Roberto Bolaño, translated by Laura Healy
New Directions,
$15.95 (paper)

After his death in 2003, Chilean author Roberto Bolaño gained worldwide fame for his harrowing fiction, especially his monumental last work 2666. But Bolaño considered himself a poet, or as he put it in the manifesto of the Infrarealist poetry group he cofounded in Mexico in the late ’70s, “a hero revealing heroes.” This first, bilingual translation of his poetry shows Bolaño, ever obsessed with crime as an activity to be deciphered after the fact, re-imagining the poet as detective and philosopher in one. Those willing to do their own detective work will find haunting correspondences between Bolaño’s poems and fiction, as in the poem “Roadster,” which uncannily recaptures a passage from the novel The Savage Detectives in which “the black automobile vanishes.” And like Bolaño’s fiction, these poems merge anecdote with philosophical problems inherited from the Romantics, as we see in “Godzilla in Mexico”: “What are we? you asked a week or year later, / ants, bees, wrong numbers / in the big rotten soup of chance?” Or in “La Francesa”: “In the geometric multiplication of empty shop windows / And in the grave of reality, / Our absolute, / Our Voltaire, / Our philosophy of the bedroom and boudoir.” These poems do not strive to settle their philosophical inquiries so much as they seek to dramatize them, leaving the reader with the mood of the questions rather than the security of their answers. In this they may seem unfinished and, at times, adolescent. But they also radiate the audacity of intellect, as well as the cruelty of vision, that have won their author a devoted following.