Poetry Facts

Anti-poetry: Seeking Harmony in Discordance

Last Updated: December 9, 2022
anti poems

Anti-poetry has been around for a while now, but it’s gaining more and more attention as the world becomes more and more interconnected. It is an artistic movement that seeks to deviate from the standard poetic rules. In this article, we explore the history of anti-poetry and its effects on the reader.

What is anti-poetry?

According to Wikipedia, anti-poetry is an art movement that attempts to break away from the normal conventions of traditional poetry. That isn’t to say that anti-poetry is not poetry, but rather a newer style of poetry.

But to say that is to oversimplify things. Anti-poetry is also much more than just another style of poetry. Anti-poem can be a mix of dark humor, colloquial slang, and irreverent irony. The Greek author Elias Petropoulos has made an attempt to define the art of anti-poetry.

In his notebook in Berlin, he had come to the conclusion that poems about love and desires were starting to seem too sentimental for modern writing. Instead, anti-sentimentalism feelings and reactions should be included in poems to introduce anti-poetry.

When one reads the word “anti-poetry,” the obvious meaning is against poetry. However, that’s not what anti-poetry is really about at all. To really understand anti-poetry, we need to look at its beginning.

The early history of anti-poetry

Throughout literary history, there are numerous examples of poets turning against their own poetry in an antagonistic way. They were behaving in an “anti-poetic manner” in order to differentiate themselves from traditional poetry.

The introduction of theatrical sketches known as Mimes with concepts and lingo that were considered to be “anti-plays” occurred as early as in the fifth century B.C.

The first Italian writers (Dante, followed by Petrarch), as well as some other poets from various parts of Europe, are where anti-poetry can also be discovered. They were acting in an anti-poetic way; they had chosen to write their verses in vernacular rather than Latin.

Many playwrights, including both Moliere and William Shakespeare, can be mentioned here as well for occasionally using anti-poetry in the middle of a verse play.

The spirit of the early poets is still present in contemporary anti-poetry, which is still unique in style. Today’s anti-poetry uses punctuation sparingly and only when absolutely necessary. Simple and aesthetically pleasing formatting and capitalization are used. Additionally, it uses new words and presents poetic pictures and scenarios.

However, it is not until the twentieth century that people start using the term “anti-poetry.” The man who started it all, the father of anti-poetry, was Nicanor Parra.

Nicanor Parra: The father of anti-poetry

Nicanor Parra, the father of anti-poetry
Nicanor Parra, the father of anti-poetry

Nicanor Segundo Parra Sandoval (1914-2018) was a Chilean poet, mathematician, and physicist. He was frequently compared to Pablo Neruda and was regarded as one of the most significant Spanish-language poets from Chile of the 20th century.

The Parra family was very artistically accomplished, with members as artists, musicians, and writers. Both his brother Roberto Parra Sandoval and his sister Violeta Parra were folk singers.

Nicanor received support from both Pablo Neruda and Gabriel Mistral when he was young. Mistral learned about him when she went to Chillán. As the first Nobel laureate from Latin America, the national song was sung in her honor. When it was over, Parra jumped up on stage and delivered a poem he had written for her the night before. When Parra concluded, Mistral, who had been standing for the song, introduced him to influential Santiago residents as a poet of upcoming international reputation.

Due to his dislike of conventional poetic pomp and circumstance, Parra referred to himself as an “anti-poet.” In 1954, he published his first collection of antipoems Poemas y Antipoemas (Poems and Antipoems). The publication was arranged with the help of Pablo Neruda.

One of the most significant collections of Spanish poetry from the 20th century, Poemas y Antipoemas is a classic of Latin American literature. The book sent ripples throughout the global literati, with American Beat poets like Allen Ginsberg crediting it as an inspiration.

Nicanor Parra had many achievements in various fields, but his name is forever bound to anti-poetry ever since he published his masterpiece. After Parra, many poets continue to contribute to the anti-poetry movement to this day.

