Tuesday, September 9th, 2008
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.
Sunday, April 5th, 2009
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 sueñoHealy translates this as:
como un buzo en un lago.
La poesía entra en el sueño
como un buzo muerto
en el ojo de Dios.
Poetry slips into dreams
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
like a diver in a lake.
Poetry slips into dreams
like a diver who's dead
in the eyes of God.
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?
Tuesday, April 7th, 2009
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.
Thursday, April 9th, 2009
The 14th, untitled poem in The Romantic Dogs is only three lines:
I dreamt of frozen detectives in the great
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...
refrigerator of Los Angeles
in the great refrigerator of Mexico City.
The fourth poem in this sequence, "The Frozen Detectives," has another painting reference in it:
I dreamt of detectives lostI 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:
In the convex mirror of the Arnolfinis:
Our generation, our perspectives,
Our models of Fear.
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.
Saturday, May 9th, 2009
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 (Thanks to Jorge for the structuring of the translation.)
like a dead diver
into the eye of God
Sunday, December 13th, 2009
I was telling a friend today how much I'm loving The Savage Detectives and how he ought to take a look at it, and came up with: "Imagine if Jack Kerouac had been 30 years younger and lived in Mexico City." Interesting -- this is the second time I've been trying to describe Bolaño and come up with a Beat point of reference. (Previously I described one of his poems as sounding like Ginsberg.)
Monday, December 14th, 2009
I've noticed several times Bolaño's statement that he was "less embarrassed" by his poetry than by his novels -- don't remember where I first read that, but it was recently referenced at MobyLives -- it crossed my mind today when I remembered his poem about Lupe in The Romantic Dogs:
She worked in la Guerrero, a few streets down from Julian's, -- very similar material to what he will later write about Lupe in The Savage Detectives. And the funny thing is, that poem seemed to me like about the weakest one in The Romantic Dogs, whereas the writing about Lupe in the novel is strong and resonant. Not sure exactly what to make of that... Perhaps that Bolaño wrote his fiction best as prose, that his best work as a poet was not narrative; perhaps that this poem was a rough draft for a characterization in the novel?
and she was 17 and had lost a son.
The memory made her cry in that Hotel Trébol room, ...
Update: ...or another possibility, that The Romantic Dogs does not contain Bolaño's strongest poetry work at all -- this is the assertion made by Chad Post in today's edition of Making the Translator Visible -- Post interviews Erica Mena, translator of (among other things) Bolaño's poem "Tales from the Autumn in Gerona," which will be published in the March issue of Words Without Borders and which Mena and (tentatively) Post find to be much better than the poems in The Romantic Dogs. Something to look forward to, certainly.
Saturday, December 26th, 2009
It's 1976 and the revolution has been defeated
Another thing I spent a lot of mental energy on while reading The Savage Detectives, was on wondering how closely the events being narrated corresponded to actual events in the lives of Bolaño and his crowd. For example the poem "Visit to the Convalescent" from The Romantic Dogs narrates a visit Roberto and Mario Santiago make to the house of their friend, Darío Galicia, after he has surgery for an aneurysm. It reads like memoir, like something that really happened... In The Savage Detectives, Angélica Font tells the story of Ernesto San Epiphanio's convalescence and eventual death following his brain surgery at the end of 1977, by which time Arturo is in Barcelona and Ulises either in Europe or Israel, I'm not sure which, but in no position to visit Ernesto. So as I'm reading I'm wondering what changes have been made and what the reasoning is... Is Ernesto's character based on Darío? Or is Bolaño just using an event from Darío's life to tell a story that is much more about Angélica than about Ernesto, a relatively minor character? From poking around with Google it's clear that much of the broad framework of the story is true to life -- it would be interesting to learn where the story diverges from life.
but we've yet to find out.
We are 22, 23 years old.
Mario Santiago and I walk down a black and white street.
At the end of the street, in a neighborhood straight out of a fifties film, sits the house of Darío Galicia's parents.
It's the year 1976 and they've trepanned Darío Galicia's skull.
Saturday, April 17th, 2010
The high frequency in "Last Evenings on Earth" of the word clavadista (diver) makes me think about Bolaño's poem Resurrection: "Poetry slips into the dream/
like a dead diver/
into the eye of God." The word translated as "diver" here is buzo; I wonder what the distinction is. Is clavadista specifically a "cliff diver"? Is buzo a deep-sea diver?
Update: Yes, I think (based on Google image results) that it's a distinction between clavadista="an athlete who jumps gracefully into the water" and buzo="an explorer who wears a scuba suit and pokes around underwater" -- the fact that both of these are "diver" in English is coincidental, it's not part of the source material. Actually this makes the imagery in "Resurrection" a lot easier to understand.
Saturday, August 21st, 2010
Parecía un gusano blanco, con su sombrero de paja y un Bali colgándole del labio inferior.
The first line of Bolaño's story "The Worm" (from Llamadas telefónicas) jumps out at me, makes me do a double-take. The same line occurs in his poem The Worm, from The Romantic Dogs, which was the first text of Bolaño's I ever read...
The story is an amazing one, indeed I think it might be my favorite so far from either Llamadas telefónicas or Putas asesinas. It will not really bear (that I can see) any summarizing on my part... I hope it is in translation so I can tell people to read it. And, yes! It is included in Last Evenings on Earth as The Grub.
One thing that really hit me as I was reading it was recognizing the setting -- I was walking through the Alameda and the Palacio de Bellas Artes only a week ago! I was right outside the Sótano bookstore -- a couple of locations, including the one across from the Alameda. This makes the story nicely concrete.
The story includes a lot of Bolaño's other work, specifically (of course) the above poem and some imagery from various parts of The Savage Detectives. And a note as I'm Googling around -- I see Jorge Ferrer-Vidal Turrull has a novel from 1966 called El gusano blanco; I wonder if Bolaño is intending any reference to that book.
More posts about The Romantic Dogs
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