Nicanor Parra, Artefactos [Artifacts]
illustrations by Juan Guillermo Tejeda
(Santiago de Chile: Ediciones Nueva Universidad, 1972)

conste que yo no soy el que habla

The front of this postcard presents the image of a headless, besuited man announcing into the speaker of a wired telephone that it is not him who is uttering the words printed above and below his body, framing it. His head has been replaced by the words ‘ALO, ALO’ (hello, hello), presented in a large, bold font, while the remainder of his statement has been added in a lighter font below his torso: ‘conste que yo no soy el que habla’ (‘let it be known that it’s not me who’s speaking’). Although it is not clear from where the speaker’s voice is generated there is no mouth the paradoxical announcement is forceful, quasi-legalistic in tone and clearly addressed to the interlocutor at the other side of the telephone line.

This postcard forms part of a landmark collaboration of 242 unbound and non-sequential ‘artifacts’ composed by the Chilean poet Nicanor Parra in partnership with the illustrator Guillermo Tejeda. This ‘antipoem’—the term created by Parra to describe a text which breaks away with poetic convention and expectation and exemplified in his 1954 Poemas y Antipoemas (Poems and Antipoems)—offers an ironic reflection on authorship. The ‘artifact’ itself is a traditional postcard—the terms ‘TARJETA POSTAL’ and ‘POSTCARD’ are printed in a central position overleaf and lines are provided for the recipient’s address on the right-hand side—inviting the reader to become a co-author by filling in the empty spaces. While making physical space for their interlocutor, the poetic voice also underlines its role as conduit for other voices. Parra’s suggestion is that it is not the poet or the poetic voice that speaks here but the reader. The image of telephone is central to this reflection and to Parra’s own conception of poetry: like speaking on the telephone, the act of reading involves listening to a disembodied voice and is dialogic by nature. In this process, the reader becomes the poetic voice or, as Parra himself noted, ‘un espejo del sujeto que habla’ [a mirror of the speaking subject].

by Arantza Mayo