With "2666," Roberto Bolano is now a sensation in the United States. "2666" is a remarkable book, full of engrossing narratives; however, I find "The Romantic Dogs" in some respects more satisfying.
It is common knowledge that Bolano considered himself first and foremost a poet and I believe he is right, although his fame here in America will derive from his fiction.
Many reviewers have spent all their time talking about Bolano and Chile, as if "The Romantic Dogs" is only a political book. However, I wonder if the reviewers made it past the first poem. Yes, there are poems that make reference to political events but how can a Latin American not be political. However, politics are only a part of the soup of existence. Bolano writes about being in the sense that a philosopher writes about being.
"The Romantic Dogs" is an amazingly cohesive work. This is not a collection of poems written as one-offs. Instead, the poems hold together through various rhetorical devices: repetition of images, symbols, and themes.
The overall theme of the work is the shortness of life, the cruelty of illness, the fragility of existence, and the the beauty of poetry.
Unifying images are dreams, blackness, white worms, snow, cars, motorcycles, burros, films, detectives.
Bolano announces in the first poem of the collection that the dream of poetry opened up the void of his spirit and accompanied him through his life.
The first poem of the collection, "The Romantic Dogs," announces this theme. "I'd lost a country/but won a dream." He adumbrates the importance of poetry in the penultimate poem of the collection "Muse:" "she's the guardian angel/ of our prayers./ She's the dream that recurs."
"The Romantic Dogs" presents a brave story--because ultimately Bolano is a dramatic poet--of a dying poet fighting to remain here in being "with the romantic dogs."