Saturday, 10 December 2011

Somebody Else: Arthur Rimbaud In Africa

Somebody Else: Arthur Rimbaud in Africa

Perhaps my favourite of all my Rimbaud books. I am particularly interested in Rimbaud's African years and this book is the definitive guide, though "guide" is perhaps the operative word, given how much still remains unknown and, indeed, unknowable.

Nicholl corrects many earlier errors and explodes some well-worn myths along the way, such as the one about Rimbaud being a failed businessman in Africa, when in fact he had amassed a small fortune.

If you are interested in this period of Rimbaud's life, this is a must-have book.

Disaster Was My God

by Bruce Duffy.

I found this to be the best of the novelized versions of Rimbaud's life. The book deals mainly with Rimbaud's African years and I found it highly successful. From the New York Times review: "It’s also fun to hang around with Rimbaud and Verlaine without being stabbed or shot."

I bought the hardback edition. Out now in paperback, also.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Rimbaud Brothers

Rimbaud Brothers is a lovely little chapbook by Jose Correa. It features artwork and text (in French) of Rimbaud's "spiritual brothers" such as Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Jim Morrison, Billy the Kid, Antonin Artuad and quite a few others. Mine is number 846 of 1000.

This edition appears to be part of a series, published by Alain Beaulet.

I bought my copy from the French eBay site.

Saturday, 17 September 2011



Charleville, of course, is Rimbaud's home town. This is a book by Patti Smith, detailing her trips to Charleville, as a young woman in 1973, and then again in 2005 (parts of which can be seen in the Dream of Life documentary).

It's a beautiful book, filled with Patti's poems, drawings, notebook entries and photographs, all pertaining to Rimbaud in one way or another.

One of the most touching photographs is the one of Rimbaud's fork and spoon, which he had brought back from Africa, and had amongst his posessions at the time of his death in Marseille. See below.

This is a highly recommended book. It comes as part of a three book set called "Trois", the others being a book of photographs of statues, as photographed by Patti Smith, and a blank journal.

The publisher appears to be Foundation Cartier.

Rimbaud & Verlaine, Postcard

I picked up this postcard from ebay, recently. I have never seen one advertised before. Not sure if it's rare, but I like it a lot. The illustration is by Jacques Ferrandez.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

The Prince and the Genie

by John MacCombie.

A classic example of how every group - the surrealists, Satanists, symbolists, nihilists, existentialists, etc. - eventually tries to "claim" Rimbaud. Paul Claudel was no exception. In this book, John MacCombie demonstrates that, rather than Rimbaud the voyant, the homosexual, the sordid, sadistic, inconoclastic enfant terrible, it was Rimbaud the mystic, the spiritual seeker, the subtle poetic technician who influenced the deeply religious Claudel and who was the younger poet's poetic model as well as spiritual mentor.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011


Translation by John Ashbery.

The long-awaited Ashbery translation. My copy is a "not for sale" proof copy which was, of course, sold to me on ebay. A paperback version of a book that so far exists only in hardcover, which makes this copy something of a rarity.

The translation is crisp, vibrant, lively and every other thing you'd expect from an Ashbery translation. Having said that, it's probably not quite as radical as I might have expected. But it's very, very good.

Here is Ashbery's version of my favourite Illumination, "H":

All the monstrosities violate the atrocious gestures of Hortense. Her solitude is the erotic mechanism; her lassitude, the energy of love. Under the surveillance of a childhood she has been, at various epochs, the passionate hygiene of the races. Her door is open to human misery. There, the morality of present day beings is disincorporated into her passion or her action -- O terrible shudder of novice lovers, on the bloody ground and under the illuminating hydrogen! find Hortense.


There is a superb review, here:

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

My Poor Arthur

by Elisabeth Hanson.

Early biography. I picked up my copy in a second-hand store in Sydney, about twenty years ago. It's a pretty battered copy. I could doubtless find a superior copy online, but to me it has always been about the contents of a book, not the physicality of it.

The title, of course, refers to a line written by Madame Rimbaud to describe her son, after his death. "My poor Arthur, who never asked for anything ..."

The Poetics of Indeterminacy

By Marjorie Perloff.

