Literary tradition

Chile’s ‘antipoet’ Nicanor Parra receives top literary prize

Cristóbal Ugarte receives the Cervantes Prize, the highest honor in Spanish literature, standing in for his 96-year-old grandfather in Madrid.  

Wednesday, April 25, 2012  
Cristóbal Ugarte (left) receives the award from the Prince of Asturias on behalf of his grandfather, Cristóbal Ugarte (left) receives the award from the Prince of Asturias on behalf of his grandfather, Nicanor Parra. (Photo courtesy of the Casa de Su Majestad el Rey)

Chilean poet Nicanor Parra officially became one of the great writers in the history of modern Spanish-language literature, joining the likes of Jorge Luis Borges, Octavio Paz and Mario Vargas Llosa in claiming the coveted Cervantes Prize, this week.


Unable to attend the ceremony for his advanced age, the 96-year-old poet and distinguished professor of mathematics and physics sent his grandson, Cristóbal Ugarte, in his stead to collect the award, the most prestigious literary prize in the Spanish speaking world.


In the presence of the highest dignitaries of the Spanish state, Ugarte read a speech prepared by his grandfather, full of his trademark humor and self deprecation.


“It takes me six months to write a speech that can be read in 45 minutes and seems as if it were improvised,” the speech began, in a plea for a year's extension to write a response appropriate for the occasion.


Ugarte received the award from the heir to the Spanish throne, Prince Felipe, who was joined by his wife, Letizia, princess of Asturias and the Spanish President Mariano Rajoy, among other notables.


Prince Felipe praised the Chilean poet, whom he described as “naked of decoration,” a “rare inventor,” and “twin spirit” to Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote.


He also revealed the Parra family’s decision to donate Nicanor’s typewriter to the Cervantes Institute, as well as an unedited poem, to be revealed to the world in fifty years’ time.


“The words of Nicanor Parra are in constant movement,” said Prince Felipe, “so we can’t know what will be revealed, but without any doubt they will be words that unite us in the language of Cervantes and will broaden our lives.”


Parra is considered the creator of “anti-poetry,” which the Spanish Minister of Education, Culture and Sport José Ignacio Wert described as “irreverent poetry that sharply questions the status quo, at times with sarcasm, but never caprice.”


Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno also attended the ceremony. “This is undoubtedly a historic moment to not only have two Nobel Prizes, but in addition three Cervantes Prizes,” said Moreno, referring to the other Chilean writers honored with international awards.


Essayist Jorge Edwards and poet Gonzalo Rojas are the other two Chileans to have claimed the award, while Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral are Chile’s Nobel Prize winning poets.

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