Parra, genre, and poetry of the near future

by on Aug.26, 2011

Nicanor Parra

Here’s Bolano on the future of poetry, taken from his essay on Parra called “Eight Seconds with Nicanor Parra”: The Poetry of the first decades of the twenty-first century will be a hybrid creation, as fiction has already become. We may be heading, with terrible slowness, toward new earthquakes of form. In this uncertain future, our children will watch as the poet asleep in an armchair meets up on the operating table with the black desert bird that feeds on the parasites of camels. At some point in his life, Breton talked about the need for surrealism to go underground, to descend into the sewers of cities and libraries. Then he never spoke on the subject again. It doesn’t matter who said it: THE TIME TO SETTLE DOWN WILL NEVER COME. (The capitalization is Bolano’s.)

Three reasons why I like this quote:

1: The phrase the “poet asleep in an armchair meets up on the operating table with the black desert bird that feeds on the parasites of camels.”

2: The idea that poetry “will be a hybrid creation, as fiction has already become.” What did he mean by this? When we consider that most of his favorite contemporary fiction writers were artists heavily influenced by genre (Javier Marias, Cormac McCarthy, Philip K. Dick, James Ellroy) I can’t help but suspect that he meant, at least partially, that poetry would start to gain some new energy from genre (and, I would argue, not in the condescending aren’t-we-so-much-smarter-than-the-average-genre-reader tone that all too frequently mars experiments with hybrid fiction in experimental writing, but rather approaching crime fiction and sci-fi and mysteries with the same passion we’d bring to “literary” writing).

And 3: The recognition of Parra in the essay as a whole, who really is one of the great unsung heroes of twentieth-century poetry, a badly needed modern day Petronious laughing in the midnight graveyard.

5 comments for this entry:
  1. Kent Johnson

    James, this is great. Yes, Parra, incredible figure. Raul Zurita, who I know is (through Action Yes! publication) somewhat tied to the Montevidayo camp, at least in sense of friendly affiliation, is close to Parra and has written a good deal about him (there is a wonderful piece in a recent BOMB issue, about a little trip he and Parra take together).

    And where did you find that photo? That must go back to the early forties, as Parra is into his late 90s now. I don’t know if you’re aware that there is a very big and important poetic split that takes place between Parra and Neruda, and this division (things were quite hostile between them for good many years) comes to be very crucial in Latin American poetry and its later development, a kind of tributary off-branch of the Vallejo/Neruda divergence. That might be an interesting topic to explore in a follow-up post? And may I share something here? It’s really pretty strange and totally straight-up: About halfway into this piece by Forrest Gander and me is an account of bizarre turns of events having to do with Nicanor Parra, all in the environs of Isla Negra. Thanks for this post, James.

  2. Johannes

    Here’s Bolano’s story Dance Card about the Neruda/Parra split:


  3. Lucas de Lima

    The BOMB piece by Zurita is really wonderful. Will have to read this Bolano essay again. Thinking about futurity and Bolano’s Entre parentesis, I love that bit where he says if he had to pick a few henchmen with whom to rob a bank, he would choose only poets.

    Parra’s concept of antipoetry still manages to turn poetry on its head, giving it an exit from itself, as it were… it’s another escape route of the future.. or from the future! I’m planning to use it again to kick off a class I’m teaching.

  4. James Pate

    Kent, thanks for the link. I’m looking forward to reading it…

    There’s a essay by Bolano –I actually can’t find it at the moment: Lucas might remember it — where he wishes there was a square in Chile with statues showing Parra and Neruda with their backs toward each other. He then says, in that wonderfully off-hand arrogant way he had sometimes, that some readers might take it to mean he thinks of Parra as being on the Right and Neruda as being on the Left, but of course those people don’t know how to read…

  5. Kent Johnson

    A little anecdote: When I was in Valparaiso, I went to this incredibly cool ancient bar called El Domino, a maze of rooms on two different floors. I sat down in this booth across from the bar and noticed a picture of Neruda on the wall of the booth. I said to the bartender, O, that’s nice to see a picture of a poet in a bar, because in my country there usually aren’t pictures of poets in bars. Well, said the bartender, that picture is there because when Neruda came in here every Tuesday, that’s always where he would sit, in that booth. Lots of poets come in here. El poeta Parra goes upstairs. When he dies, we’ll put a picture in his booth, too.