Nicanor Parra

Nicanor Parra and Allen Ginsberg at the St Mark’s Poetry Project, New York, 1987 – photograph by Vivian Selbo

The great physicist, mathematician and “anti-poet” Nicanor Parra turns – believe it or not! – 97 today. Celebrate the birthday of one of the world’s great living pataphysical geniuses.

Allen, speaking at a reading in Boulder, Colorado, in July of 1990, sandwiched between readings by Nicaraguan poet, Daisy Zamora (with English translations read by Margaret Randall) and Lawrence Ferlinghetti: “Nicanor Parra is an old friend of (Lawrence) Ferlinghetti and myself. In fact, Ferlinghetti published his first book in the United States, Antipoems (Pocket Poets #12, City Lights, 1960), and we both worked on translations of one long poem, or middle-sized poem, of that time (“Soliloquio del Individuo” – “The Soliloquy of the Individual” or “The Individual Soliloquy”)

A recording of the author reading it in its original Spanish may be heard here.
Here‘s the Ginsberg-Ferlinghetti translation.

“In 1977..Parra (who, incidentally is the world’s foremost expert… the world’s leading expert in Newtonian physics, and applying the data of modern times to the Newtonian system – a very.. elegant, and witty man – picked up on a historic, primitive figure in Chile, a preacher who preached in the street and in the countryside, and so he wrote a series of poems in that persona – “From the Sermons and Preachings of the Christ of Elqui”

More from the “Christ of Elqui” series (and a whole lot more English translation of Parra’s poetry) can be found here.

Antipoems has appeared in various manifestations. The most recent version, 2004’s Antipoems – How To Look Better And Feel Great (translated by Liz Warner) following on from David Unger’s 1985 selection for New Directions, Antipoems: New & Selected Poems.

A new edition of his “Complete Works” (Obras Completas II) has just been published in Spanish.

Allen’s reading (of “The Individual Soliloquy”, and of several other poems) can be accessed here. He comes on approximately 36 minutes in (tho’ Zamora and Ferlinghetti too, it has to be said, are well worth catching).

Here’s “the voice of the poet” – Parra reading “Hay Un Dia Feliz“, “Advertencia al Lector“,“Es Olvido”, “La Vibora”, “Desorden En El Cielo”,“Oda A Unas Palomas“,“Cancion”, “Autorretrato”, “San Antonio” and “Epitafio”.

Here’s Parra being interviewed on tv (in Spanish) – here, here and here

Here’s some of the classic documentary footage of him – from Guillermo Cahn’s 1981 Cachureo.

For more on Parra, his University of Chile web-site is well worth a visit

We end, suitably perversely, with the Nicanor Parra milk commercial! – Happy Birthday, Nicanor Parra!


  1. I knew Parra when he was at Columbia in 1972… In particular a wonderful drinking session at The Only Child on west 79… He was telling me,remember like Rimbaud, the I is the other… I've always admired Parra for never giving into the temptation of exile from his country Chile, never become a "big important poet.

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