How to write an anti-poem or the technique of anti-poetry

By definition, an anti-poem is a poem that breaks the arbitrary conventions of poetry. The anti-poet proclaims the freedom of the imagination over the rigidity and tyranny of language.

Anti-poetry does not concern with bad grammar or spelling mistakes. In fact, they all can be used to recreate the language. The poetic license allows the poet to depart from the usual grammar or word order to contracting or lengthening words.

With this kind of freedom in hand, poets can create new pronunciations of words and their image metaphors. “Wind” can be rhymed with “behind.”

New sounds were created. New meanings were created. Anti-poetry uses poetic diction and poetic license at its utmost limits. Nothing can stand in the way of the anti-poet creating poetry.

Thus, one can say that anti-poets cease to be slaves to language in the creation of their poems. They can use any word in any pronunciation in any meaning in any spelling in any grammar in any idiomatic order, regardless of lawful or commendable usage.

Emotional tones in antipoetry

Antipoetry’s basic form includes language that is not emotionally appropriate for the subject matter. Parra aims for the reader to pick up on the incongruity and react to the antipoetry’s various emotional overtones. The deliberately erratic system of signs that Parra establishes within each poem gives antipoetry its emotive tones.

A system of signs and emotive signals is created for the reader by the imagery, the figures, the language’s serious, funny, commonplace, or lofty feeling, the assertion or perception the poet conveys to the reader, and the uniform or inconsistent way in which all of these parts come together.

The nature of each component of the signal system and how well or poorly it fits with the others determine whether the signals elicit a visceral reaction.

The sign system is simple and direct, and the affective texture of a poem is harmonious and traditionally decorous if the response that the poet wishes to elicit and his poetic declaration have an expressive tone and effect that are equivalent to the numerous elements that make that statement.

The topic develops relatively smoothly and continuously in compositions with a consistent sign system, and there is a steady, nearly predictable progression toward its resolution.

The antipoems, however, are created by Parra using an erratic sign system. When writing on despair, he uses comedic cliches and banalities and takes advantage of the burlesque and parodic possibilities provided by the prosaic language, yet underneath the humorously ironic surface, he is dead serious.

By equating the expressive effects of disparate indications, he hopes to bring the inequalities together, portray pitiful subjects as though they were comic, and create a new antipoetic synthesis from the disparate elements.

The world in antipoetry

The most mundane objects in antipoetry, even if they are everyday relics of contemporary urban life, are given dire importance, such as in Rompecabezas (Puzzle). They turn into the adversarial pieces of everyday life that get in the way of the protagonists and stop them from acting heroically because their surroundings, routines, and backgrounds make such actions absurd.

However, the people who live in the antipoetic world—the personae of the poems—suffer most from the agonizing conundrums of growing older, the passage of time and love, the inevitable encounter with death, and the perplexing realization that one only becomes aware of beauty, youth, and potentiality when one is losing them. Their emotions are widespread, profound, and well-known, yet the antipoetic protagonists’ expressive capacities struggle against the word restrictions.

Even the antipoetic characters’ ideas of who they are and what they have gone through are constrained by the sentimental language and everyday language of popular culture. An individual, suffering consciousness is combined with a startlingly everyday language and gesture to create antipoetry’s ironic quality.

However, the reader’s following response strengthens and compounds the ironic structure, which is essential for the poet’s intended effect, such as in Yo pecador (I a Sinner). Parra makes sure to use everyday words, recognizable situations, and normal settings.

And because they are identical to the reader’s, they are in fact recognizable everyday normal situations. When the reader recognizes this—for example, when he hears his own favorite cliché used by the protagonist—he also realizes that his sense of superiority has been misled.

We must resignedly concede that if we were in the protagonist’s shoes, our responses would likely be the same as his. The sarcastic distance starts to close at this point, and the reader ceases to be the protagonist’s detached, superior observer and instead assumes the appearance, characteristics, and responses of someone like his twin brother.

