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News > Culture

Chilean Poet, Physicist Nicanor Parra Dies at 103

  • Artist and scientist Nicanor Parra.

    Artist and scientist Nicanor Parra. | Photo: EFE

Published 23 January 2018

Parra introduced the concept of "anti-poetry," opting for a grounded, blunt and "darkly comical" style instead of traditional lyrical forms. 

Nicanor Parra, one of Chile's most notable poets, has died in the city of Santiago. He was 103 years old.

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Parra is mostly known for his work in literature, but he also spent over 30 years studying and teaching mathematics and physics in England, the United States and Chile.

He taught theoretical physics in the University of Chile as well as at Columbia University, Yale University, New York University and Louisiana State University in the United States.

Parra began his university degree in mathematics and physics in 1933. Two years later, he published his first short story, "Cat on the road," in the journal he co-founded in his former boarding school. Thanks to the Institute of International Education, Parra went to Brown University in 1943, when he undertook postgraduate studies in advanced mechanics. By 1948, he had become the director of the engineering school in the University of Chile, a post he held for 20 years.  

In 1954, with the help of colleague Pablo Neruda, Parra published "Poems and Anti-Poems," a collection of poems with which he introduced the concept on "anti-poetry." This concept is opposed to the traditional, flowery and lyrical form of poetry, opting instead for a grounded, blunt and "darkly comical" style. Since then, his literary creation became prolific and his work gained international recognition.

In 2011, he won the Premio Cervantes, the most prestigious literary award in the Spanish-speaking world.

He was an artist in a broad sense. Aside from literature, he also explored installation art. Parra once displayed life-sized cardboard silhouettes of every Chilean president hanging from nooses and a coffin with a steering wheel inside.

Some reactions to his death include that of Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, who lamented via Twitter, "Chile loses one of the greatest authors in the history of our literature and a singular voice in Western culture."

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