Richard of Caravana de Recuerdos wanted people to read the poems and antipoems of Chilean physicist and antipoet Nicanor Parra. We both read Parra’s Poemas y Antipoemas (1954). Ricardo read a shiny new edition with an introduction and notes. I read a battered old PDF of the first edition. For some reason Parra has moved into English in selected poem editions – Rise of In Lieu of a Field Guide read a couple of those, including the one I read a couple years ago. But I wanted the original book this time.
The Individual’s Soliloquy
I am the Individual.
First I lived by a rock.
(There I recorded some figures).
This is the beginning of the last of the Antipoemas. The (anti)poem is a history of mankind. Man’s first act worth noting is the creation of art.
The mindless translation is mine. Allen Ginsberg loved this poem and performed it frequently. He and Lawrence Ferlinghetti have an outstanding translation. Their parenthetical line is “(I scratched some figures on it)” which is better, less formal, more evocative of the scene. El diccionario also has, for the verb “grabar”, “engrave” (too technical), “incise,” “cut”- awfully close to “scratched.” Although there is something to be said for “recorded.” The Paleolithic art, the soliloquy, the antipoems – what are they but a record that he is the Individual. The Spanish reader gets all the meanings at once.
The verb “grabar” is used throughout the poem, so the translator’s choice is going to do a lot of work.
The first line (“Yo soy el Individuo”) is repeated, too, eighteen more times, 15% of the entire poem. Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti drop the capital “I” which again is more normal, less strident. It is amusing that the Beats softened Parra a bit. Maybe the capital was too authoritarian.
I then took a stone I found in the river
And began working on it,
Polishing it up,
I made it a part of my life.
But it's a long story.
I chopped some trees to sail on
Looking for fish,
Looking for lots of things,
(I'm the individual.)
Till I began getting bored again. (tr. Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti)
The Individual is restless. He invents or discovers things – fire and religion at this point, watches and sewing machines later. His boredom at this point leads to philosophy and monotheism, I think.
Storms get boring,
I'm the individual.
I began thinking a little bit,
Stupid questions came into my head,
Doubletalk. (tr. G. & F.)
Parra’s line is “Falsas problemas,” but “Doubletalk” is perfect. Books, cities, languages are created. I began to wonder, by the end of the poem, if the Individual was not just man but also God. After all this progress, a mystical glimpse “behind the curtains (Detrás de unas cortinas)” leads the Individual to wonder:
Better maybe that I return to that valley,
To that rock that served as my home,
And start recording anew,
To record backwards
The world upside down.
But no: life doesn’t make sense. (tr. Amateur Reader)
Now that is the definition of an antipoem.
Nicanor Parra turned 100 in September.