The Best Gang
by Roberto Bolano
If I had to hold up the most heavily guarded bank in Europe and I could choose my partners in crime, I'd take a gang of five poets, no question about it. Five real poets, Apollonian or Dionysian, but always real, ready to live and die like poets. No one in the world is as brave as a poet. No one faces disaster with more dignity and understanding. They seem weak, these readers of Guido Cavalcanti and Arnaut Daniel, these readers of the deserter Archilochus who picked his way across a field of bones. And they work in the void of the world, like astronauts marooned on dead-end planets, in deserts where there are no readers or publishers, just grammatical constructions or stupid songs sung not by men but by ghosts. In the guild of writers they're the greatest and least sought-after jewel. When some deluded kid at sixteen or seventeen decides to be a poet, it's a guaranteed family tragedy, Gay Jew, half black, half Bolshevik: the Siberia of the poet's exile tends to bring shame on his family, too. Readers of Baudelaire don't have it easy in high school, or with their schoolmates, much less with their teachers. But their fragility is deceptive. So is their humor and the fickleness of their declarations of love. Behind these shadowy fronts are probably the toughest people in the world, and definitely the bravest. Not for nothing are they descended from Orpheus, who set the stroke for the Argonauts and who descended into hell and came up again, less alive than before but still alive. If I had to hold up the most heavily fortified bank in America, I'd take a gang of poets. The attempt would probably end in disaster, but it would be beautiful.
A poet at heart, Roberto Bolano (Chilean, 1953-2003) set himself to writing prose -- mostly short stories and novels -- to support his family after the birth of his first child. Late in life he received acclaim when he was awarded the Romulo Gallegos Prize for his novel The Savage Detectives. After many years of poor health, he died at age 50 waiting for a liver transplant. His monumental work of over eight hundred pages, 2666, was published posthumously. "The Best Gang" appears in Between Parenthesis: Essays, Articles, and Speeches, 1998-2003, translated by Natasha Wimmer.
For a fictionalized account of the final illness of Cesar Vallejo, the poet featured in the previous blog entry, see Roberto Bolano's Monsieur Pain.
From My Commonplace Book - 61 - a little prose for National Poetry Month
Blog entry posted by Merry, Apr 14, 2012.