Perloff argues that the map of Modernist poetry needs to be redrawn to include a central tradition which cannot properly be situated within the Romantic-Symbolist tradition dominating the early twentieth century.

Essentially, Perloff points out the limits of a linear narrative.

A very good book

Sunday, 22 May 2011

5 Poems After Rimbaud

by Sean Bonney.

Five poem broadside from Grasp Press, 2010. The poems are quite good, too.

According to the information on the back of the broadside the poems originally appeared at

Second printing of a mere 30 copies.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

A Season In Hell, Illuminations, Poems, Last Lines

I won this miniature book on ebay, part of a series called The Miniature Classics Library. It measures a mere two inches by one and one half inches. This one was published in Madrid, Spain in 2003, though the price written in pencil inside the front cover reads "4 pounds". It's quite a pleasing little edition and, whilst I don't carry it around with me in my shirt pocket, one could easily do so.

The translation, though uncredited, is that of Paul Schmidt.

It is exactly these type of quirky items that makes trawling ebay, worthwhile.

Rimbaud In Abyssinia

by Alain Borer.

The first book that looked primarily at Rimbaud's African years. It was groundbreaking work at the time. Its basic thesis, however, that Rimbaud was a failed businessman during these African ventures was, essentially discredited by the later work done by Charles Nicholl in his very excellent Somebody Else: Rimbaud In Africa.

Nevertheless, this is an essential book if you are even remotely interested in Rimbaud's non-poet life.

Friday, 20 May 2011

En relisant Rimbaud

by Eric Simon.

I received this chapbook in the mail from my friend Eric Simon, who was one of the French buyers of my book about Rimbaud, "His Crucible of Pain". Text is in French, so I can't read it, alas. But it looks wonderful and who knows, one day I might type the text into an online translator to see what Eric has to say about our shared obsession, Rimbaud.

The package also included a flyer (below) promoting - if I'm reading it properly - the 140th anniversary of the Paris Commune, and the associated celebrations.

Thank you, Eric!


Just a portrait I found online; but I really like this one.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Rimbaud: The Cost of Genius

by Neal Oxenhandler.

One of the more recent books to be published about Rimbaud. I found it a mixed bag - some more or less original insights, along with a lot of well-covered ground. Overly psychological in its approach, Oxenhandler draws a long bow on many occasions.


"Critical Guides to French Texts" by Roger Little. A nice little commentary on Les Illuminations, part of a series that also includes guides to Baudelaire, Montaigne, Rousseau and others.

I bought this book in the absurdly well-stocked Gould's Book Arcade in Newtown. I am still cleaning the grime off it.

A Season In Hell

A translation by Patricia Roseberry. This book has the curious subtitle, "The Psychological Autobiography of Arthur Rimbaud". Hmm. I bought the book online under the assumption that the book was some kind of psychological analysis of A Season In Hell. Disappointing to find that it was just one more translation of the text.

The introduction says that this translation is "strictly in conformity with the original edition". The translation, however, doesn't seem to be anything special.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

A Season In Hell

This is a beautiful edition of Season In Hell that features photography by Robert Mapplethorpe. A lovely book. The translation is that of Paul Schmidt. Mapplethorpe is on the cover, with devils horns.

The Emergence of Social Space: Rimbaud & The Paris Commune

by Kristin Ross.

I must confess, I haven't read all of this one yet.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

The Great Rimbaud Forgery

by Bruce Morrissette. Published in 1956. My copy is second-hand and is missing the dusk jacket (if one ever existed). Quite a fascinating volume, subtitled "The Affair of La Chasse spirituelle, With Unpublished Documents and an Anthology of Rimbaldian Pastiches".

For those who don't know the history, La Chasse Spirituelle is a legendary lost Rimbaud masterpiece. Paul Verlaine claimed to have read it and was once in posession of it. It seems his wife may have burned it when the affair between her husband and Rimbaud was uncovered.

This book tells the story of a forgery of that poem, published in May, 1949, in France.

Very interesting and amusing!

Translating Rimbaud's Illuminations

by Clive Scott.

