Nobel Prize for Reading

This prompt uses a poem entitled “The Nobel Prize,” by Chilean writer and mathematician Nicanor Parra (who Roberto Bolaño called “the greatest living poet in the Spanish language.”) “The Nobel Prize” comes from a collection of Parra’s poetry called Antipoems: How to Look Better & Feel Great (which my wife recently gave to me on the occasion of my birthday and which I highly recommend). I used the prompt for the first time a few weeks ago in a workshop for formerly incarcerated men and women. It was well-received. Here’s how it works:

First, mention (if using this in a group setting) that you’ll be reading a short poem and that, afterward, you’ll be describing the prompt. Then read aloud “The Nobel Prize,” which begins with these lines: “The Nobel Prize for Reading/should be awarded to me/I am the ideal reader,/I read everything I get my hands on.” (The poem goes on to name readable things such as “street names,” “bathroom walls,” “license plates,” and “projections for the Derby.”)

After reading the poem, tell the writers in your group to write about something for which they (or a character) should be awarded the Nobel Prize. Also mention that, as Parra (who is now 97 years old) does in his poem, the Nobel jury can be addressed directly.

Good luck.