What the World Needs Now…

… other than love, sweet love,* is the work of Chilean poet Nicanor Parra. For one thing, check out his ability to say so damn much, in so few words, and without making a big show of overtly stating a piece’s Big Themes.

Lady

your son has rickets
give him beef broth
milk give him steak and eggs
get out of this pigsty
get an apartment on Park Avenue
you look like a ghost, lady
why don’t you take a little trip to Miami**

And really, the big kicker running throughout Parra’s work is his keen, unsparing social analysis. As an example, take this piece, read it multiple times, remember it.

The Rule of Three

Not counting
The twenty million missing
How much do you think the deification of Stalin
Came to in cold, hard cash.

Monuments cost money.

What do you think it cost
To pull down those concrete hulks?

Simply moving the body
Out of the mausoleum to the common grave
Must have cost a fortune.

And what do you think we’ll spend
Putting those sacred statues back in place?***

Will that cycle ever come to an end? I think there’s ample cause to doubt positive(-ish) responses to that question, even when they come from big brains such as Hegel’s and Fukuyama’s. But Parra and all the other prophets committed to making us face the full reality of our (individual and social) nature– and to pushing us to rise above its worst depths– are always essential, especially when we think we’ve reached the complacently safe end of history. So go, pick a favorite poetic nugget of strength, and let it assist you in, to riff only semi-accurately on a notion of the aforementioned Georg Wilhelm Friedrich H., dwelling with our own time’s particular negatives.

 

* (and a variety of other big-ticket items, such as the absence of bigotry, greed, and aggression)

** Nicanor Parra, “Lady,” in Emergency Poems, transl. Miller Williams (New York: New Directions, 1972), 53.

*** ibid., “The Rule of Three,” 49.

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