Bolaño's crude depictions of North American Poets (NAZI LITERATURE IN THE AMERICAS New Directions Press, Copyright 1996 by Roberto Bolaño, Copyright 2008 by the Heirs of Roberto Bolaño, Translation Copyright 2008 by Chris Andrews) is a chapter of the book that circumnavigates a vast portion of the globe (primarily in terms of location as opposed to experience) and focuses on the fictitious lives of two renowned poets, clinging (at different ends of the spectrum) onto their insecurities and prejudices, in accordance with the encyclopedically structured biographies of their fascist predecessors.
Jim O Bannon and1 Rory Long come to terms with nothing shy of their own narcissism in California, the former expiring in Long Beach and the latter in Laguna Beach.
"He grew fat (at one point he weighed 265 pounds) and rich, and soon he went where rich people go: California."
Jim O'Bannon's story is that of the self-proclaimed outlaw, worshipping in vain at the precedent set by the Beat generation. During his adolescence, O'Bannon dedicates many of his works to that aesthetic and its forerunners, corresponding through elaborate letters with a supposed three key figures of the movement (their identities are not altogether revealed).
"Jim O'Bannon, poet and football player, was equally susceptible to the allure of force and a yearning for delicate, perishable things."
In the chapter's introductory sentence, we find a conflict that overshadows many writers of poetry in contemporary society. Of course, being a North American writer, I see in myself a constant struggle to pin down all that is unique and consequential- typically found in much more subtle themes like body movement and nature- while maintaining a visceral and discerning imagination for possibilities and potential.
O'Bannon is set against both sides of himself immediately longing for something that is far beyond his grasp, and anxious to mull over the obstacles in an I-Formation, full-on tackle with full-fledged disregard for consequence.
Upon his introduction to Allen Ginsberg and "a black poet in a hotel in the Village.", Bolaño seemingly invokes a discriminatory and down-played depiction of whom I interpreted to be Amiri Baraka.
Throughout Bolaño's digested body of work, I have noticed a tendency of depicting African American characters in a negative connotation, and if not negative, completely indifferent or not altogether clear as to their involvement in the overall arch of the story. For instance, in the unfinished novel 2666, the journalist Fate serves as nothing more than a go-between or middleman for the centrifugal interactions between a devoted professor, his daughter, a Texas Ranger, ritualistic rapists, and a pair of highly mismatched boxers (who were equally as forgettable). All of which occurs in a chapter titled after the black journalist (The Part About Fate).
"Then Ginsberg and the black guy suggested they make love. At first O'Bannon didn't understand. When one of the poets started to undress him and the other began to stroke him, the terrible truth dawned."
What we have here is the subtle premise for O'Bannon's future motivations, evolving later into full blown racism and xenophobia, alluding to the strong possibility that this is the beginning of his hatred for the Jews and Blacks. Being familiar with Georgia, as a reader, I felt more or less like it was (if not, should have) been implied that it was not that far of a stretch for this character to develop into an outspoken racist, and in fact, this is a stigma that follows many Georgians throughout the United States, much like my own difficulty with getting people to acknowledge that not everyone from Kentucky has an 8th grade reading comprehension and is constantly walking around in their bare feet. But as I wiped the pigeon shit from my sandals on a New Mexican porch step, I couldn't help but wonder if this impression of Jim cannot be directly linked to my own interactions with the state of Georgia. Aside from my personal convictions, he attributes the experience of "The Village Hotel" to an overbearing sense of empathy; his utter disbelief and2 honorary right to seek what he felt was justice- found in a poem entitled "The Walker":
"... in which an angel crosses New York City on foot without encountering a single righteous man."
In the following segmented paragraph, Bolaño categorizes the gravitational trend of North American poetry. It is a relatively timeless chart of motivations, that every gringo North of Juarez with the inclination find themselves categorized from one time to another.
"He also wrote his major poem of estrangement from the Beats, an apocalyptic text that transports the reader to various scenes from history and places in the human soul"
- "(the siege of Atlanta by Sherman's troops;"—
This describes American poets who write historically of loss and bravery. The style is typically found in those whose work centers around key points of battle or conflict that contribute to the current dereliction of their modern neighborhood.
- "the death throes of a Greek shepherd boy;"—
This describes American poets who cling to the delicate rim of nature. The narrative voice regales its readers with obscenely, incomprehensible deluge—sometimes regarding Utopian possibilities, and call for an adherence to the faithful and morally sound existence.
- "daily life in small towns"—
... American poets who use only their respected vernacular; unaspiring enthusiasts who prefer their stylistic contradictions to those of their peers. These are the ones that present the world in all its grey luster. Life, by estimation eternity, exists solely within the confines of their kitchen windows, their local barbershops, the air from the nose of a panting dog asleep at their feet, etc.
