Chilean Poet Nicanor Parra Wins the Cervantes Prize
Chilean Poet Nicanor Parra Wins the Cervantes Prize
The 97-year old, creator of the antipoesía (antipoetry) movement, is the most veteran winner of the most important award in Hispanic letters, which comes with 125,000 euros
El País: El poeta chileno Nicanor Parra, premio Cervantes
Javier Rodríguez reporting from Madrid December 1, 2011
The Chilean poet Nicanor Parra, age 97, has won the Premio Cervantes 2011. He is the most veteran writer to receive this distinction. The Minister of Culture, Ángeles González-Sinde, announced from the ministry headquarters the ruling for the most important award in Hispanic letters, which comes with 125,000 euros. Parra (San Fabián de Alico, Chile, 1914), creator of the antipoesía (antipoetry) movement, is the brother of the celebrated singer Violeta Parra, who passed away in 1967. Chilean academic, mathematicist, and physicist, he had been mentioned for the award several times in recent years. The cover story for Babelia (El País’s literary supplement), to be published precisely this Saturday, is a Parra profile written by Leila Guerriero. In it, the author affirms, “I have always fished for things that walked in the air.”
Parra is the survivor of the most outstanding group of contemporary Chilean poets, along with Pablo Neruda, Gabriela Mistral, Vicente Huidobro, and fellow Cervantes winner Gonzalo Rojas (who passed away this April). After Cancionero sin nombre (A Songbook without a Name), which was much influenced by the popularismo of Federico García Lorca, was published in 1937, in 1954 came the book which marked his career and broke open Latin-American poetry in the second half of the 20th century, Poemas y antipoemas (Poems and Antipoems). After that came Versos de salón (Salon Verses) (1962), which included a poem in which he affirmed: Durante medio siglo / la poesía fue / el paraíso del tonto solemne. / Hasta que vine yo / y me instalé con mi montaña rusa. / Suban, si les parece. / Claro que yo no respondo si bajan / echando sangre por boca y narices. (For half a century / poetry was / the paradise of the solemn fool. / Until I came / and settled down with my Russian mountain. / They come up, if they want. / Obviously I don’t respond if they come down / bleeding from their noses and mouths.)
In 1948, in a poetic (a theoretical introduction) for an anthology, he had already minted the terms to which he would remain faithful in his work: “I seek a poetry based on actions and not on combinations or literary figures. I’m opposed to the affected form of traditional poetic language.”
In 1977, Sermones y prédicas del Cristo de Elqui (Sermons and Predictions of the Christ of Elqui) came to light; it is about a mystic and visionary who made predictions from the northern Chilean mines. Besides the Cervantes, he had already won the most important literary prizes for the Spanish Language, the Juan Rulfo in 1991 and the Reina Sofía de Poesía Iberoamericana (Queen Sofía Prize for Iberoamerican Poetry) 10 years later.
Parra’s work has had a kind of good luck with regard to publication given he is a poet and Latin American. Galaxia Gutenberg/Círculo de lectores has published a second, monumental, and we can say definitive tome of his works, Obras completas & algo + (the first appeared in 2006). Here the totality of the new Cervantes winner’s work is collected; the project was supervised by the writer himself and set up by the Hispanicist Niall Bins – the great expert in his work – and looked after by the critic Ignacio Echevarría. There are more good anthologies, like Parranda larga (A Long Night Out on the Town – note the pun) (Alfaguara), edited by Elvio E. Gandolfo, an ample selection of his books, visual poems (he calls them artefacts) included. This title, published last year, summarized already historical editions like Chistes para desorientar a la policía/poesía (Jokes to Disorient the Police/Poets) (Visor) and Poemas y antipoemas (Cátedra), edited by University of Chicago department head René de Costa, who studied the Hispanic vanguard and was also commissioner of the 1992 Valencia exhibition of Parra’s visual works beside Joan Brossa‘s.
Influence on Bolaño
Parra, among others, exercised enormous influence on the departed novelist Roberto Bolaño, who considered him on the same high level as Jorge Luis Borges and César Vallejo. “He writes as if he’s going to be electrocuted the day after,” Bolaño said. He also said that “he who is valiant should follow Parra.” The Chilean represented the adaption of the Spanish language to what critic Julio Ortega called “the civil dialogism of modern English poetry,” closer to spoken conversational language than the lyric and sometimes epic elevation of his compatriot Neruda.
Parra succeeds last year’s winner, the Catalonian Ana María Matute. Since 1976, 36 Spanish and Hispanic-American writers have won the prize considered the “Nobel of Castilian Letters”. The prize, created in 1975 by the Spanish government’s Ministry of Culture, recognizes authors whose work as a whole has contributed to enriching the legacy of Hispanic literature. Although it isn’t officially established, there is a tacit agreement to alternate the award between Hispanic America and Spain. This award has continued that tradition another year.
A Woman Presided on the Jury
For the first time, the president of the jury was a woman, the scientist Margarita Salas. The poet José María Micó, a member of the jury, said that he valued the writer’s long career, that he is an active poet, his great creative independence, and his qualification as a “grand master without a school.” At the moment the award was announced, the jury had not yet spoken with Parra.
After hearing of the award, the founder and director of Anagrama magazine, Jorge Herralde, who is in Guadalajara, currently the site of the most important international book fair in the Spanish-speaking world (the FIL), said of Parra, “it is one of the best Cervantes prizes that has been given, and he should have won it earlier. I discovered him long ago at Oxford, reading his Poemas y antipoemas,” reports Winston Manrique.
Chilean writer Ariel Dorfman sent his congratulations by e-mail: “How marvelous, and how delightful. Parra has transformed, desacralized our language. I’m dying with anticipation to hear the anti-speech he will give when he accepts the award. Cervantes and Parra together will never be topped…”
“Yesterday I was with him, and he didn’t mention the Cervantes” by Ana Marcos
Patricio Fernández, director of the Chilean seminar The Clinic and author of El País‘s blog Far From Everything, said that yesterday, Wednesday, he was with the awardwinner “all day, and he didn’t mention the Cervantes.”
“We had a peaceful day, lunching in Las Cruces (a region of Valparaíso),” said Fernández, who has known Parra “for 12 years.” “We’ve become very good friends.” He says Parra’s “anecdotes, skills, and good ideas are infinite.” “I couldn’t select one.” How did they meet? “One day I went to his home and asked him to do something for my review, which is very similar to the one he made, El Quebrantahuesos (The Lammergeier). So for some time he wrote a column he called Hojas de parra (double meaning: Parra Pages or Vine Leaves), like his book.
After that he started another section called Adivina de quién es este poema (Divining whose poem this is) about Chilean poetry. In fat, we once did a Parra special, an edition dedicated to him with unpublished texts, criticism, and commentary.”
Fernández was very happy the Cervantes was given to Parra because “it’s taken a lot of work to make people recognize that he has been the most important poet in Chile for quite a while now. I believe that thanks to the publication of his complete works, he has begun to receive more recognition.” “Today I called him, but he didn’t answer. It would be a lot like Nicanor to not pick up the phone right now because there’s nothing he dislikes more than answering questions.”