Nicanor Parra Turns One Hundred

parra-dollar-bill

Chilean poet Nicanor Parra, a man from a talented, humble family, was a mathematician and physicist until he studied in England. There he read Shakespeare and classic English poetry, whereupon he did a complete turn-about, publishing his first book “Poems and Anti-poems.” Eventually he labeled himself an “anti-poeta.” I visit a photographic exhibit held in his honor and am tickled to notice a photo of him visiting the University of California in Berkeley, invited by Chilean professor Fernando Alegría with whom I studied Latin American Literature. Just two degrees of separation!

A second exhibition features his illustrated quotes (“Thought dies in the mouth”), newspaper headline colleges and a display of artifacts, common items with quirky labels: a roll of soft toilet paper labeled “bourgeoisie” alongside newspaper squares for the “proletariat”, a coke bottle labeled “message in a bottle”, a bunch of unmatched socks. I laugh at his humor, irony and irreverence. His talent for playing with words is evident in one of my favorite quotes (translated): Read from back to front, to the contrary, nothing happens. I leave the exhibit stimulated and in awe of this “anti-poet” who kindles stirrings of creative sparks within me.

What can I do with these sparks? When have I ever written with irreverence or irony? Humor does lie within my realm of possibilities. I will just let his spirit seep into me and simmer.

Writers must be patient. Inspiration and ideas aren’t instantly on call. I must wait. My mind is like alphabet soup, letters and nascent words floating about seeking coherence, something worthwhile. I stir the chaotic brew and let random ideas mull. Often when I’m out for a walk, a tiny glimmer ignites, or, like today, while I watered my house plants, I knew I wanted to write something inspired by my visit with Parra. Now I must read more of his anti-poems, hoping my muse will fall under his spell.

parra-portrait

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