Nicanor Parra

(September 5, 1914 / Chillán)

Biography of Nicanor Parra

Nicanor Parra poet

Nicanor Parra Sandoval is a mathematician and poet born in San Fabián de Alico, Chile, who has been considered to be a popular poet in Chile with enormous influence and popularity in Latin America, and also considered one of the most important poets of the Spanish language literature. He describes himself as an "anti-poet," due to his distaste for standard poetic pomp and function—after recitations he would exclaim Me retracto de todo lo dicho, or, "I take back everything I said".


Parra comes from the artistically prolific Chilean Parra family of performers, musicians, artists, and writers. His sister, Violeta Parra, is possibly the most important folk singer the nation has produced.

Nicanor Parra was born in 1914 near Chillán, a city in southern Chile, the son of a schoolteacher. In 1933, he entered the Instituto Pedagógico of the University of Chile, and qualified as a teacher of mathematics and physics in 1938, one year after his first book appeared: Cancionero sin Nombre. After teaching in Chilean secondary schools, he went in 1943 to Brown University in the U.S. to continue his studies in physics. and then he went in 1948 to Oxford in England to study cosmology. He returned to Chile as professor at the University in 1946. Since 1952, Parra has been professor of theoretical physics in Santiago and has read his poetry in England, France, Russia, Mexico, Cuba, and the United States. He has published several books.

Trying to get away from the conventions of poetry, Parra's poetic language renounces the refinement of most Latin American literature and adopts a more colloquial tone. His first collection, Poemas y Antipoemas (1954) is a classic of Latin American literature, one of the most influential Spanish poetry collections of the twentieth century, and is cited as an inspiration by American Beat writers such as Allen Ginsberg.


Parra has been nominated several times for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

On December 1, 2011, Parra won the Cervantes Prize from Spain's Ministry of Culture, widely considered the most important literary prize in the Spanish-speaking world.

As far I know, only the Mexican poet Mario Santiago Papasquiaro has made a lucid reading of [Parra's] work. We others have only seen a dark meteorite.

—Roberto Bolaño about Nicanor Parra in Entre paréntesis

Nicanor Parra's Works:

List of works

Cancionero sin nombre (Songbook without a Name), 1937.
Poemas y antipoemas (Poems and Antipoems), 1954; Nascimento, 1956; Cátedra, 2005, ISBN 9788437607771
La cueca larga (The Long Cueca), 1958.
Versos de salón (Parlor Verses), 1962.
Manifiesto (Manifesto), 1963.
Canciones rusas (Russian Songs), 1967.
Obra gruesa (Thick Works), 1969.
Los profesores (The Teachers), 1971.
Artefactos (Artifacts), 1972.
Sermones y prédicas del Cristo de Elqui (Sermons and Teachings of the Christ of Elquí), 1977.
Nuevos sermones y prédicas del Cristo de Elqui (New Sermons and Teachings of the Christ of Elquí), 1979.
El anti-Lázaro (The Anti-Lazarus), 1981.
Plaza Sésamo (Sesame Street), 1981.
Poema y antipoema de Eduardo Frei (Poem and Antipoem of Eduardo Frei), 1982.
Cachureos, ecopoemas, guatapiques, últimas prédicas, 1983.
Chistes para desorientar a la policía (Jokes to Confuse the Police), 1983.
Coplas de Navidad (Christmas Couplets), 1983.
Poesía política (Political Poetry), 1983.
Hojas de Parra (Grape Leaves / Pages of Parra (Spanish pun)), 1985.
Nicanor Parra: biografía emotiva (Nicanor Parra: Emotional Biography), Ediciones Rumbos, 1988
Poemas para combatir la calvicie (Poems to Combat Baldness), 1993.
Páginas en blanco (White Pages), 2001.
Lear Rey & Mendigo (King Lear and the Beggar), 2004.
Obras completas I & algo + (Complete Works and More), 2006.
Discursos de Sobremesa, 2006, transl. Dave Oliphant, After Dinner Declarations, Host Publications, Inc., 2009.

English translations

Poems and antipoems: Edited by Miller Williams. Translators: Fernando Alegría and others. New Directions Pub. Corp., 1967
Nicanor Parra: Poems and Antipoems, ed. David Unger, New Directions, 1985, ISBN 9780811209595
Antipoems: how to look better & feel great. Translator Liz Werner. New Directions Publishing. 2004. ISBN 9780811215978.
After-dinner declarations. Translator Dave Oliphant. Host Publications, Inc.. 2009. ISBN 9780924047633.

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The Last Toast

Whether we like it or not,
We have only three choices:
Yesterday, today and tomorrow.

And not even three
Because as the philosopher says
Yesterday is yesterday
It belongs to us only in memory:
From the rose already plucked

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