Roberto Bolano, an Appreciation
by Ron Kolm
So you’re a young poet, and you’ve just heard a pretty good reading at Gathering of Tribes on Third Street, and you had yourself a beer or two during the event, which you didn’t pay for because you’re broke and the amount of rent you pay for your East Village walk-up is exorbitant, but you mean well, you’re not a bad person; you’ll drop some extra change in the hat next time you come. And now you find yourself outside on the sidewalk with a gaggle of your friends, who are also poets, trying to decide which local watering hole you should all head for. Let’s say you end up at the Parkside Lounge on East Houston Street, watching your buddies shoot pool — all the while caging drinks from them; obviously you’re still without cash, and the best strategy here is to get one of the folks who’s better off at this moment to buy a pitcher – and you manage to pull that off – heck, maybe you can get him to buy two pitchers; it’s worth considering. And then your friends who have been shooting pool come back to the table; they’ve all lost to the regulars who have better chops, poolwise.
And now everyone crowds around the table, talking a little too loudly, and getting all excited as the conversation turns, as it always does, to ‘what are you reading? Who are your favorite authors? Who do you think will last?’ And all the usual names come up; Faulkner, Woolf, Joyce; because you and your gang all are college grads; hell, most of you took creative writing courses in school, and there’s even an MFA or two among the group. So someone says, “Umm, I don’t know, maybe Jonathan Franzen?” And everyone shrugs uneasily and looks down at their beers. And then someone else posits, “What about Johathan Safran Foer?” – followed by more uncomfortable shuffling around, as someone to your left replies, “Maybe not so much…”
And then you speak up, the beer making you bold: “Roberto Bolano; he’s the real thing! He’ll last!” And this is followed by a brief silence, some murmurs of assent, and then someone, and there’s always someone, asks, “Who’s that? Never heard of him.” And then you break into your Bolano routine.
“Ah,” you say, “He’s a Kerouac/Joyce smoothie! He was as smart as Joyce, and he travelled as widely and worked enough dead-beat jobs to rival Mister Kerouac!”