attempt to explore the significance of Nicanor Parra through unconventional, creative and non-academic means. I'll post sections of my work here, & invite others to do so as well.

I discovered Nicanor's work in 1972 in the sub-sub-sub-basement of Douglas Library, when I returned to Queen's University in Kingston. I think I found the 1960 New Directions Poems and Antipoems (bibliographic memory fades), and stood there transfixed, leaning against the metal shelving, reading poems the likes of which I had never seen - direct, iconoclastic, mocking forms and traditional poetic sensibilities. I think I found my way to his work by way of Pound, who led me to Cardenal, who lead me to Parra.

I have read everything I could get my hands on of his ever since. Eventually I learned enough rudimentary Spanish to try my hand at anti-translating some of his work (and others like Lihn and Vallejo). I called those pieces translations naif, and some of them appeared in my 1986 book Convincing Americans, which the amazing poet and dedicated small press publisher (then, as now) Stuart Ross brought out under his Proper Tales Press imprint.

I continue to do these odd beasts today - they are not translations in any traditional sense, most often they wander quickly away from the content of Nicanor's source work - into other topics, other diction, other lineation. I went through a stage of calling them mis-translations, at this moment I'm not calling them anything in particular.

I have expanded my ambition this last year. I'm currently working my way through Nicanor's 1977 Sermones y Predicas del Cristo de Elqui. It is a truly thrilling voyage. The result, whatever that will be, will form the backbone of a new book which I trust will appear next year, whose working title is Happy Birthday Nicanor Parra!

I'm also just a total unrepentant fan. I love his visual artefactos, sent him a copy of my last book, Back Off, Assassin! New and Selected Poems (Mansfield Press, 2009), and through a Facebook query about his safety following the devastating earthquake in Chile in 2010, connected with a brilliant grandson of his, and have been lucky enough to borrow from the producer/director a rough working sub-titled copy of an amazing Chilean documentary, Retrato de un Antipoeta.

More on some of the above later. In the meantime, I just wanted to put this bog up on Nicanor's 97th & say gracias para todo.

Happy Birthday, Nicanor!

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