Literary Treasures: Chilean Poet Nicanor Parra Reading from his Work

The following is a guest post by Catalina Gómez, a reference librarian in the Library’s Hispanic Division. It is part of our monthly series, “Literary Treasures,” which highlights audio and video recordings drawn from the Library’s extensive online collections, including the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature. By showcasing the works and thoughts of some of the greatest poets and writers from the past 75 years, the series advances the Library’s mission to “further the progress of knowledge and creativity for the benefit of the American people.”

Nicanor Parra, 1914-2018. Photo courtesy of Catalina Parra.

We are saddened by the news of the passing of Chile’s Nicanor Parra, one of the 20th Century’s most invigorating poets. He passed away today, Tuesday, January 23rd, 2018, in La Reina, Chile, at age 103. It’s hard to think of figures more exhilarating than this daring “anti-poet” and artist whose rebellious work pushed the boundaries of language and expanded an art form.

Parra’s poetry was revolutionary and influenced figures like Pablo Neruda, William Carlos Williams, the Beat poets, among many other poets and artists. His book Poemas y antipoemas (Anti-poems), published in 1954, exposed his contempt for the solemnity and high rhetoric that was common in the poetry of the time, and introduced elements of plain speech, sarcasm, and humor to his art. Stylistically, what Parra mostly wanted was to shatter the pedestals on which poetry (and poets) stood and thus create his own ‘anti-poetic’ form. It’s not entirely surprising that all this would emerge from a poet with an extensive background in physics and mathematics (alongside his career as a poet, Parra taught theoretical physics at the Universidad de Chile).

We feel honored here at the Library to have a rare and unique recording of the poet reading from his books La cueca larga and Poemas y antipoemas. Recorded in the Library’s Recording Laboratory on April 14th, 1970, this treasure is part of our Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape.

Nicanor Segundo Parra Sandoval was born in the town of San Fabián de Alico in Chile in 1914. He is the author of 26 poetry collections, including Poemas y antipoemas (Anti-poems) (1954), Obra Gruesa (Emergency Poems) (1969), and Nuevos Sermones y prédicas del Cristo de Elqui (Sermons and Homilies of the Christ of Elqui) (1977). His poems have been widely translated and anthologized, while his interdisciplinary projects have been featured in numerous fine art exhibitions. Parra was awarded the National Prize for Literature in Chile, the Reina Sofía Poetry Award, and the Miguel de Cervantes Prize, among many other honors. He studied mathematics and physics at the University of Chile in Santiago, and later pursued studies at Brown University and Oxford University. From 1952 to 1991 he taught theoretical physics at the University of Chile. He was also a visiting professor at Louisiana State University, New York University, and Yale University.

For further information on Nicanor Parra, search the subject heading “Parra, Nicanor” in the LC Online Catalog. Visit the Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape and the Library of Congress’ Hispanic Division to learn more.


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