Diary Note 17: Nicanor Parra

28/1/2018

About Nicanor Parra I have little to report, because I never met him. But in itself the absence of Parra may be worth reporting.

In 1970 when I started Poetry International I immediately thought to include poets from South America. After a long walk through Spain, with Spanish as my only means of communication, I had become able to read and speak the language. In the sixties nobody in Spain spoke English wherever I would sleep.

Nearest to my heart on the road had been the poet Garcia Lorca (assassinated in 1936) and the old fogey Luis de Góngora. Both authors had remained close to the popular idiom, as much as their art was uncommon.

But in the seventies few poets of the stature of Lorca could still be found within the frontiers of Spain and the surviving ones were mostly in exile. Rafael Alberti for instance, who later on would visit us. Many had fled to transatlantic America.

Excepting Portuguese America, it was evident that South America had remained part of the Hispanidad, a cultural identity shared by a common language. In this overseas Spain great voices were speaking, like the protesting voice of Octavio Paz, a former diplomat. But besides the Mexican Paz the dominating voice of resistance was that of the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.

So it was not before long that he was sitting across me in my office in the Rotterdam Doelen. With his unforgettable cap, of light-grey wool, that by its elegance linked him intimately to the bourgeoisie, whether he professed communism or not.

Shortly afterwards out of his country of birth others would arrive as refugees. Such as the writer Ariel Dorfman, who was once bitten by my chow-chow.

The painters I could help by commissioning murals for the streets of Rotterdam, but for the poets, confined to their language, there was little to do. It should be said that the painters with their outdoor boldness introduced something new into the rather modest dimensions of Dutch painting.

Notwithstanding Neruda as my preference, I had for a while been considering Parra as my first choice. I felt intrigued by his poetry. In his verse there existed something dry and quotidian, that was in contradiction to the rhetorical tradition of the Spanish language. Even the opposition to the ruling classes was frequently worded by left wing poets in the highfalutin if not bombastic tone of this manner.

Yet Neruda overrode Parra in my preparatory discussions with Martin Mooij, my assistant for literature. Why? Was it because it was more relevant to oppose the ruling dictatorships in the Spanish speaking world, from Franco to Pinochet or Castro? Was is because in informed literary circles Parra was suspected of crypto fascism? Was the main reason that my interest in Parra was just esoteric and mainly caused by his dissonance? I do not remember. I may have had the feeling that there would always come time to invite Parra. What I think may have happened under one of my successors.

Nicanor Parra in his time promoted something called anti-poetry. He wanted an everyday language. He was a scientist who approached his poetry nearly as non-fiction. The inflated language of poetry did not suit him. He wrote about daily occurrences and the people around him and lived simply.

A friend asked me last year what he could take back for me from Santiago de Chile. I asked him to look for recent works by Parra. He returned up with a portly volume, published in 2006. It is called Discursos de Sobremesa, that is: after-dinner talks. On the cover one sees Parra writing on a blackboard like a teacher. The main word written is: NO.

Last week he died at the age of 103.

 

Literature :

Nicanor Parra, Discursos de Sobremesa, Ediciones Universidad Diego Portales, Santiago, Chile, 2006

 

Postscriptum

My diary note 17 prompted by the recent death of Nicanor Parra has led to two corrections by old friends, one about Nicanor Parra himself, one about the Chilean origin of some murals in Rotterdam.

As I wondered why I had invited Pablo Neruda instead of Nicanor Parra (whom I privately preferred) to Poetry International I mentioned the possibility of politically motivated gossip at the time. This brought a strong rebuttal from Laurence van Krevelen, whose testimony I value. He points out that Nicanor Parra (and his singing sister) was a fighter for freedom of the most sympathetic kind. Laurens has never read any accusation of crypto-fascism vis a vis Parra. Neruda was more narrow-minded.

In the seventies Rotterdam had a left-leaning mayor and city council and the city was frequently visited by figures, intellectual or artistic or political, who were opposed to rightwing dictatorships in South America. Several of them passed through my office. Recollections are imprecise, and I am happy to correct them if they could lead to misunderstandings.

As to my inclusion of painters from Chile within the murals program of the Rotterdam Arts Foundation (of which I was the director at the time) I got the following clarification by Armando Bergallo, whom I mentioned and who now lives and paints in Aquitaine, France.