As the observer and the protagonist combine into one suffering personality, the numerous points of view that contributed to the sarcastic structure and account for most of the humor in antipoetry become a single point of view. While we disgrace his protagonist, Parra puts us in the unpleasant position of Everyman.

Anti-poetry vs traditional poetry

It’s natural to have a comparison between anti-poetry and traditional poetry. Originally, poets have only expressed the world through language. The goal of anti-poetry is to alter language and thereby the entire world.

Traditional poetry has historically been the literary elite’s toy. The unsophisticated then have their own literary tool as anti-poetry. Since they are bound by the rules of proper language, traditional poetry admirers are unable to understand anti-poetry. The idea of proper language usage must be disregarded in order to understand anti-poetry.

Poetry has typically been mellow and soothing to the mind. Anti-poetry causes cognitive dissonance and is dissonant. Anti-poetry advocates for the freedom of the imagination over and against rigid conformity and the tyranny of language’s shackling of the mind. Discard ideas about what is correct. Down with the rules. Anti-poetry, rise!

Difference in sounds

In an anti-poem, the reciter notices breakdowns and discords in the patterns where words and sounds should move along in a precise and disciplined order, such as in run-on lines, syncopation, alliteration, or assonance.

By severing rhythmic patterns, such as associational alliteration and assonance rhythms, these discords are produced. All of this discord produces an atonality in the listener’s ear, which unsettles and upsets their innate need to seek out tone or harmony.

When reciting an anti-poem, the reciter is carried along by the melodic and rhythmic lines until words or sounds that jar or cause discord are encountered and cause the melodic or harmonic lines to be ruptured. When this occurs, the reciter is confronted with vocabulary or syntax that seems unsuitable or out of place, which causes cognitive dissonance in the listener.

Alliteration and assonance, for example, have cadences and rhythms that can only be restored by readers letting go of their upbringing towards proper language and becoming the poem’s creator by coming up with new words, sounds, and grammar to remedy the seeming rhythmic dissonances. The anti-melodic poems and rhythmic lines will seem out of tune as long as the reader is bound by conventional ideas of language.

Difference in rules

Poetry has historically been bound by rules and norms. Anti-poetry declares anarchy. Nothing can prevent anti-poet from producing poetry. New words can be invented, new meanings can be established. No matter how it may be used properly, the anti-poet employs any word with any pronunciation, spelling, or grammar. As a result, anti-poets are no longer forced to write poetry at the whim of language.

Modern technicians attempt to scientifically study poetry writing. Rules that are supposed to control how poetry should be written are imposed by technicians from ivory tower academic positions. Poetry has withered because of these pendants. They have prioritized words over poetry. If these principles are disregarded, novel uses of language are regarded as weak poetry.

Anti-poetry disregards these guidelines and attempts to develop fresh approaches to generating meaning and melody from language. Anti-poetry is more interested in the experience of poetry and its creative inspiration than it is in the science of poetry.

Difference in images

There are terms that are not appropriate in traditional poetry. All words are appropriated by anti-poetry. Poetry has typically always been a limited vocabulary form of writing. In general, poetry has been forbidden from using vulgar language. If they do, the poem is interpreted as being obscene and is not considered poetry.

This, like proper language usage, is prescribed by a clique of technicians sitting in ivory towers. No words are prohibited from anti-poetry. Any word can be used to express poetic inspiration. Why are the most mundane facets of our humanity not capable of being represented in the most beautiful way? It makes no sense to the anti-poet.

Difference in emotions

Anti-poetry is an emotional endeavor, whereas traditional poetry has generally been a mental one. The word in anti-poetry is poured out like the babbling of the mad poet. While conventional poets made the mind the master of emotions, the anti-poet makes the opposite happen.

The ability to imagine is at the heart of anti-poetry. The recitator of anti-poetry writes his or her own poem using only their own imagination, uninformed by gender, age, or ethnicity. Anti-poetry invites readers to experience poetry freely and in an unadulterated manner.

