We began the year with sad news for literature: the antipoet—and, perhaps, magician—Nicanor Parra died on January 23 of this year.
Parra is and will always be irreplaceable, for Chile and for literature written in Spanish.
He won the National Literature Prize (1969), the Juan Rulfo Prize for Latin American and Caribbean Literature (1997), and the Miguel de Cervantes Prize (2011). He never attained the Nobel, but, as he said himself: “Between having it and not having it… You finish the sentence.”
Along with Parra disappears not only the antipoet, but also a literature in itself; the ingenuity, the humor, and the ease of an artist whose antipoetry was a blow to language itself, to solemnity and to the idea of the poet we cultivated before the publication of that powerful text entitled Poemas y antipoemas [Poems and antipoems] (1954).
Now it falls to us, the readers, to remember him and to ask, at the same time, which books, which antipoems, and which artefacts we should “read” in the future. We don’t miss him yet, it’s too soon. For now, in this new issue of LALT, we will go to bid him farewell in the seaside town of Las Cruces, hand in hand with Leila Guerriero, through the pages of her marvellous chronicle titled “Searching for Nicanor,” which we publish in this issue. A chronicle that now is also an homage.
Such is life, I suppose. It takes away the poets who we read, who we loved, who we admired. But they return through reading and the labyrinths of memory. For the same reason, in this issue of LALT we could not forget that other great writer of the Spanish language, Mexican author Sergio Pitol. Our Translation Editor—and Pitol’s translator—George Henson has prepared an impressive dossier dedicated to the writer, who won the Miguel de Cervantes Prize in 2005. This dossier is an unequivocal effort to recognize the work of one of the great prosists of our language. We hope the digital pages of LALT dedicated to Pitol will also be read by our English-language readers, especially since Pitol’s relationship with English has been the story of an unrequited love. Or, better said, a slowly requited love. As is said in the dossier, we would like nothing more than for Sergio Pitol—the translator of Henry James, who loved the English language so much—to be read in this language with the same care and courtesy that he employed while translating a writer from another foreign language to Spanish. In the introduction, written by George Henson, LALT’s readers will find the keys to reading the various texts compiled in this dossier. We hope that reading Pitol in LALT will also serve as an invitation to reread the rest of his magnificent literary work.
Great literature is not an issue of advertising or prizes or the number of copies sold. Often, it is an issue of betting against the currents of fashion, of diving into language to learn how to explore human reality with other tools, of writing slowly and silently, hoping for nothing but literary triumph—that is, the apparition of that long labored-over work. This is the case of Venezuelan writer Victoria de Stefano: probably one of the best-kept secrets of Latin American literature. Our Associate Editor, Arturo Gutiérrez Plaza, has prepared a diverse dossier in which LALT’s readers can find articles, interviews, and notes on this great writer of Caracas, born in Italy, for whom difficulty, it seems, is a necessary condition of literature.
Without a doubt, Latin American science fiction still has an important space in LALT. We are not only interested in reading our reality, but also in imagining it, snatching it from the claws of time, and transforming it into that future dream that sketches out the unexpected fate of the human race. In the articles we publish here, Marcelo Novoa and Raúl Aguiar follow the tracks of cyberpunk in Latin America in general, and in Cuba in particular. We are lucky to have specialists like Marcelo and Raúl to continue opening a space for the Latin American imagination. We accompany these articles with “Golem,” a short story by the outstanding Chilean storyteller Jaime Collyer.
Once again, indigenous poetry is present in the figure of the Mapuche poet Liliana Ancalao. These few words from the poet Seth Michelson are enough to give an idea of who she is: “Through and against such saturating violence, Ancalao raises her voice. She sings a poetry that is by turns trenchant and mellifluous, urgent and timeless. Moreover, she sings not only of the historical brutalities and humiliations perpetrated against her people, but also of their courage, beauty, strength, and complexity.” And so, in our third dossier of indigenous poetry, we once again encounter a voice that speaks to us from the other side of the American continent, all thanks to Wendy Burk, Seth Michelson, Arthur Dixon, and Melisa Stocco.
There are many surprises in this new issue of LALT: stories, poems, interviews, book reviews, and exclusive previews, among other texts both contemporary and not so contemporary. Sometimes we pause to recall the past; after all, memory is the muse of poetry. Nonetheless, in this new issue we open a new, different space for the present. This is not realist literature nor anything like it, but rather a space for the Latin American chronicle, that form of writing that journalists and writers have made so much our own. On this occasion, Colombian writer Felipe Restrepo Pombo has curated a brief dossier on the subject. One of the texts, of course, is the one I mentioned earlier, by Leila Guerriero on Nicanor Parra. The other is by Diego Enrique Osorno, a Mexican writer and journalist with a wide-ranging literary career. We hope that this space will continue; we believe, like many Latin American chroniclers, that the chronicle is also literature. Of course, such affirmations have nuances, wrinkles, and complexities, but nevertheless, it’s undeniable that the chronicle has long formed a part of the writing that bears the mark of Latin America, even if the words “Latin American” are nowhere to be found.
I spoke earlier of Nicanor Parra. His legacy is not only literary. Those of us who knew him, even if only briefly, know this well. In his last years, it seems, he was inundated in a sort of wily wisdom that he often shared even with strangers. I had the good fortune to visit him in Las Cruces on several occasions. And now, when I think of him, I remember those long monologues before the sea where Parra talked to us of poetry, poets, physics, Shakespeare, and a thousand other things. In that interminable coming and going of associations and ideas, I think what he taught us was to stay quiet and listen. Parra wasn’t a prophet, but I often had the sensation that a distinct, unique, and subterranean voice spoke through him. I conclude this note thinking of that, of the poets like him, of the task of poets, if this perhaps exists, of putting a name to things so that things can exist and we can look at them again with wonder and delight. None of this would be important, I think, if not because the world seems to have transformed into one long, difficult day. Almost two centuries ago, the German poet Frederic Hölderin wondered: “Why poets in times of misery?” Hölderin, of course, didn’t give us an answer. Parra, on his part, two centuries later, wrote:
To the lovers of belles-lettres
I offer my best wishes
I am going to change the names of some things.
My position is this:
The poet is not true to his word
If he doesn’t change the names of things.
(Trans. Miller Williams)
Who knows if the poets of LALT are true to their word and, just maybe, change the names of things. The truth is that even in times of misery, literature continues to run against the grain, probably more necessary than ever. Parra taught us many things. I’ll leave it at that: literature—that uncomfortable adventure—is in good health. Salud, Nicanor. We’ll see you soon!
Translated by Arthur Dixon