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  • Hallazgo y traducción de poesía chilena by Dave Oliphant
  • Ronald J. Friis
Oliphant, Dave. Hallazgo y traducción de poesía chilena. A Contracorriente, 2019. Pp. 208. ISBN 978-1-945023454-5.

This eclectic and insightful book is, in its essence, a collection of reflections of a life lived in and in-between languages, cultures, and words. The twenty chapters of Hallazgo y traducción de poesía chilena are comprised of articles, essays, book reviews, journal entries, introductions to translations, and interviews by and about poet/critic/translator Dave Oliphant (Fort Worth, Texas, 1939–). The book’s diverse form matches its content, which centers on twentieth century Chilean poetry, specifically, the antipoetry of Nicanor Parra and the poetics of Enrique Lihn, while also dedicating pieces to lesser known poets such as the Chilean Romantic Guillermo Blest [End Page 285] Gana, Alicia Galaz, Oliver Welden, Francisco Véjar, and more. Each essay contains informative contextualizion of these poets by examining their relationship to other major figures in Chilean poetry such as Gabriela Mistral, Vicente Huidobro, Pablo Neruda, and Óscar Hahn. Another of the book’s strengths is its organic comparatist approach. I say “organic” because of the easy and natural associations between the Chilean poets and the works Oliphant chooses as their complements. Oliphant’s familiarity with Shakespeare, Whitman, Hart Crane, and John Ashbury, to cite just a few examples, broadens and enrichens his readers’ understanding of the poetry of a country that has produced so many more engaging poets than just its two Nobel Prize winners.

“Chile, 1965” sets the scene by retelling the author’s first (of many) experiences in the country, while the second chapter, “Visitas con Nicanor Parra,” introduces the book’s main influence and protagonist (or would he prefer “antagonist”?), Nicanor Parra. Oliphant and Parra’s personal and poetic affinities are a touchstone in these essays and the author makes no effort to disguise his preference for Parra’s clear, conversational, and humorous “antipoetry” over Neruda’s serious, highly metaphoric, and adjective-laden verses. Five of the book’s twenty essays are dedicated to Parra’s antipoetry and his presence is felt throughout the others as well.

Visitors to Chile become immediately aware of the country’s unique pronunciation and lexicon. When the challenge of translating older, regional chilenismos is coupled with Nicanor Parra’s penchant for wordplay, we get the situation described by Oliphant in the essay on his work preparing After Dinner-Declarations. Take, for example, Parra’s neologism “piedragogía” (“piedra” + “pedagogía”) which Oliphant cleverly renders into English as “pebblegogy.” This chapter, like the one on translating Lihn, is one of the book’s highlights. Another essay, “Un tejano descubre la antipoesía de Parra y la trata de traducir,” also holds interest for translators but would benefit from the inclusion of additional specific linguistic challenges (such as “piedragogía”) and English translations to accompany Parra’s original Spanish verses.

“Huidobro y Parra: dos generaciones de antipoetas” is an informative analysis of two of the most influential and lasting voices in Chilean poetry. After a summary of the well-known rivalry between Neruda and Huidobro, Oliphant’s essay compares the techniques, tone and environmental outlook of two antipoets who flatly reject Neruda’s ardent communism and “la retórica nerudiana con sus extensos catálogos de la flora y la fauna” (93). We also find fascinating articles on Parra’s deep knowledge of Cervantes and Shakespeare, particularly Hamlet and King Lear, which he quoted in conversations, often, and in the original English.

The chapter on Enrique Lihn’s Figures of Speech deals with poetics, metapoetry, and the poet’s tormented path of anagnorisis from the advantageous point of view of the book’s translator. Oliphant’s desire to understand a passage from “Nada tiene que ver el dolor con el dolor” led him to consult a medical doctor who provided a unique and moving perspective on Lihn’s condition—one that helps us more fully understand both the language and the depth of the poet’s despair upon his death bed. This kind of insight can only come from the often solitary verbal archeology that is the...


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pp. 285-287
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