Friday, February 11, 2011

but – oh man – what I have read

The Nobel Prize

The Nobel Prize for Reading
should be awarded to me
I am the ideal reader,
I read everything I get my hands on:

[And then follows a list of everything this fellow reads, the usual stuff, although he avoids the cliché of the cereal box]

I need to interrupt for a moment.  I’d been planning to spend the week writing about, oh, other things.  Sailing on a big lake.  Building siege machines.  Riding through the woods.  Breathing poisonous fumes.  That will have to wait until next week.  Instead, I wrote about writing, about how to write, and, really, about reading.

We all – I beg you to correct me if I’m wrong – we all want to write well and read well.  I sometimes pick up hints that suggest otherwise, but I must misunderstand them.

for a person like me
the word is something holy

members of the jury
what would I gain by lying
as a reader, I’m relentless

These lines are from an anti-poem by Chilean anti-poet Nicanor Parra, found in the anti-collection Antipoems: How to look better & feel great (New Directions, 2004), anti-translated by Liz Werner.  Please do not confuse this book, as is only natural, and as I did myself, with Parra’s Poemas y Antipoemas (1954).

The "anti-" of the anti-poem is not meant to suggest the word "against" as much as to create an analogy with anti-matter (Parra is a physicist and mathematician).  If the poem ever meets the anti-poem, they will both be annihilated.

Reading the anti-poem is perhaps a mistake.  I should anti-read it, and then anti-write about it on my anti-blog.  Perhaps I should abandon reading entirely in favor of anti-reading.  I have enough trouble reading well, though. I fear it is too late to master the skill of anti-reading, much less anti-writing.  If only I had taken up anti-reading years ago, decades ago.

The great reader in the poem understands:

of course these days I don’t read much
I simply don’t have the time
but – oh man – what I have read

that’s why I’m asking you to give me
the Nobel Prize for reading
as soon as impossible

Do not hesitate to visit Parra’s anti-website.  Readers of Robert Bolaño not well-versed in South American anti-verse, readers of Nazi Literature in the Americas and The Savage Detectives, will find a glance at Parra to be most instructive.

I suppose, for lack of a better idea, lack of imagination, I will continue reading, relentlessly.


  1. Anti-poem as koan? If it takes two poems to annihilate, then which one's poem and which one's anti-poem. A relativistic scratch of the scalp, ntellectual allopecia. An anti-poem hailed as an anti-poem or described by the poet as an anti-poem doesn't an anti-poem make. For that you need internal torsion on a volcanic scale, as one finds in Song of Myself, for instance, the greatest anti-poem ever. Ever. Because it is its opposite, and closes its eye in a bit of self-destruction as it creates. I shall write about this, I will, but not mention the term anti-this or anti-that, but only focus on torsion, eruption, and blindess.

    Have I made sense?
    Very well then I haven't made sense,
    (I am large; I contain nonsense).

    Or something like that...


  2. Anti-poem? Huh? Sounds like someone's trying to hard to be "avant-garde." As Paul Auster once said, sometimes the most subversive tactic a writer can employ is clarity.

  3. That's an awesome poem, anti-poem or whatever. I need to read me some Parra and quick!

  4. Trying just hard enough! And succeeding!

    EL, you need another club to beat this particular avant-gardist - this poem is pretty darn clear.

    Kevin, Parra would enjoy your comment. He is certainly un Whitmanisto.

    Richard - yes!

  5. I wonder if the 'poem' of the 'anti-poem' is just a theoretical construct. It seems to be presented as something that exists independent of the anti-poem (say, in the anti-reader's imagination (or anti-imagination)). In principle, when they come into contact (the act of anti-reading?), matter and antimatter annihilate each other to produce pure energy. It does sound like the ideal of the visceral realism movement, which was in a way an anti-movement.

  6. Sometimes it takes reading things from a completely different perspective to understand what could never be understood before.

  7. The antipoem metaphor is pretty good, isn't it? Rich. Suggests a number of different, fruitful directions.