Roberto Bolaño has achieved his primary fame in the US for two massive novelistic tomes, The Savage Detectives and 2666. I read The Savage Detectives and it knocked me on my ass with its mixture of lurid but poetic realism and its wheels within wheels plotting. Sex, decay, the noble aspirations of youth shot to shit by the cold hard slap in your face reality of make a buck late 20th Century Latin American and Spanish commerce. Dreams dying on the vine recalled through the sustained will and limitless talent of Bolaño. To make things more poetic, more utterly rock n’ roll, Bolaño was dying of liver disease as he delivered The Savage Detectives and the even more vast and ambitious 2666. Fucker was writing himself to death, entering a mad dance with immortality that he has apparently won in spades . Bolaño is the flavor of the moment,but it is a flavor that fills, he is justly regarded as one of the great exports of Latin America writing, and an earthy, crotch-grabbing counterpoint to the more ethereal voices of yor like Marquez and Fuentes.
I had 2666 on multiple Christmas lists, hoping in vain that it would appear under my festive tree, all bowed and ready for consumption. No such luck. The only book I got for Christmas was a history of the DC universe(which is cool in its own right and something Bolaño might’ve loved-I wonder if he was a Justice League or Avengers man?). But I was okay with it. I had barely absorbed the lessons, the soil and the essence of The Savage Detectives, I wasn’t ready yet to swallow, mainline, take in the harsh medicine of 2666. What I was ready for and bought for myself as a little post-Christmas, fuck I like you, Donnie treat- was Bolaño’s little book of poems The Romantic Dogs.
I read a lot of poems. I write poetry(and I don’t mean the simple mind rhyming shit I posted here today). I take poetry seriously. And I am honored to have read this book. The Bolaño you find here, is the author distilled down to his sheerest essence. This a dream log, an experiment in rhyme(at least in the original Spanish) a paean to the earth, to lost dreams, the sacred body, the breakdown of said body and the spilling of blood, sweat and semen in the name of holy Art. Bolaño took poetry seriously. Felt it was worth dying for. But his poetry wasn’t of the airy fairy Hallmark card variety. He was a poet of the descent, not a poet of the clouds, mountains and uninterrupted ascent into unimpeded spiritual progress. He was a poet keen on the experiences imbedded in flesh, a poet of dirty sheets, funky motel rooms, bad SF novels, women with unshaved legs and always the clock ticking, the clock ticking, fucking death in the room. Write. Write. WRITE. Until you drop. I can’t tell you how much I dig that. As a poet. As a cancer survivor. As somebody who has high blood pressure and a gimp liver. I dig that Bolaño’s entire late output was a hearty fuck you to Queen/King Death. And get this. Here is the punch line: Bolaño won. And anyone who samples his work wins too. This is a message from the outskirts, from the places we must go but haven’t been yet and it is also that most needful of cliches: the triumph of the human spirit. Bolaño’s victory is a victory for all of us, he’s what’s best in us and we all should be grateful to benevolent God or cold fate for the gift of his work.
Note: thanks to Alejandro Escovedo's wonderful album A Man Under The Influence that I listened to while I wrote this. Another great Latino with a shaky liver.
Thanks to Paul Bryant for Recovering this Deleted Review.