Argentinian journalist Leila Guerriero wrote this article, translated by Sarah Foster, based on her interview with Chilean poet Nicanor Parra at his home on the coast of Chile. It was published in the Spanish newspaper El País after Parra was awarded the Cervantes Prize last December. The prize, given by Spain’s Ministry of Culture, is the most prestigious literary award in the Spanish-speaking world. Parra’s poem “Defense of Violeta Parra” appeared in our two-hundredth issue, on newsstands now.
Reaching the house where Nicanor Parra lives, on Lincoln Street in Las Cruces, a coastal town two hundred kilometers from Santiago de Chile, is easy. The hard part is reaching him.
Nicanor Parra Oiundo de San Fabian de Alico is the first-born son out of a total of eight children brought into the world by Nicanor Parra, a high school teacher, and Clara Sandoval. He was born in 1914, was twenty-five during World War II, sixty-six when John Lennon was shot, and eighty-seven when the planes hit the towers. Last September, he turned ninety-seven. Some people don’t even know he’s still alive.
Las Cruces is a town with two thousand inhabitants, shielded from the Pacific Ocean by a bay that embraces several towns: Cartagena, El Tabo. Parra’s house is on a cliff, overlooking the sea. In the garden, a staircase comes down to the front door, where local punks have painted graffiti so that no one will dare touch the house; it says, “Antipoetry.” In the foyer, he has written the names and telephone numbers of his children.
Nicanor Parra’s hair is white. He has a long beard and no wrinkles, only furrows in a face that seems to be made of earth. His hands are tanned, no spots or creases, like two roots rinsed in water. Lying on a table is the second volume of his complete works, Obras completas y algo (1975–2006). In its preface, Harold Bloom writes, “I firmly believe that, if the most powerful poet produced by the New World until now is still Walt Whitman, Parra joins him as an essential poet in our Twilight Lands.” At the end of the eighties, when Parra was still living in Santiago, he stopped giving interviews, and, although there have always been exceptions, he often objects to direct questions in unexpected ways, so that a conversation with him is subject to uncertain diversions, into topics that he repeats and brings up for whatever reason: his grandchildren, the Laws of Manu, the Tao Te Ching, Neruda. Read More