Ocho segundos con Nicanor Parra / Roberto Bolaño

Eight Seconds with Nicanor Parra

I’m only sure about one thing regarding Nicanor Parra’s poetry in this new century: it will endure. This, of course, means very little and Parra is the first to know it. However, it will endure, along with the poetry of Borges, of Vallejo, of Cernuda and a few others. But this, we have to say it, doesn’t matter too much.

Parra’s wager, the probe Parra projects into the future, is too complex to be treated here. It’s also too dark. It possesses the darkness of movement. The actor that speaks or gesticulates, however, is perfectly visible. His attributes, his clothing, the symbols that accompany him like tumors are currents: it’s the poet who sleeps while sitting on a chair, the leading man who gets lost in a cemetery, the speaker at a conference who tosses his hair until he pulls it out, the brave man who dares to piss when he’s on his knees, the hermit who watches the years go by, the overwhelmed statistician. It wouldn’t be too much to require that before reading Parra one consider the question Wittgenstein asks of us and himself: Is this hand a hand or is it not a hand? (One should ask the question while looking at one’s hand.)

I ask myself who will write the book Parra had planned and never wrote: a history of World War II told or sung battle by battle, concentration camp by concentration camp, exhaustively, a poem that would somehow become the instantaneous opposite of Neruda’s Canto general, and from which Parra has only saved one text, the Manifiesto, where he lays out his poetic aesthetic, an aesthetic that Parra himself has ignored however many times he has felt necessary, among other reasons because that’s what aesthetics are for: to provide a vague idea of the inexplorable territory inhabited by true writers, though not very often, and which are almost useless at the hour of concrete risks and dangers.

Let the brave follow Parra. Only the young are brave, only the young have the purest of spirits. But Parra doesn’t write youthful poetry. Parra doesn’t write about purity. He does write about pain and solitude; about useless and necessary challenges; about words condemned to be dispersed like the tribe is condemned to be dispersed. Parra writes as though he were going to be electrocuted tomorrow. The Mexican poet Mario Santiago, as far as I know, was the only person who read his work lucidly. The rest of us have only seen a dark comet. First requirement of a masterpiece: to pass unnoticed.

There are moments in a poet’s journey when he has no other choice but to improvise. Even if the poet is able to recite Gonzalo de Berceo from memory or knows like no one else the hepta-syllables and 11-syllable verses of Garcilaso, there are moments when the only thing to do is launch oneself into the abyss or stand naked before a clan of apparently educated Chileans. Of course, one must know how to accept the consequences. First requirement of a masterpiece: to pass unnoticed.

A political note: Parra has been able to survive. It’s not such a major event, but it’s something. Neither the Chilean left with its profoundly right-wing convictions has been able to defeat him, nor has the neo-Nazi and forgetful Chilean right. The Latin American Stalinist left hasn’t been able to defeat him nor has the now-globalized Latin American right, until recently silently complicit with repression and genocide. The mediocre Latin American professors on American university campuses haven’t been able to defeat him, nor have the zombies who walk the village of Santiago. Not even Parra’s followers have been able to defeat Parra. Moreover, I would say, surely won over by my enthusiasm, that not just Parra but also his siblings, with Violeta at the head of the pack, and their Rabelaisian parents, have put into practice one of poetry’s greatest ambitions of all time: to fuck with the public’s patience.

Verses chosen at random: “It’s a mistake to think the stars can help cure cancer,” said Parra. “Regarding rifle, I remind you the soul is immortal,” said Parra. He’s as right as a saint. And we could go on until no one’s left. I remind you, regardless, that Parra is also a sculptor. Or a visual artist. These explanations are perfectly useless. Parra is also a literary critic. He once summarized Chile’s entire literary history in three verses. They are: “Chile’s four great poets / are three: / Alonso de Ercilla and Rubén Darío.”

The poetry of the first years of the 21st century will be a hybrid poetry, just like fiction is already doing. We’re possibly already heading, with frightening slowness, toward new formal tremors. In that uncertain future our children will contemplate the encounter on an operating table of a poet who sleeps in a chair and a black bird of the desert, one that feeds off the parasites of camels. On certain occasions, at the end of his life, Breton spoke of the need for Surrealism to become clandestine, to immerse itself in the sewers of cities and libraries. Afterward, he never mentioned the topic again. It doesn’t matter who said it: THE TIME TO SIMMER DOWN WILL NEVER COME.

{ Roberto Bolaño, Entre paréntesis, Barcelona: Editorial Anagrama, 2004 }


knott said...

Parra has deserved the Nobel for decades now . . . they should have given it to him the next year after Neruda's . . .

I once sat within 20 feet of Parra at a cafeteria in New York city clutching a copy of my new book "Auto-necrophilia" and daring myself to go over and give it to him with effusive expressions of homage and discipleship (half the poems in my book were facile fumbling imitations of him)

but i chickened out, shamefilled and shallow . . . i should have bowed kneeling before him and ripped my pages strewn for him to step on and walk over . . .

Ryan said...

La poesia de Parra me cambio la vida. Gracias por subir este ensayo!

Guillermo Parra said...

Yeah! A Nobel Prize for Parra, indeed. I love the portrait of him in the NYC subway that Ginsberg published in his "Snapshot Poetics."

Quizás te guste el libro de ensayos de Bolaño, "Entre paréntesis," ya que Parra (junto con Borges) es su maestro. Se puede conseguir a muy buen precio.

Thania said...

Uyy me tomó tantos años comprar el libro de ensayos de Bolaño. Lo encontré en Tijuana, barato y nuevo. Altamente recomendable. Al igual que estas traducciones.
Ahora, a buscar esa foto de Parra en el subway de NYC, ojala que no me tomé tantos años como el libro de Bolaño.

Excelente sitio Guillermo Parra.

Guillermo Parra said...

Gracias, Thania. La foto que Ginsberg tomó de Parra es buenísima. ¿Verdad que es bueno Entre paréntesis?