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We poets will write a thousand words to get at a single one.

Roberto Bolaño


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Saturday, August 30th, 2008

I guess I will miss this one

So everyone is very excited about Bolaño's 2666, which will be available in English translation soon. I wish I could be! I just found out about this author's existence pretty recently, from Orbis Quintus IIRC; and I have had too much else on my reading plate to think about getting acquainted with him. Looks like I am going to miss out on a pretty major literary event; but I sort of don't want my first acquaintance with Bolaño to be this book. I reckon sometime down the road a little, I will start reading his short stories and work my way up to 2666 -- the cutting edge continues to elude me.

MetaFilter offers up some resources for readers interested in getting acquainted with Bolaño. (via Conversational Reading.)

posted evening of August 30th, 2008: 2 responses
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Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

Let us give thanks for our poverty, said the guy dressed in rags.

Roberto Bolaño saw himself as a poet rather than a novelist: he said, “the poetry makes me blush less.” Now English speakers will have a chance to read some of his poetry; New Directions is publishing his first collection of poems, The Romantic Dogs, in translation this fall. (I can't tell whether the edition will be bilingual.*) At New Directions' site, you can read his poem The Worm, to get a taste -- I found it enchanting.

(This poem sounds a lot like Ginsberg to my ears -- I hope that is honest reading and not just free-associating off the New Directions imprint. Lines like "built of brick and mortar, between United States and Mexico" and "Twilights that enveloped Lisa's father/ at the beginning of the fifties" bring "Howl" clearly to mind. Oh and "I saw him with my own eyes" is awesome.)

*Aha! Amazon says it is bilingual.

posted afternoon of September 9th, 2008: 2 responses
➳ More posts about The Romantic Dogs

Monday, January 12th, 2009

2666 group read

The bolano-l mailing list is hosting a group read of 2666, starting today. I'm sitting this one out, but if you're meaning to read the book I'm guessing this will be a very useful resource. (via The Howling Fantods.)

posted afternoon of January 12th, 2009: Respond

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

Learning a new voice

So the first thing I am reading by Roberto Bolaño is the new book of poetry, The Romantic Dogs. The poems are delight, sparsely elegant, the author's voice clear and engaging. I find that I have not yet constructed an authorial persona to associate with this voice, so a lot of my reaction to the readings so far has been seeing who this voice reminds me of -- for instance there are some lines in the title poem that sound very distinctly like Robyn Hitchcock; "El Gusano" is reminiscent of Allen Ginsberg's poetry (as I said before); the structure of "La Francesa" (especially its ending) is most similar to Ferlinghetti. I expect I'll find plenty of other referents as I continue to read, eventually they should gel into a new author for me to carry in my head...

Here is a passage that's puzzling me a little. See what you think. The poem "Resurección" begins and ends as follows:

La poesía entra en el sueño
como un buzo en un lago.
...
La poesía entra en el sueño
como un buzo muerto
en el ojo de Dios.
Healy translates this as:
Poetry slips into dreams
like a diver in a lake.
...
Poetry slips into dreams
like a diver who's dead
in the eyes of God.
But this seems to me to miss the parallelism. "Dead in the eyes of God" is a lexical unit -- it is making the phrase "en el ojo de Dios" into a modifier for "muerto" -- but what I was thinking as I read the Spanish was, the "eye of God" was what the dead diver was entering into -- it was playing the same role that the "lake" was playing in the first sentence -- so I would have translated it more like
Poetry slips into the dream
like a dead man diving
into the eye of God.

(Also I would have said "into a lake" in the second line.) Is this a misreading?

posted afternoon of April 5th, 2009: 2 responses
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Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Symbolism

Bolaño's poem "El Mono Exterior", "The Monkey Outside", starts out by asking, "Do you remember the Triumph of Alexander the Great, by Gustave Moreau?" -- I did not -- never seen it, I'm pretty sure, and did not recognize the painter's name. Here is an image of it:The poem is difficult to make much sense of, either by itself or in the context of the painting, but it's an attractive jumble of images. He seems to be addressing somebody who is blasé about the purported power of this painting (I can't see it; but then I am just looking at a little jpg of it), who "walked like a tireless ape among the gods,/ For you knew -- or maybe not -- that the Triumph was unfurling/ its weapons inside Plato's cavern: images,/ shadows without substance, sovereignty of emptiness." I'm not sure if he's reproaching the person he's talking to -- and indeed he might be talking to himself.

Update: This poetry course from Aula de Poesia de Barcelona (PDF format, Spanish language) has some questions for writing about "El Mono Exterior", on page 5. Also featured: Borges, José Jorge Letria, Juan López de Ael, Claudia Groesman. (Why is the school's name not spelled "Aula de Poesía"? Is this a Catalán thing?)

Late Update: Bolaño also references Moreau in the first section of 2666.

posted evening of April 7th, 2009: Respond
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Thursday, April 9th, 2009

The lost detectives

The 14th, untitled poem in The Romantic Dogs is only three lines:

I dreamt of frozen detectives in the great
refrigerator of Los Angeles
in the great refrigerator of Mexico City.
This introduces a series of five poems about "lost detectives" and "frozen detectives" and "crushed detectives" -- they moan desperately, they stare at their open palms, they are "intent on keeping their eyes open/ in the middle of the dream." These poems -- which are all about dreams -- make me think of Raymond Chandler; there is no stylistic similarity to speak of but I read "detectives" and "Los Angeles" and that is where my mind goes -- and they make me want to read Bolaño's novel The Savage Detectives to find out what his dream-detectives do when they are fleshed out into characters...

