Anatomy of the Detective Genre in Roberto Bolano's Poetry

By Pasten B., J. Agustin | Chasqui, May 2013 | Go to article overview

Anatomy of the Detective Genre in Roberto Bolano's Poetry


Pasten B., J. Agustin, Chasqui


Introduction

Why study the poetry of an author whose meteoric rise to fame is due to his fiction? Fundamentally for three reasons. First and foremost, because some of the major themes of his novels and short stories are partially developed in his poems. Secondly, because, stylistically at least, Bolano's poetry is essentially narrative, which means that many if not all of his poems contain most of the elements of fiction. (1) In one of the earliest assessments of Bolano's poetry, critic and writer Alejandro Zambra states it as a paradox: "Bolano, como poeta, es un excelente narrador, pero no cabe duda de que como narrador es un magnifico poeta" (185). (2) And, thirdly, because he starts his literary career as a poet and celebrates poetry until the very end of his untimely death in 2003. In "Musa," a homage and also a petition to poetry and one of Bolano's most autobiographical poems, the poetic voice states:

   Era mas Hermosa que el sol
   y yo aun no tenia 16 anos.
   24 han pasado
   y sigue a mi lado.

   Ah, Musa, protegeme, le digo,

   Nunca te separes de mi

   Musa, adondequiera
   que yo vaya
   tu vas.
   Te vi en los hospitales

   y en la fila
   de los presos politicos.

   Y aunque pasen los anos

   y el Roberto Bolano de la Alameda

   se haga mas tonto y mas viejo
   tu permaneceras igual de hermosa"
   (La universidad desconocida 438-40). (3)

And in Amuleto, as Auxilio Lacouture, the novel' s protagonist, prophesizes the future of certain very well-known authors--James Joyce, Cesar Vallejo and Maiakovski, among others--she solemnly declares, "La poesia no desaparecera" (134). Bolano published five books of poetry: Reinventar el amor (1976), El ultimo salvaje (1995), Los perros romanticos (1995, 2006), Tres (2000), and Fragmentos de la universidad desconocida (1993). He also published Muchachos desnudos bajo el arcoiris. 11 poetas latinoamericanos (1979), an anthology which includes some of his own poems. (4) Posthumously, in 2007, Anagrama put out La universidad desconocida, a book which incorporates not only all of Bolano's poetry published during his life time but also poems which were found among his various notebooks and on the hard disk of his computer. This 2007 book also includes the entire set of texts from Amberes (1980), a hard-to-classify book which the author himself calls his "novela" in the prologue to the 2002 edition (9). (5) Chronologically speaking, Bolano's poetic output extends from the late seventies to the early-nineties approximately, which means that he consciously left out the poems he wrote during his very important stay in Mexico (1968-1977), (6) that is, the period of the infrarrealismo movement he contributed to found. In a recent article on his poetry, Luis Bague Quilez writes, "Desde entonces [i.e., from 1977 on], Bolano avanza en solitario y considera el infrarrealismo como un pecado de juventud del que no es necesario arrepentirse, pero que ha quedado sepultado junto con los ideales de un tiempo proclive a la utopia" (491).

My goal in this study is to focus on an aspect of Bolano's poetry which bears a direct relationship to his fiction: the frequent allusion to detectives and policemen in many of his poems. (7) Unlike Bague Quilez, however, who centers his attention on the relationship between the author and the poetas detective and whose chief function is to reflect upon literature (496-97), or Adriana Castillo de Berchenko, who analyses only in passing what she calls the "poeta-detective" (45) in Los perros romanticos and Tres, I seek to provide a kind of overall protohistory of the detective genre in Bolano's poetic production. It could be argued, in fact--especially if one takes into account narrative texts such as Monsieur Pain (1982-1983; 1992), La pista de hielo (1993), Estrella distante (1996), Los detectives salvajes (1998), and, of course, 2666 (2004)--that the theme of the detective and its ancillary realities--such as a crime (real or not), a search, marginal spaces and people, among others--onstitute a kind of master trope of the author's total literary production. …

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