- "caves inhabited by homosexuals, Jews and African Americans;"—
... poets who fill the senses with their deepest and unadmitted fears, their hatred and incessant suspicions, and regurgitate them in helpless, violent, and lucidly- constructed visions. These are the ones who belong to the more or less cryptic sect of the "community"—unaware that at certain points, their subtleties give them away far more than their secrets.
- "the redeeming sword that hangs over every head, forged from an alloy of gold-colored metals)."—
Here is the self-righteous poet; the preachers wearing 8X10 sheets over their heads, so they can only see and hear their own reflections, their own voices... The Ku Klux Klan are known to employ such tactics.
By the time O'Bannon crosses Europe, spends his Daniel Stone Fellowship money (for the Development of Young Artists) meets new influences such as Etienne de Saint-Etienne, Jules Albert Ramis, and finds work at a hotel in Dieppe,
"The hotel turned out to be more like a cemetery,"
He finds his true inspiration in none other than the grey skies over the English Channel; nothing but revilement in his memories of America. Jim O'Bannon finds cliché love (which ultimately feels more like creative attachment by the end of the story) and even notoriety among the old circles across the drink.
The iconoclasts of his generation, specifically Ginsberg, express indifference to O'Bannon and the mounting attention the poet receives for a book entitled The Way of The Brave. It's as if the author (Bolaño) believed indifference to be a sign of utmost sincerity, after taking into account that these are the people who, in reality had success in the (global) poetic forefront.
But then again, since when has sincerity been altogether associated with success?
"... a singular vision of nature (a strangely empty nature, devoid of animal life, turbulent and sovereign) with a clear bent for personal insults, defamation and libel, not to mention the threats and bragging that recur, one way or another, in every poem."
It's a common occurrence that minimal success leads to the stagnant dissipation of a poet's talent; and this is how we leave Jim O'Bannon. The records of numerous achievements are lost to history; the remainder of his days spent mostly collaborating with universities and nostalgic editors/publishing houses. Soon he finds that there are only anthologies of his "best work". Everything becomes volumized and repeated. Time complacently slips away, leaving only a minimal amount of regret, and an irrefutable case of anti-semitism and homophobia;
"although at the time of his death he was beginning, gradually, to accept African Americans."
1 Locale does little to dilute what Bolaño considers the potent shares of the North American Poet. In the story of Rory Long, you will find the gravitational tendency toward idol worship and subjectivity to the whimsical, often animated or overindulged history of the craft. Names become unsavory or plain, while descriptions of the poet's love affair with "The Book"(bible) remain genteel and illustrious.
"And Rory Long supposed that the Bible was "open" poetry, and that the great multitudes moving or crawling in the shadow of the Book were ideal readers, hungry for the luminous word...
He had to populate and explore the edifice, so the first thing he did was buy a Bible since he couldn't find one in the house. And then he began to memorize passage after passage, and saw that the poetry spoke directly to his heart."
Equally engaging were the lessons Charles Olson imparted on a younger Rory (rather through subversive means or directly are left to reader's interpretation) regarding projective and non projective verse.
"In any case, to summarize: non-projective verse conforms to traditional versification; it's personal, "closed" poetry, in which it is always possible to detect the self regard of the citizen-poet, fondling his navel or his balls, complacently displaying his joys or woes; by contrast, projective verse exemplified on occasion by the work of Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams, is "open," the poetry of "displaced energy," written according to a technique analogous to "composition by fields." In a word, and to fall into the very same hole as Olson, projective verse is the opposite of non-projective verse."
"Or that was how young Rory Long saw it, anyway."
Upon its finale, the story of Rory leaves us disillusioned with our idols, but not their lessons. As cheap as that may sound, it makes perfect sense that we not choose adoration/honor to another person over what they can teach us about ourselves.
(I guess that sounds more selfish than anything in retrospect.)
But when we find our vision, the body suffers and who better to carry your suffering than you? And, it's plainly clear, from the current circumstances, that we can't put our entire stock in others. When all is said and done, we eventually regress back to the sole tomb in which we were first born, and poets are no different in that respect. In particular, the craft of the North American poet can be compared to the likes of an uterine casket. We kick against its constraints until we're pushed out onto our own, covered in a placebic assurance that we can do anything but decompose.
2 "In spite of the blows he had received, Ginsberg included four of O'Bannon's poems in a Beat anthology, which was published a year later in New York. O'Bannon, who by that time was back in Georgia, wanted to sue Ginsberg and the publisher. His lawyer advised him against taking legal action. He decided to go back to New York and personally administer the lesson."
—Nazi Literature In The Americas, pg. 138.