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I Admire the Poet's Prose ...
on July 6, 2010
In fact, I regard several of Roberto Bolaño's highly original prose works as major masterpieces of our times. There are passages in "Distant Star" and "By Night in Chile" that could be clipped and recast as 'found poems', and that would resonate more poetically than any of the pieces in this collection. Bolaño's prose, I have to say, is more musical than his poetry, and a lot more "thought-provoking," yet Bolaño himself is supposed to have declared more satisfaction with his poems than with his novels. Of course, writers aren't always the best judges of their own works.
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.