MRS. CLARA APARICIO Widowlife of Rulfo Distinguished authorities Ladies and Gentlemen: A friend who has just died Suggested to me the notion That I forget about giving an academic speech Basing it on the fact That nowadays no one believes in ideas: End of history Art and philosophy toppled What you should do Is read your antipoems Carlos Ruiz-Tagle said to me Preferibly Those that are closely connected with death In Mexico death has a lot of pull: Rulfo will applaud you from his graveYou may remember that my first post in this series concerned Roberto Bolaño’s Distant Star, whose villain is one Alberto Ruiz-Tagle, an autodidact and fascist poet who gains fame in Bolaño’s tale by skywriting under the pseudonym of Carlos Weider. So I might be forgiven the creepy shiver of recognition that went through me at Parra’s mention of Carlos Ruiz-Tagle. That mention cast a strange light back over the book I had just read, and made me wonder who Ruiz-Tagle was. I’ve found a little information about him—a writer of short stories and novels, editor of anthologies, and pseudonymous author of a comic novel called La Revolución en Chile, which since its publication in 1973 has gone through 21 editions and sold 110,000 copies (this in a country of 16.5 million people). What Bolaño meant by making giving his villain an in-joke for a name I’ll have to leave for a native Chilean reader to explain. The Ruiz-Tagle connection aside, reading Parra was plain delightful, though puzzling here and there. His declarations are full of wordplay, asides to friends and enemies living and dead, acerbic modesty, diffident bravado; scarcely a line goes by that isn’t laced with irony and crackling with colloquialisms. (Parra plays at being simple, but it’s good to keep in mind his degree in advanced mechanics from Brown University in the United States, his stint at Oxford University studying cosmology, his work as director of the School of Engineering at the University of Chile and his later work as a professor of theoretical physics at the University of Chile. The inventor of antipoetry is no rube.) Here’s section 20 of the Rulfo speech, in which Parra finds a parallel between his own work and Rulfo’s famously sparse literary output:
RULFO STOOD FIRM AGAINST ALL ODDS Three times 100 and stop not another page The writer is not a sausage factory With respect to myself 17 years between the first and second book Well sure later came what came: They call me the leap year poet Patience Every 4 years I’m pregnant again Plagiarisms Adaptations Garglings for fighting off insomnia If anyone has something to sayA glance across the page shows just how challenging Parra has made his translator’s task in even this fairly straightforward poem, for the original bristles with slang and shorthand. In Spanish “Not another page,” for example, reads “ni una página +”—the plus sign standing in for the word “más”. Further on, “Every 4 years I’m pregnant again” translates Parra’s original line, “C/4 años un domingosiete” (“C/4” for “cada cuatro” and “domingosiete” referring, if I’m not mistaken, to a women who is pregnant at the time she becomes engaged to marry). There are passages even more dizzyingly fraught, but Oliphant consistently brings over Parra’s essential meanings, if not always their every nuance. One last quotation and I’ll let this entry go. The last poem-speech in the book was delivered on the occasion of Parra’s being awarded an honorary doctorate. Here’s section 6:
TO THE WORD DOCTOR Are assigned at least the following meanings 1. Someone who knows his subject well 2. Someone who has something to say 3. A voice that comes from afar 4. One who makes statues speak 5. Someone who talks without moving his lips 6. A phantom who laughs at everything Including the ontological demonstration of the Existence of Marx 7. Shadow that moves through the Bible Like President Pedro Aguirre Cerda through his house in Conchalí I stick to the meaning Assigned by the Commedia Dell’ Arte Quote Grotesque character Caricature of a university pedant Recognized by his interminable rhetorical orations Loaded with Greek and Latin citations In Chile it signifies kill the healthy Commonly used as a synonym foir Boss In a burlesque sense: Hello Doc Hello Honcho Hello Chief To call one Dr. in Chile Is almost as serious as insulting his mother Let the truth be toldIn a long-ago post I put Parra on my short list for the Nobel Prize. Evidently the august Committee hasn’t gotten the word. The guy’s in his nineties and writes brilliant poetry that sounds like nobody else on the planet. Give him a break! Cough up the prize already!