Antipoems: How To Look Better And Feel Great Paperback – Aug 31 2004
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A poet with all the authority of a master. — Mark Strand (The New York Times Book Review)
One of the great names in the literature of our language. — Pablo Neruda
Witty, irreverent, and penetrating insights into the absurdities and contradictions of modern life. — Dave Oliphant (Texas Observer)
Includes a great introduction to Parra and his work by the translator that effortlessly mixes personal anecdote and historical context. — Jesse Tangen-Mills (Bookslut)
About the Author
Liz Fania Werner has lived and studied in Valparaíso, Chile. She recently completed an antiwar public poetry installation, "Blackout Poems," and is currently working on her first novel and conducting poetry-writing workshops in a juvenile detention center in her native New York City.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
If there is anything `anti' here is anti-boredom, each `piece' jumps out of the page with offhand easiness, and pomposity is reduced to the reader's own dull lack of imagination. Parra does so much away with droll academic stodginess and allows the invigorating flow of his... expressive, often hilarious and profound, communications; for it is this in the end that comes through -to which anyone at any reading level can enjoy. There are even some `poems' done in a cool artwork-doodle style. What a stimulating and inspired work of art.
I picked up this collection because Roberto Bolano said that he gave up on Neruda and followed Parra. I love Bolano so I followed him to Parra. Parra is different from Bolano so if you follow Bolano don't be surprised when you discover Parra. They are different; their poetry is different.
Parra is an antipoet. What does that mean? According to the translator's introduction, "antipoetry mirrors poetry, not as its adversary but as its perfect complement."
The book contains both the original Spanish version, which is good (all translation works should contain the original), and the English translation. Ms Werner captures the spirit, the humor, and the sense of Parra's poetry.
One of my favorite poetic ideas is from Holderlin, who calls for us to live poetically. I suppose Parra would say Holderlin is a poet. Parra, the antipoet, responds in his short poem "Poetry Poetry" to Holderlin's sentiment:"Poetry Poetry it's all poetry/we make poetry/ even when we're going to the bathroom." I think you can see from this fragment the antipoet at work.
Parra reminds me of the surrealists but he is not one. There is something quite material about his poetry. Within the poems you feel the steel of a political mind.
One of my favorite poems of the collection is "Stop Racking Your Brain."
The whole poem consists of three lines but it is quite true and sad for people interested in poetry: "Stop Racking your brains/nobody reads poetry nowadays/it doesn't matter if it's good or bad."
Remarkable translation of Liz Werner.
This is an english edition, but since some of these poems have not appeared previously, this book will also be a must-have for Parra followers in the spanish community. But even for old poems, is a very interesting experience to read the antipoems in a different language and to see them find their way in the intricacies of each language. It is necessary to say, however, that in the introduction Werner clearly states that Parra thinks that these are not really translations, because antipoems cannot be translated, so these are rewrittings. But probably the best possible ones.
Parra style, for those that have not heard about him, is better understood by reading it than by using descriptions:
TO MAKE A LONG STORY SHORT
To make a long story short
I leave all my possessions
to the Municipal Slaughterhouse
to the Special Forces Unit of the Police Department
to Lucky Dog Lotto
So now if you want you can shoot
Parra holds in contempt conventional poetry and developed an experimental style to distance himself from it. He is a self-described "anti-poet" and produces "anti-poems," analogous to the scientific concept of anti-matter (the necessary counterbalance to matter). Many of these poems read as lists or mathematical equations. They're often self-referential, with a sharp and sarcastic wit. He does not take himself too seriously (although Parra has been nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature several times, so he is taken seriously by others). After his recitations, Parra would shout, "Me retracto de todo lo dicho," or, "I take back everything I said," thus un-doing his reading (or his "anti-reading").
All this theory aside, his poems are pretty interesting, oftentimes entertaining, although I admit I don't "get" some of them. Much more unique in form than most poetry, though. The book is ordered to ease you into the experimentation. The poems in the beginning are more traditional, with the equations toward the end. The last section of the book is a series of cryptic drawings. I quite enjoyed all of this, though I can easily see someone not having the patience for it or dismissing it as pretentious nonsense. Or, as I imagine Parra would prefer, anti-sense.
Werner writes, "The house was full of sculptural artefactos, made out of handwritten signs paired with various household objects that changed the phrases or gave them second meanings. As soon as I arrived at the coast for the first time he showed me each one, and I came up with ideas for translation as we went from room to room. Some were in English already: for example the bible paired with a sign that said, "This book is not for fun." I suggested, "This book is not for sale," and he went to get a marker to change the sign. All this happened before I had even put my bags down."
This same playful spirit fills the entire book. This is a bilingual edition and, because Parra often uses very simple language, even readers with a very small amount of Spanish will be able to see other possibilities for translation.
Nicanor Parra was a mathematician and physicist before he became a poet and Werner uses this to give the best explanation of "antipoetry" that I've found: "In 1928 a physicist named Paul Dirac came up with a mathematical equation that predicted the existence of an antiworld identical to ours but consisting of antimatter. Each antiparticle of this antiworld would exactly match each particle of our world, but would carry an opposite charge. viewed through the lens of antimatter, antipoetry mirrors poetry, not as its adversary but as its perfect complement; it is not by nature negative, but negative where poetry is positive, and vice versa; it is as opposite, complete, and interdependent as the shape left behind in the fabric where the garment has been cut out."
The thought of trying to describe Parra's antipoems brings immediate despair. Humor and sadness and frolic and outrage presented in a way somehow exceptionally naked. ("Presented" is already entirely the wrong word.)
My favorite antipoem is titled "Mission Accomplished" and is written in two colums, one a list of the contents of a life, one of numbers. The tally starts with
but soon moves on to:
"at the mirror
"Metro Goldwyn Mayer
and eventually gets to things like:
fathers of the Church
hot air balloons
Meanwhile, on the other side of the page, the numbers are making a poem of their own. Sometimes appearing to comply, other times going quite splendidly awry.
While I lived in Santiago, I was impressed by the great fondness Chileans feel for Parra, still very much alive aged 97. (Everyone has an acquaintance whose grandmother is Nicanor Parra's close friend. Everyone has met one of his children recently.) Although many people couldn't give a definition of antipoetry or an antipoet, they are certain that Nicanor Parra is genuine, the real thing. They're right.