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Though I’d never recommend the majority of his work to young students, Roberto Bolaño’s poem, “Godzilla in Mexico,” is a one-time exception. I stumbled across this poem, which appears in the collection, The Romantic Dogs, with great surprise, since Bolaño always has a fun time bashing poets in his fiction. It’s a startling poem, an apocalyptic vision of Mexico City under attack by poisoned air that soon kills a father and his son, who then seemingly awake and ask, “What are we?” It’s both childish and morbid. The kid is “watching / cartoons on TV” just before his father realizes they are “going to die.” This begs the question: How do we talk about death with youth? It’s usually a taboo subject to bring up with youth, but I think it’s a topic that’d be interesting to hear about from their perspective. The poem’s title alludes to Godzilla, something I remember watching as a kid, so it seems Bolaño is trying to equate death, a very serious subject, with something a little more monster-like, like something we’ve watched on TV, as the child does in the poem. With this in mind, consider the following prompts after reading the poem aloud:
1. Bolaño sets the stage with a realistic setting (father and son watching cartoons) paired with a fantastical tone (the title, poisoned air, and the allusion to reincarnation). Use this combination of the mundane and the fantastic to create a setting for an imitation poem.
2. To add to the above prompt, think back on a childhood memory between you and a parent and what emotions that evoked or still evoke now.
3. What words or images are most memorable to you in the poem?
4. Pick your favorite line and discuss it with a friend. Why did you pick the line?
5. Use a monster or villain from pop culture as a standing image of death in your imitation poem.
Roberto Bolaño was born in Chile in 1953, and grew up in Spain and Mexico. Starting as a poet, he founded the Infrarealism movement in Mexico before becoming a novelist. His first majorly recognized novel, The Savage Detectives, published in Spanish in 1998, won him international acclaim, along with his novel 2666, posthumously published in Spanish in 2004, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. He died in 2003 due to longstanding health issues.
Colter Ruland is from Tucson and a recent graduate of The University of Arizona, majoring in English. He's a contributing writer to The Wordplay blog.