“In relation to the text where you refer to me I will like to clarify that I did not arrive from my country Uruguay as a political refugee. I came to Holland with my group ‘Taller de Montevideo’ in 1966 with an official invitation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs through the Dutch ambassador in Montevideo, Adrianus Cornelis Vroom, who admired a lot our artistic work. In those times Uruguay was still a very democratic country. When a few years later this democracy was killed by the dictatorship we (Taller) decided to make our film ‘Las Semillas de la Aurora’ to denounce this situation. By then we were already established in Europe. This film was presented in Film International Rotterdam in 1973, on Dutch television by the KRO and in several international film festivals.”

 

Nicanor Parra

28/1/2018

Over Nicanor Parra heb ik weinig te melden, want ik heb hem nooit ontmoet. Maar misschien is het juist de afwezigheid van Parra die toch vermeldenswaardig is.

Toen ik in 1970 met Poetry International begon, was het voor mij vanzelfsprekend aan Zuid Amerika te denken. Ik las en sprak toentertijd Spaans na een lange voettocht door Spanje, met Spaans als enige taal. Niemand sprak Engels waar ik kwam. Onderweg waren mijn meest nabije dichters de in 1936 gefusilleerde García Lorca en de oude pruik Góngora. Beiden wisten dicht bij de taal van het volk te blijven, hoewel hun kunst ver af stond van de gewone man.

Maar binnen het Spanje van Franco van de jaren zeventig waren weinig namen overgebleven van de allure van Lorca, en de overlevenden waren vaak in ballingschap. Als Rafael Alberti, die ons later zou bezoeken. Velen vluchtten naar Amerika.

Ook was het duidelijk dat Spaans Zuid Amerika, nog afgezien van Portugees Zuid Amerika, onderdeel uitmaakte van een cultuurgemeenschap, de Hispanidad, verbonden door een taal. Grote stemmen waren daar aan het woord, als de proteststem van de gewezen diplomaat Octavio Paz. Maar het overheersende geluid van verzet binnen overzees Spaans was naast de Mexicaan Paz dat van de Chileen Pablo Neruda.

En het duurde niet lang of hij zat tegenover mij in mijn werkkamer in de Doelen in Rotterdam. Met zijn onvergetelijke lichtgrijze wollen klak, een blaarpetje dat deze al dan niet communistische dichter onherroepelijk verbond met de bourgeoisie.

Kort daarop vluchtten uit zijn land ook schilders (als Armando Bergallo) en dichters (als Ariel Dorfman, die nog door mijn hond werd gebeten). De schilders kon ik opdragen muurschilderingen in Rotterdam te vervaardigen en zij brachten met hun grote formaten iets nieuws in de bescheiden Nederlandse binnenwereld. Maar voor de dichters, gebonden aan hun taal, was er weinig emplooi.

Toch had ik enige tijd in tweestrijd verkeerd wie uit te nodigen, Neruda of Parra, als eerste keuze uit Chili. Ik voelde mij aangetrokken tot de poëzie van Parra. Er was iets droogs en alledaags in zijn verzen, die in tegenspraak waren met de retorische traditie van de Spaanse taal. Het verzet tegen de heersende klasse, van de linkse poëzie, werd vaak verwoord in dezelfde bevlogen hoge zo niet bombastische taal van die traditie.

Maar in mijn samenspraak met Martin Mooij, mijn rechterhand voor de letteren, won toch als eerste keuze Neruda het van Parra. Waarom? Omdat de actuele dictaturen in de Spaanstalige wereld van Franco tot Pinochet tot Castro vereisten weersproken te worden? Omdat de gangbare literaire mening rond Parra hem verdacht van crypto-fascisme? Omdat mijn belangstelling te esoterisch was, en voornamelijk gebaseerd op een afwijkend geluid? Ik weet het niet meer. Ik had wel het gevoel dat er nog tijd zou zijn Parra uit te nodigen. Wat (meen ik) onder een van mijn opvolgers ook gebeurd is.

In zijn tijd afficheerde Nicanor Parra iets als antipoëzie. Hij wilde gewone taal. Hij was een wetenschapper die poëzie bijna behandelde als non-fictie. De opgeblazen taal van de poëzie lag hem niet. Hij schreef over dagelijkse dingen en de mensen om hem heen en leefde eenvoudig.

Vorig jaar vroeg een vriend mij wat hij moest meebrengen uit Santiago de Chile. Ik zei: kijk of je recent werk vinden kunt van Parra. Hij bracht voor mij een dik boekwerk mee met als titel Discursos de Sobremesa (natafel beschouwingen) gepubliceerd in 2009. Op de kaft staat een foto van Parra schrijvend op een zwart schoolbord: NO.

Hij stierf vorige week op de leeftijd van 103 jaar.