The fourth poem in this sequence, "The Frozen Detectives," has another painting reference in it:

I dreamt of detectives lost
In the convex mirror of the Arnolfinis:
Our generation, our perspectives,
Our models of Fear.
I had to look this up -- turns out to be a painting I've seen many times and read a bit about at some point lost to my memory, "The Betrothal of the Arnolfinis," by Jan van Eyck:

An amazing, incredible picture; I don't have much to say about it here but that mirror seems like a fine place for dream-detectives to get lost. Anyway Sylvia was looking over my shoulder as I looked this up and she immediately recognized it as appearing in her book Dog's Night, which is the story of the dogs in all the paintings in an art gallery getting loose after hours one night -- it's a fine book and I recommend it if you are looking for a present for a young kid -- as I recall it's best suited for about a five- or six-year-old.

posted evening of April 9th, 2009: Respond
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Saturday, May 9th, 2009

Identifying with poetry

I'm very taken with this idea from "Pierre Menard" about total identification with the author. I've written before about striving for that reading fiction and essays, but haven't really thought about it in connection with poetry. But just now I had the thought (while experimenting with FB statusses), Why not try the final bit of Bolaño's "Resurección" in the first person -- substituting myself for "poetry"?

I slip into the dream
like a dead diver
into the eye of God
(Thanks to Jorge for the structuring of the translation.)

posted evening of May 9th, 2009: Respond
➳ More posts about Pierre Menard, author of the Quixote

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

(...and speaking of Waiting)

I dreamt of frozen detectives in the great
refrigerator of Los Angeles
in the great refrigerator of Mexico City.

-- Roberto Bolaño

I'm getting really excited and champing at the bit to read Thomas Pynchon's new novel, Inherent Vice, which will be coming out one week from today (if my fingers are accurate). Here are some preparatory links I've been collecting over the last little while:
  • Louis Menand's review in the New Yorker is to my way of thinking, a model for how book reviews ought to be written. Every other review of this book I've read has contained the same superficial, thoughtless (and in some cases debatable) bits of information -- that the novel is a detective story set in Los Angeles, the main character "Doc" Sportello is a stoner and gumshoe, that the story is more straightforward and plotted than your archetypally cryptic Pynchon novel, that Hollywood is talking about optioning rights, a first for the famously unfilmable TRP... Menand goes much deeper, pulls in Pynchon's other work in specific ways rather than general, really thinks about the consequences of what he is saying.
  • Tim Ware of thomaspynchon.com has created an Inherent Vice Wiki, initialized with his page-by-page notes. It's just waiting for other people to read the book and start contributing.
  • Wired has published The Unofficial Pynchon Guide to Los Angeles, an interactive map of the city marked up with references from Inherent Vice. Useful for finding your way around as you read.
  • Update: And furthermore: the mysterious Basileios (of the Against The Day weblog) will be keeping an Inherent Vice weblog as well. This seems like good news to me.

Speaking by the way of excellent book reviews, Giles Harvey has a very nice take (and cleverly titled!) on Bolaño's The Skating Rink in the Abu Dhabi National. Thanks for the link, badger!

posted evening of July 28th, 2009: Respond
➳ More posts about Inherent Vice

Sunday, September 27th, 2009

Writing

A very nice line (assuming I am understanding it correctly) from the newly-published Bolaño story, The Contour of the Eye. Bolaño's character Chen Huo Deng is recounting a conversation with a doctor, telling him about writing diaries as a "crutch for literary creativity":

Dijo que comprendía que los poetas escribiéramos mil palabras para librar una. Le dije que en mi diario actual se libraba algo más y se rió sin comprender.

[First attempt at reading this is incorrect -- see comment from Rick -- He said his understanding was that we poets will write a thousand words to liberate a single one. I told him that in my current diary something else was being liberated and he laughed without understanding.]

He said his understanding was that we poets will write a thousand words to get at a single one. I told him that in my current diary something else was at stake, and he laughed without understanding.

This is working for me on a couple of levels, I can see an image of Chen's words as the fleet launched from Mycenae to liberate Helen...

Thoughts about the translation of "librar" in the first sentence and "librarse" in the second sentence (and thanks to Rick for pointing out that this is a different verb from "liberar")? It would be nice to preserve the pun but I'm not at all sure how that would be done. "in my current diary something else was getting out" maybe? That doesn't sound very natural to me, and I'm skeptical whether it communicates the meaning of the Spanish very well.

posted morning of September 27th, 2009: 4 responses
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Saturday, December 5th, 2009

Antipoetry

(Every book in the world is out there waiting to be read by me.)
Today at MobyLives, Tom McCartan has written the first installment of their series on Roberto Bolaño's reading habits -- this one is about Nicanor Parra, Chilean anti-poet of my dreams. Bolaño believed that Parra's poetry will "endure... along with the poetry of Borges, of Vallejo, of Cernuda and a few others.... But this, we have to say it, doesn't matter too much."

Gives me a nice opening to mention that I read the opening pages of The Savage Detectives in a book shop this morning, and it moved several spots up on my priority list of what to read next -- just a hilarious book.

posted evening of December 5th, 2009: Respond
➳ More posts about The Savage Detectives

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