Anti-poetry provides readers the freedom to compose a new poem from the one that has already been created. When anti-poetry is recited, the tongue moves to the music and must be read aloud so that the reader may hear and feel with their mouth what the anti-poetry is about. Thus, anti-poetry might be defined as the product of poetic lunacy, sounds, and rhythm.

The importance of antipoetry

To an average reader, anti-poetry is just another, more modern form of poetry. It is, however, much more than that. With anti-poetry, Parra aimed to demystify poetics by bringing poets down a notch or two. The very first poet that he started with is himself, with a catchphrase at the end of his performances: “Me retrato de todo lo que he dicho (I take back everything I said).”

It should also be noted that poetry had hitherto only been the purview of elitist academics in Latin America, particularly Chile. Parra was challenging the status quo by fusing aspects of everyday language with an unduly glorified art form. His Manifiesto is a prime illustration of how the poet’s position is minimized while poetry’s significance is extolled.

Antipoetry interprets a hitherto unspoken truth about our lives and the universe, a truth that firmly ties poetry to reality. That is the situation as it stands, but there is something unsettling about it that doesn’t seem to make sense. I’m talking about the Gordian knot that underlies his antipoetry, which adamantly rejects institutionalization.

It is difficult to completely embrace antipoetry’s inherent subversion and destructive force without first converting it into a stuffed animal, according to those who believe Parra’s endeavor has already suffered from premature rigor mortis.

In this way, antipoetry is both exalted and buried: on the one hand, readers appreciate it. On the other hand, they reject it by reducing the most radical interpretation of contemporary Spanish poetry to something that is neither more nor less acceptable than what would be an inappropriate student chuckle during mass.

Readers steer clear of antipoetry’s disobedience at all costs, which makes sense if we believe in communal automatisms. No one has really wanted to accept Parra’s work’s unavoidable ramifications because they go beyond literature and are so unstable and incompatible with the current private property system and capitalist paradigm.

Young Nicanor Parra

Parra’s progression of ideas was slowly expanding. In the beginning, he restricted himself to the literary and artistic—antipoetry in its traditional sense—checkmating anything else perceived as literary “superior.”

Then, he destroyed revered cultural symbols and subdued any sense of hierarchy by equating everything—from pornography to politics to lyricism to jokes—on the same footing in his visual poems Artefactos (Artifacts).

They are the logical outcome of Parra’s antipoems. They also serve as a precise illustration of the poet’s most distinctive and original work, to reiterate.

This particular innovation is the one with the fewest predecessors and represents a subversion of everything that our current neoliberalism views as history, culture, and finally as freedom.

Our time has changed since Parra’s though. Since Poemas y Antipoemas first appeared, the literary scene has undergone significant change. Especially in places like North America, the scenario is the exact opposite of what Parra faced in his prime. Poetry already belongs to the public, and social media promotion came before a sudden boom of amateur poets.

Finally, Anti-Poetry goes beyond the bounds of traditional poetry. It is not afraid to discuss philosophy, science, or technology. Some Anti-Poems could even veer toward scientific or legal writing. I think it’s safe to say that Nicanor Parra continues to teach us all a great deal to this day.

Final thoughts

Anti-poetry is the legacy of Nicanor Parra, one of the finest poets to ever live, a persistent attempt to refute what we typically think of as poetry.

Anti-poetry challenges the exclusivity and elitism of classical poetry and returns poetry to the excluded, outcast, unconventional, and inarticulate. If the viewpoint of traditional poetry is conformity to the rules, then the viewpoint of anti-poetry is disobedience.

Sometimes, poetry can be spontaneous and overflowing with powerful feelings, and it is natural to break the rules and go with the flow. With anti-poetry, poets are encouraged to focus more on emotions and don’t have to care so much about conventional rhythm.

It is normal to defy all the norms and write down your own honest, emotional words when something spontaneous happens. Anti-poetry supports those poets for whom poetry entails freedom of verse that ignores the usual material rhythms in favor of the poet’s emotions.

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