Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Romantic Dogs

When I was in college I was fortunate enough to encounter a burgeoning poetry scene, which meant that this was and remains the most intimate I've been with the form.  In the years since, I've continued to collect poetry on a sporadic basis, but actually reading it remains a dicey prospect.  However, among the works published from the late Roberto Bolano in English over the past few years was a collection of poems, The Romantic Dogs.  Bolano considered himself first and foremost a poet.  I already loved him as a writer, and so it was an easy decision to add the collection to my reading order.

Fortunately and unsurprisingly, Bolano was an engaging a poet as he was a novelist.  As in his books, the poems of Romantic Dogs are strongly narrative in nature, and strike upon many of the same themes, for instance living among the uncertainties and hidden beauties of Latin America.  Most Americans don't really think about living in Latin America.  For us it's a place for vacations and the source of endless waves of immigrants, someplace that may be nice to visit but hardly to live.  In the poems of Roberto Bolano, it is possible to exist there in an ongoing capacity, even as dreams sustain him, and a steady stream of lovely female companions.  This is not only where he lived, but where he found his muse.

His was an important and vital voice, perhaps the greatest of his generation, and the rest of us are still trying to catch up.  It's intriguing to know how intimate and familiar Bolano could be, and nowhere could this be more true than in his poetry.  In his novels there's always the sense of literary journalism, which is true for much of world literature though rare for American writers, but in his poems Bolano is free to relax and let his mind wander, which is my favorite kind of poetry, where you get to know the poet and not just whatever they feel like describing.

It's worth noting that there's a series of poems centered around detectives included, which is still more proof that Bolano was fascinated by these civil servants, and not just in the pages of 2666 or The Savage Detectives, and they fall at about the midpoint of the collection.

Half the collection is the Spanish original, and half the English translation of Laura Healy, one version following the other.


  1. I recall during my childhood doing the Pied Piper of Hamlin. I had to learn the entire story because I got the narrators job which no-one else wanted. I still remember the play rather fondly. The weird thing is I'm not big on rhymes or poems and yet I've written them!

    1. I was just thinking of my own school career as an actor. I was narrator a few times, including "Our Town," "Antigone," and "Rashomon." Don't know why that kept happening. Most of my other parts were incredibly limited.

  2. I've never read his poetry, but it sounds interesting. I've noticed that where people live comes through in their writing quite a bit. For instance, writers from New Orleans and Savannah have a very specific flavor to their works, something rich and dark. I find it fascinating.

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse

    1. It's probably especially true of American poets, and probably one of the reasons I should start reading more of what I've collected in that regard.


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