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Fragments of the Particular

The Romantic Dogs by Roberto Bolaño

Reginald Harris

  The Romantic Dogs.
Roberto Bolaño.
Laura Healy, translator.
New Directions, 2008.
128 pages, $15.95 (paperback).
ISBN: 0811218015 (Library of Congress).
Buy at Amazon.

A Chilean educated in Mexico can withstand everything,
I thought, but it wasn't true.

("Dirty, Poorly Dressed")

Readers of The Romantic Dogs, lucidly translated in this bilingual edition by Laura Healy, will find it a supplement to the late Chilean author Roberto Bolaño's fiction. The first collection of his verse to be translated into English, the poems written from 1980 to 1998 contain many of the tropes, characters, and concerns of his fiction—writers and other misfits, life on margins of society, and tales told by narrators who are slightly askew stand-ins for the author. Even versions of his Savage Detectives make any number of appearances, and one can easily imagine these spoken-word-like poems recited in bars, clubs, and coffee shops of Mexico City:

I was a fifteen year old emigrant but the first thing they
  tell me, the streets of Mexico,
is that, there, we're all emigrants, emigrants of the Spirit.

("Visit to the Convalescent")

Displaying a range of influences from Lorca, and fellow Chilean Nicanor Parra, to Andre Breton, and 1940s and '50s U.S. popular culture, the poems also further explore Bolaño's interest in "the fabric of the particular," and the mysteries lurking behind the everyday. However an explanatory note about his work as a poet, including information about some of the friends and writers Bolaño mentions here would have been a very useful addition to this volume. Although he primarily thought of himself as a poet, The Romantic Dogs may not be the best place for those wishing to start exploring Bolaño's work. Those new to him may be better served by reading his short stories (Last Evenings on Earth) or a novella like By Night in Chile, before scaling the Himalaya of 2666. Here one finds more distilled snapshots from the keen-eyed, wandering Bolaño as he ranges across subjects and ideas, Like someone stirring coals and remembering ("Half-Baked").

. . .