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Antipoems: How to Look Better and Feel Great by Nicanor Parra

August 25, 2010

Nicanor Parra is a Chilean mathematician and poet. I picked up this book because Parra was a favorite of and a big influence on Roberto Bolaño. He is also wildly influential across the rest of Latin American poetry, and American beat poet Alan Ginsberg cited Parra as an inspiration.

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.

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