The Romantic Dogs Paperback – Oct 28 2008
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“Grab his poetry collection when you pick up .” — Barbara Hoffert (Boston Phoenix)
“The translations are superb—almost all contain a gem.” — A. W. Allworthy (RALPH Magazine)
“His fiction and poetry do not merely reflect his life...they constitute a single work of art.” — Emily Chertoff (The Harvard Book Review)
“Powerful imagery of loneliness, love, and the contemplative moments of life and death in his cosmopolitan world.” — Alva V. Cellini (MultiCultural Review)
“They radiate the audacity of intellect, as well as the cruelty of vision, that have won their author a devoted following.” — Mara Pastor (Boston Review)
About the Author
Laura Healy has received a Master’s in Spanish from Harvard. She is the managing editor of Harvard Review and the web editor of Zoland Poetry.
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It is common knowledge that Bolano considered himself first and foremost a poet and I believe he is right, although his fame here in America will derive from his fiction.
Many reviewers have spent all their time talking about Bolano and Chile, as if "The Romantic Dogs" is only a political book. However, I wonder if the reviewers made it past the first poem. Yes, there are poems that make reference to political events but how can a Latin American not be political. However, politics are only a part of the soup of existence. Bolano writes about being in the sense that a philosopher writes about being.
"The Romantic Dogs" is an amazingly cohesive work. This is not a collection of poems written as one-offs. Instead, the poems hold together through various rhetorical devices: repetition of images, symbols, and themes.
The overall theme of the work is the shortness of life, the cruelty of illness, the fragility of existence, and the the beauty of poetry.
Unifying images are dreams, blackness, white worms, snow, cars, motorcycles, burros, films, detectives.
Bolano announces in the first poem of the collection that the dream of poetry opened up the void of his spirit and accompanied him through his life.
The first poem of the collection, "The Romantic Dogs," announces this theme. "I'd lost a country/but won a dream." He adumbrates the importance of poetry in the penultimate poem of the collection "Muse:" "she's the guardian angel/ of our prayers./ She's the dream that recurs."
"The Romantic Dogs" presents a brave story--because ultimately Bolano is a dramatic poet--of a dying poet fighting to remain here in being "with the romantic dogs."
If you're like me, where you're not a huge reader of poetry but a huge fan of Bolano nonetheless, you should definitely pick it up. Most of these poems are excellent, and even the not-so-great ones are still worth reading. Here is one of my favorite poems from the collection:
I dreamt of frozen detectives, Latin American Detectives
who were trying to keep their eyes open
in the middle of the dream.
I dreamt of hideous crimes
and of careful guys
who were wary not to step in pools of blood
while taking in the crime scene
with a single sweeping glance.
I dreamt of lost detectives
in the convex mirror of the Arnolfinis:
our generation, our perspectives,
our models of fear.
These poems show an emotional level you generally don't encounter in his fiction, from creepy paranoia to stripped down poems of love and thankfulness. This deserves to be checked out by fans of Bolano and poetry in general.
Roberto Bolano's Romantic Dogs is intoxicating throughout and resists the despair that plagues most poets of his generation. Indeed Bolano never loses his sense of humor or zeal for life. His love for the world's vagabonds parallels works by North American poets Saul Williams, Said the Shotgun to the Head, and Eric Wilkinson, Black Through A Distortion Pedal. I see these three poets as a holy trinity of sorts. Each poet is situated within the historical context and culture of his own artistry but the common thread in all three is the enduring ability to believe in and love humanity in all its incarnations.
I often find the cliche that "good poetry is timeless" to be absurd but Bolano actually tempts me to make such a claim. His poems illuminate the wonderful dignity of people and the artist's eternal push to redeem our majesty.
Bolano took to writing to writing fiction as a means to support his family, but his greatest love was always poetry. He died considering himself a poet. In one interview he said, "I blush less when I reread my poetry."
After reading this collection, I understand why he always preferred poetry as an art form. Bolano as novelist is good, but Bolano as poet is everything good about his fiction plus his raw, emotive poet voice.
In short, this is some of the best poetry I've ever read. Get this. Although short, only 77+ pages (the side of the page is in Spanish, for the bilingual people), each poem in this volume stands up to repeated readings.
This is a bi-lingual edition, by the way. If you are able to read Spanish, you'll find that "much is lost" in the translations of his complex prose to English. Hardly anything is lost in the translation of these poems. For sure, there are lines that sound better in Spanish, but curiously there are also lines that sound better in English. Bolaño eschews any and all forms of beautification of language in his verse. His style is remarkably close to that of the Beat poets of the American '50s, Gregory Corso, Jack Kerouac, Peter Orlovsky, and others, though Bolaño is even grimmer and deliberately coarser and never approaches the 'fireworks' of language that Allen Ginsburg achieved in 'Howl' and other poems. I'd say he's a second-tier Beat poet at best. Of course he had "other fish to fry" and other traditions to defy. Whereas Kerouac as a poet had Robert Lowell to try to dethrone, Bolaño had Pablo Neruda as his poetic antithesis, and it's clear that a love/hate obsession drove Bolaño to attempt above all to besmirch and scarify the Apollonian beauty of Neruda's lyricism.
Obviously I don't much favor Bolaño's poetic intentions, but I could overcome that prejudice and admire his craft, as I admire the craft of Cavafy, for instance, without much enjoying the poems, but for one large problem: I don't find much craft in these 'canine' yelps. Bolaño's defiantly 'rough' poetry seems pathetically juvenile and petty to me.