Bolaño owes part of his cult-like status to his uncanny ability to transmute the romantic myth of the poet into narrative gold, and to the ensuing reversal of the terms of poetry and fiction’s traditional relationship to the market. He managed to create—mainly through The Savage Detectives—a healthy demand for his up until then marginal poetry. The dates of composition of the three distinct poetry works comprising Tres are worth noting, then. Although the collection was published in Barcelona in 2000, on the heels of the success of The Savage Detectives, Bolaño penned each of its sections in Catalonia before he wrote the novel but after his definitive departure from Mexico in 1977 had put an end to his Infrarrealista years. If Bolaño’s other poetry book in English, The Romantic Dogs, is more indicative of infrarrealismoTres offers a glimpse of Bolaño the novelist to-be honing his gifts at crafting multiple personae—each one equally persuasive—in hybridized poems being swayed by the magnetic pull of fiction.

 

(New Directions, 2011)

 

 

Bolaño owes part of his cult-like status to his uncanny ability to transmute the romantic myth of the poet into narrative gold, and to the ensuing reversal of the terms of poetry and fiction’s traditional relationship to the market. He managed to create—mainly through The Savage Detectives—a healthy demand for his up until then marginal poetry. The dates of composition of the three distinct poetry works comprising Tres are worth noting, then. Although the collection was published in Barcelona in 2000, on the heels of the success of The Savage Detectives, Bolaño penned each of its sections in Catalonia before he wrote the novel but after his definitive departure from Mexico in 1977 had put an end to his Infrarrealista years. If Bolaño’s other poetry book in English, The Romantic Dogs, is more indicative of infrarrealismo, Tres offers a glimpse of Bolaño the novelist to-be honing his gifts at crafting multiple personae—each one equally persuasive—in hybridized poems being swayed by the magnetic pull of fiction. Both poetry collections have been translated unfussily by Laura Healy, who proves a master at capturing Bolaño’s rapid-fire delivery and whose experience becomes all the more apparent in Tres. The collection begins with “Prose from Autumn in Gerona,” a series of self-reflective, kaleidoscopic prose poems from 1981 which are narrated by a voice jump cutting from the first to the second person at will. A you who is also a lovelorn I and the “pale protagonist” of a dreamy, filmic narrative moving forward and backward figures in the poems. His author, a figure at times indistinguishable from Bolaño, also appears throughout. Casting a twofold shadow of himself on the text, Bolaño is both the character of the jobless immigrant writer whose visa is about to expire and the author of that character’s narrative. The result is carefully orchestrated chaos, a hallucinatory hall of mirrors where the text itself, like the mirror in the room of the “pale protagonist,” is “the reflection that sucks up everything.” This fact is not lost on the character’s claustrophobic love object, who at some point before disappearing—or having her “Atlantis moment,” in Bolaño speak—will scream: “Cut it out with this bullshit text!” Second in Tres is the long poem-cum-road film “The Neochileans,” completed in 1993 in the beach town of Blanes, where Bolaño ultimately settled. Of the three works in the book, it is the most in keeping with the maudit spirit of The Savage Detectives, although its protagonists are not aspiring poets but rather the daredevil members of an eponymous rock band traveling north to a heavily militarized “Peru of legend.” Deceptively simple and short, breezy lines appear to have flowed carefree as the author reminisced, as if in keeping with the band’s modus operandi of “Pure inspiration / And no method at all.” They go from pean to the land the band crisscrossed—with clusters of place-names punctuating the narrative, as in “Mapocho, Negreiros, Santa / Catalina, Tana, / Cuya and / Arica”—to a tender view on the disconnect between the band’s revolutionary aspirations and their meager reception when “Playing in empty banquet halls / And brothels converted / Into Lilliputian hospitals” or under the sponsorship of “the Society / for the Promotion of Art / and Youth.” The collection ends with “A Stroll through Literature”—57 dispatches from Bolaño’s dreamlife also written in Blanes in 1994, the majority of them in prose and completing the anaphora “I dreamt that….” As if to refute the commonplace that accounts of other people’s dreams are utterly boring, here Bolaño interacts with Georges Perec, with Whitman and Mark Twain, with Manuel Puig, Enrique Lihn, and even Stendhal’s ghost. He 69s with Anaïs Nin and fucks Carson McCullers and “feels irrationally happy.” The Bolaño who appears here is one who once dreamt he “was an old, sick detective … looking for people lost long ago. I’d look at myself casually in the mirror and recognize Roberto Bolaño.” In “Borges and I,” Borges famously wrote: “I live … so that Borges can spin out his literature, and that literature is my justification. I willingly admit that he has written a number of sound pages, but those pages will not save me, perhaps because the good in them no longer belongs to any individual … but rather to language itself, or to tradition.” The self we see refracted in “A Stroll through Literature” aspires to share Borges’s dilemma—evidence that Bolaño had an inkling of the place he was staking out for himself in the literary pantheon, among the greats. 

 

 

 

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