"The Unknown University" by Roberto Bolaño

This is especially for the Bolaño completists. Chilean author Roberto Bolaño is better known for his novels and short fiction but he always considered himself a poet first and foremost (he only took up writing fiction after the birth of his son when he was 40). Since his death, a steady stream of his work has been published in translation and has placed him at the top of the literary ladder the world over.


This book is a mammoth collection of all of Bolaños poetry. Clocking in at over 800 pages, it’s quite a read and his poetry is just as powerful as his prose. Many of these poems are deeply personal, often recalling his youth while still living in Mexico as well as his early days in Barcelona before finally ending up in Blanes off the Mediterranean coast, where he lived until the end of his life.


The poems reflect his deep love for literature and poetry, especially poets such as Nicanor Parra, Cesar Vallejo and Gilberto Owen. The style of most of these poems could be described as “post-Beat” and there is a Beat influence on a lot of this work. His style is free form, sometimes experimental, sometimes highly lyrical. The more experimental prose poems such as People Walking Away (later published as Antwerp) recalls William S. Boroughs and concerns itself with a time he worked as a watchman at a campground in the suburbs of Barcelona. There are poems about love, sex, death, literature, life, all written with his own unique style that the world has eventually come to know and love.


It was a pleasure reading these poems because they give a little insight into who Roberto Bolaño the man was rather than just a highly respected literary figure. Sometimes the poems veer off into surrealist territory (ala Nicanor Parra) while other times they are very touching (as are the poems written to his then four year old son). The later poems — particularly those to his son — were written while Bolaño was ill as he worried that he wouldn’t be around much longer to watch his son grow up. Touching and sad and very powerful work.


If you’ve read all the fiction (which I am still working my way through) you can’t go wrong here. The Unknown University shows another side to Bolaño’s literary output, which was prolific and immense. A must for fans of his work as well as any admirer of the more experimental and less traditional poetry. A true giant who left this world much too early.

Source: http://www.juliangallo66.blogspot.com