Saturday, August 6, 2011



If we look with X-rays at the patients house,
we’ll see the ghosts of books in silent shelves
or piled in the hall or on the nightstands and tables.
We’ll also see a small notebook with drawings, lines
         and arrows
that diverge and intersect: they are voyages in death’s
company.But death, despite its arrogant aide-memoir,
still hasn’t won. the X-rays tell us time
is expanding and thinning like the tail of a comet
inside the house. Life still gives its best
fruits. And as the sea promised Jaufre Rudel *
the vision of love, so this house near the sea promises
its dweller the dream of the destroyed and constructed tower.
If we look, however, with X-rays inside of the man,
we’ll see bones and shadows: ghosts of fiestas
and landscapes in motion as if viewed from an airplane
in tailspin. We’ll see the eyes he saw, the lips
his fingers brushed, a body emerged
from a snowstorm. And we’ll see the naked body,
just as he saw it, and the eyes and the lips he brushed,
and we’ll know that there’s no cure.

The poem above is one of forty-three in a collection of poetry by Chilean writer Roberto Bolano, originally published in 2006, this, the bilingual edition was published two years later, and was translated by Laura Healy (publisher New Directions). This collection spans just under twenty years (1980 to 1998) and covers a lot of the subject matter covered in his novels, his obsessions with detectives, with the lost and exiled, and with poetry itself. In fact anyone who has read 2666, The Savage Detectives, Amulet etc. will be familiar with the subject matter and although the books are shot through with poetry, you get the impression that these are more personal. Bolano  has always considered himself a poet, he wrote fiction to fulfil the need to support his family more than as an abiding wish to write the books, explaining, “I blush less when I reread my poems.” Yet it was through his novels, translated after his death, that he gained recognition outside the Spanish language world, that allowed this work to be published alongside other works from his back catalogue.

This book has an air of nostalgia, of looking back at a youth and it’s freedoms, of a time of living the poetry, of it being the essence, in the title poem Bolano writes;
Back then, I’d reach the age of twenty
and I was crazy.
I’d lost a country
but won a dream
nothing else mattered.
Not working, not praying
not studying in the morning light
alongside the romantic dogs.
And through these poems you follow his journey, meeting the many characters, the good, the lost, the evil. This is the story of artists, writers & poets exiled from all that could be called home. Individuals caught in their own private quests, hunted by nightmares, always on the edge, and yet  the penultimate  poem is about love (possibly his wife) and it ends with these lovely words suffused with hope.
more beautiful than the sun,
more beautiful
than the stars

romantic dogs roberto-bolano"That's what art is, he said, the story of a life in all its particularity. It's the only thing that really is particular and personal. It's the expression and, at the same time, the fabric of the particular. And what do you mean by the fabric of the particular? I asked, supposing he would answer: Art. I was also thinking, indulgently, that we were pretty drunk already and that it was time to go home. But my friend said: What I mean is the secret story.... The secret story is the one we'll never know, although we're living it from day to day, thinking we're alive, thinking we've got it all under control and the stuff we overlook doesn't matter. But every damn thing matters! It's just that we don't realize. We tell ourselves that art runs on one track and life, our lives, on another, we don't even realize that's a lie."

This was spoken by one of the characters in a tale (Dentist) in the short story collection, Last Evenings on Earth, and I think it sums up the reasoning behind this writers work, which includes this wonderful, explicit, fragmented brilliant book of verse.
(The first part of) Resurrection
Poetry slips into dreams
like a diver into a lake.
Poetry, braver than anyone,
slips in and sinks
like lead…………..
The Source of all Wisdom on Bolano  -(In Lieu of a Field Guide)
*Jaufre Rudel
New Directions (Roberto Bolano)


Mel u said...

Have you read his Nazi Literature in the Americas yet?-Bolano's range of talent was just so huge-a couple of his short stories can be read online at the New Yorker archives

Rise said...

It's not surprising that his poems are in free verse, no? He's equally good in prose poems, as can be seen in Antwerp and in the upcoming Tres.

Anonymous said...

I've been meaning to read Bolano for so long... another great review of his stuff. One of these days, one of these days...

gina said...

Great review, Gary. (as usual)

This-- "I’d lost a country/but won a dream"--is quite nice.

I'll echo Pete Karnas and say one of these days.

But this is definitely a nudge in the right direction.

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Mel, thanks for the info & concerning Nazi-Lit, yes I've read & posted on it - if your interested.

Hola, Rise, not read Antwerp or Tres yet, both on my list to read.

Hi Pete, probably said this before, but a good place to start is Last Evenings on Earth.

Hi Gina,Thanks, as to a start, same suggestion to you as Pete, above. said...

You have such great knowledge of the most fabulous poetry. This one speaks to me, I can relate. The losing something while gaining something else is moving.

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Lena, Thanks for the compliment, Bolano is a wonderful poet, known primarily for his Novels, which are fantastic & the themes running through his poetry & The Savage Detectives (posted under Roberto Bolano). If you're interested I've started to organize all the Poetry & related posts on their own page Titled "Pomesallsizes" on the sidebar. Thanks again Parrish.

Bellezza said...

Bolano is not easy for me to understand (glad I have the likes of you, and Stu, and Mel U to help!) but I love the line in your post about personal quests and living on the edge. And, having a twenty year old of my own, I especially liked the first one. I hope my son soon finds his place; I guess in a family so many are on a quest (the twenty year olds, the mothers) together as well as individually.

Violet said...

I've read The Savage Detectives and 2666. Bolano certainly had a unique and individual style. I would like to spend some time with his poems; to spend more time with him. I find him rather intriguing.

@parridhlantern said...

Ciao Bellezza, thanks for your comments & I think you do yourself a disservice having discussed The man with you via other posts.

Hi Violet,The poems are good & echo Bolano's themes & obsessions, my personal favourite of the books is Last Evenings On Earth, a short story collection, which distills his ethos via a series of short stories..