Thursday, January 25, 2018


I became a fan of Chilean poet Nicanor Parra's poetry when I saw the title of his 1967 New Directions book: POEMS AND ANTIPOEMS. The idea of antipoems fit with my own approach to poems, which at the time I was having a lot of published in what we called then "little magazines" and "underground newspapers."

I couldn't read much Spanish, so I depended on the translators of the poems in the book, which ranged from Allen Ginsberg and Denise Levertov to W. S. Merwin and Miller Williams, all of whom I knew then, a time when it was possible to know most of the poets on your side of the poetry fence.

Miller Williams was the main translator and wrote the introduction, in which he stated something that I thought expressed my approach, or my desire, at the time: "antipoetry is unadorned, is unlyrical, is nonsymbolist; in antipoetry what you see is what you see; antipoetry is chiseled, solid."

I met Parra a few times, but it was in 1970 at a reading in DC where he signed my copy of POEMS AND ANTIPOEMS, with just a big cursive version of my name followed by an explanation point: "Michael!" then "Nicanor" and under that "70" and under that "Washington." A chiseled, solid inscription.

He was a scientist as well as a poet, and he was 103 when he passed yesterday. I am grateful that he led such a rich, full, long life and was recognized as an important and influential poet. He was to me.

Here's Miller Williams' translation of a short poem from that book:


For half a century
Poetry was the paradise
Of the solemn fool.
Until I came
And built my roller coaster.

Go up, if you feel like it.
I'm not responsible if you come down
With your mouth and nose bleeding.

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