On 5 September 2014, Chilean poet Nicanor Parra celebrated his 100th birthday. Parra is one of the most influential living poets writing in Spanish and has been shortlisted several times for the Nobel Prize in Literature. Parra’s claim to fame is closely linked to the concept of anti-poetry, an iconoclastic, unconventional way of poetic writing that is directed against traditional lyric poetry. In his view, ‘everything is poetry, except poetry’.
Parra first started writing anti-poetry around 1950. Anti-poetry borrows extensively from colloquial language and existing discourses, such as political speeches, sermons and advertising, using them in surprising ways. Parra’s anti-poems are accessible, provocative and often funny. Unlike more traditional poetic voices, the speaker in Parra’s anti-poetry thrives on contradiction, eluding identification and categorisation. This proclivity to go against discursive conventions and refuse to commit to any established ideology is at the root of Parra’s anti-poetic strategy and has earned him the scorn of the political left in Chile.
In the more than six decades since the publication of Poemas y antipoemas (1954), Parra has continued to explore new forms of writing. In 1972 he published a collection of 242 postcards that combine aphoristic lines with graphic illustrations under the title Artefactos. In 1990 he first exhibited his ‘practical work’, labelled objects that subvert the type of display commonly found in museums. More recently Parra has published a collection of his speeches written in verse, adapted Shakespeare’s King Lear into Spanish and produced video art.