Madrid – Chilean Nicanor Parra was awarded Spain's Cervantes Prize on Thursday in recognition of a lifetime's work and his creation of a new and different poetic language that the nonagenarian has labeled "anti-poetry."
Spain's culture minister, Angeles Gonzalez-Sinde, and Margarita Salas, the first woman to head a Cervantes Prize jury, made the remarks in describing the the new recipient of the Spanish-speaking world's most prestigious literary honor.
A majority of the jury supported the candidacy of the 97-year-old poet and mathematician after eight rounds of voting, maintaining an unwritten rule whereby the award alternates between Spanish and Latin American authors from one year to the next.
Catalan writer Ana Maria Matute took home the award in 2010.
Parra describes himself as a devotee of the classics, including the works of Cervantes, Shakespeare, Dante and, he once told Efe, of Gonzalo de Berceo.
In the latter's work, the Chilean said he found a remote forerunner of "anti-poetry, noting that 13th century Spanish poet used "the language of the people" in his literary creations.
The use of popular, direct language and frequent use of colloquialism is one of the principle elements of Parra's poetry, along with his exploration of themes such as the daily struggles of ordinary people.
Anti-poetry is the poetry of the commonplace in both form and content, a quality Parra perhaps summed up best with the famous line - "For half a century poetry was the paradise of the solemn fool" - from his famed "Poems and Antipoems" collection, which was rejected by traditionalists and admirers of lyrical poetry.
Parra, who won his homeland's national literature prize in 1969, became the third Chilean to receive the Cervantes Prize after Jorge Edwards and Gonzalo Rojas.
Spain's culture minister hailed the fact that Parra was able to receive the award while still alive and praised the decision to bestow the prize on a poet, saying "the vocation of writing poetry is more demanding than other genres."
In that regard, she said the jury sent a very positive message to other poets.
She said she was confident Parra can receive the award in person on April 23 and noted that two weeks ago he was in Portugal with 102-year-old filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira "and was talking about his next project and the following one."
However, it is up to the poet if he decides to travel to Spain or not, Gonzalez-Sinde said.
According to the minister, Parra was unaware he had been chosen at the time the jury's decision was made public. "We weren't able to locate him. He didn't answer the telephone," the minister said.
However, in comments to media in Chile, Parra's personal secretary, Jaqueline Muñoz, was quoted as saying the poet was pleased with the honor but "no longer believes in prizes."
Salas, designated by the Royal Spanish Academy as president of this year's jury, also highlighted the new Cervantes Prize winner's facet as physician and mathematician and recalled that his poetry has been the subject of numerous doctoral thesis.
Because it recognizes a writer's lifetime achievement, the Cervantes Prize is often regarded as the Spanish-speaking world's equivalent of the Nobel Prize in literature.