The awarding of the Cervantes Prize to Chile's Nicanor Parra on Monday was an unusual event, no less intense for all that and well befitting a self-proclaimed anti-poet who sent his grandson to accept the honor on his behalf.
The absence of both King Juan Carlos and the 97-year-old Parra, who said his doctors advised him not to make the trip, were the atypical elements of the solemn ceremony, held as it is every year in the auditorium of Alcala de Henares University in suburban Madrid.
The event was presided over for the first time by Crown Prince Felipe, accompanied by his wife, Princess Letizia, and had as a special guest another irreverent poet, U.S. singer Patti Smith.
An elegantly attired Cristobal Ugarte, 19, spoke on behalf of his grandfather, who asked "for at least a year's deferral to be able to prepare an even moderately plausible speech."
"Don Quixote doesn't fit in a weekend," were Nicanor Parra's words voiced by his grandson, who said that before coming to Spain he left his grandfather "in his house at Las Cruces on the Chilean coast, surrounded by books."
Parra collects the texts he writes for speeches and official events under the title "After-dinner Speeches."
"It takes me six months to write a speech that is read in 45 minutes and has every appearance of being totally off the cuff," he said.
But Ugarte's voice filled the auditorium with the poems and anti-poems of his grandfather, while nearby stood the ancient typewriter that Parra used for his writing and which his grandson brought from Chile in his suitcase, so that on Tuesday it can be deposited in the Literature Vault of the Cervantes Institute with an unpublished poem that may not be read until 50 years from now.
Crown Prince Felipe, who gave a highly literary speech, said Monday that Nicanor Parra was a "kindred spirit" of Miguel de Cervantes, a "ground-breaker" whose words unite Spanish-speakers and give life a new dimension for everyone.
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.