Monday, June 17, 2013

Poem: Roberto Bolaño

Recently I was reading the New York Review of Books' online blog and saw that they had posted the following poem, lineated prose really, by Roberto Bolaño (1953-2003). It will appear in The Unknown University, a volume of his complete poetry--which he wrote before he turned to the prose on which his reputation rests--translated by Laura Healy, who also translated his other two collections, The Romantic Dogs (2000, published in English in 2008) and Tres (2000, published in English in 2011) to be published in a few weeks by New Directions.

As unlyrical as the following poem is, the gravity of its content does merit note; in the last decade of his life Bolaño managed to write a dozen books, some of which, including his masterpieces The Savage Detectives (1998, published in English translation in 2007), By Night in Chile (2000, published in English translation in 2003), and 2666 (2004, published in English translation in 2008), one of the greatest and most original novels in Spanish or any other language. In the poem below, he prefigures the decade to come: serious illness, unearthly fortitude, furious composition. Among the works he produced to the very end were poems, despite his fame as a fiction writer, as he never stopped seeing himself as a poet.

Toward the end of 1992 he was very sick
and had separated from his wife.
That was the goddamn truth:
he was alone and fucked
and he tended to think there was little time left.
But dreams, oblivious to sickness,
showed up every night
with a loyalty that came to surprise him.
Dreams took him to that magical country
he and no one else called Mexico City
and Lisa and the voice of Mario Santiago
reading a poem
and so many other good things worthy
of the most ardent praise.
Sick and alone, he would dream
and confront the days that passed inexorably
toward the end of another year.
And from it he gathered a bit of strength and courage.
Mexico, the phosphorescent steps in the night,
the music playing on corners
where in the past whores would freeze
(in the icy heart of Colonia Guerrero)
and would dole him out the sustenance needed
to clench his teeth
and not cry in fear.

This poem is drawn from The Unknown University, an edition of Roberto Bolaño’s complete poetry, translated by Laura Healy, to be published on July 11 by New Directions.

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