I was excited to discover this book. One of my fascinations is in comparing the various translations of Rimbaud's work. Paul Schmidt remains my favourite. But frankly, I found this book a great letdown. The author posits a rather "organic" approach to translation: "setting out to invest the poems with expanded potential by reshaping them into new expressive environments." Hmm.  He suggests that the translator's imagination can operate more effectively if it fully exploits the space of the page, if it adopts tabular rather than linear ways of thinking.

Sunday, 1 May 2011


By Pierre Petitfils

One of a half dozen major biographies in English. I bought this book from the incomparable Collected Works Bookshop in Melbourne, back in the mid 1990s. Previously I'd owned only the Starkie biography. This book corrected a lot of innacuracies put forward by Starkie.

Rimbaud: The Double Life of a Rebel

By Edmund White.

Briefish biography by the esteemed Edmund White, whom I was formerly familiar with via his work on Genet. As with Miller's book on Rimbaud, White enters his subject via a personal account of how he came to read Rimbaud as a schoolboy.

"Buoyed up by the sensual delirium of the long poem 'The Drunken Boat,' I would float off into daydreams of exotic climes."

This book gives special attention to Rimbaud's London years with Verlaine.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Rimbaud: A Critical Introduction

by C.A. Hackett

Pretty sure this was the first book on Rimbaud that I ever bought. I remember paying three figures for it. I see it on Abebooks, now, for just a few dollars. My copy is getting pretty tattered and I probably need an upgrade.

Hackett is one of the heavy hitters in the world of Rimbaud and this book was way over my head when I bought it as a 20 year old. I learnt a lot from it, though. I should read it again.

I Promise To Be Good

The Letters of Arthur Rimbaud, translated and with introduction by Wyatt Mason.

I love Rimbaud's letters - particularly those from Africa - as much, if not more than, Rimbaud's poetry itself. It has always seemed fascinating to me how Rimbaud was never quite able to sever all ties with his old life, that he kept alive that little sliver of his past, through his constant communicaton via mail with his mother and sister. The letters themselves are a multitude of ambiguities, at once tragic, hilarious, mundane, profound and inexplicable. How I love his tone! "I have not found here what I expected to find and shall soon be moving on" ... "In these accursed zones" ...

Of course, all of the letters are here, not just those from Africa, including the famous Letter of the Voyant. It's fascinating to follow the course of Rimbaud's life through his letters alone - from the early letters to Izambard filled with such youthful exuberance and zest for discovery and life, to the broken spirited, shell of a man in his last days in Marseille.

Rimbaud's Theatre of the Self

by James Lawler.

"In a new interpretation of a poet who has swayed the course of modern poetry - in France and elsewhere - James Lawler focuses on what he demonstrates is the crux of Rimbaud's imagination: the masks and adopted personas with which he regularly tested his identity and his art."

This is undoubtedly a fine book. However, it suffers from the same problem as quite a few other critical works on French writers: it quotes from the original French without offering a translation for the benefit of those who are English-only readers. Oh well.

Sunday, 24 April 2011


By Jeremy Reed.

This is a fantastic book, one of my favourites. From the blurb: "Reed presents a personal and original interpretation of the poet's life in the crucial peroid in 1873 when Rimbaud was living out the writing of Une saison en enfer."

Reed is particularly successful at conveying the existential anguish our boy must have been feeling during the writing of his "farewell to literature".

Delirium also includes several of Reed's own translations of Rimbaud's work, though he calls them "imitations in the style of Robert Lowell".

My copy is a first edition, hardback, in near mint condition.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

The Poetry of Rimbaud

The Poetry of Rimbaud by Robert Greer Cohn.

A major critical work by Robert Greer Cohn, best known for his work on Mallarme.

My copy is in mint condition.

I must admit I found this one fairly heavy going. A big problem for me is that whenever lines of Rimbaud are quoted during the analysis, there is no corresponding English translation, so I'm always having to guess which lines Cohn is actually talking about. Nevertheless, that's more of a personal failing on my part than one of Cohn, since by now I should have learned French, right?

"Perhaps the best study of Rimbaud in any language." - Henri Peyre.

Sketch For A Portrait Of Rimbaud

Brief biography by Humphrey Hare. No publication date but I suspect the 1940s. Put out by the Brendin Publishing Company.

My copy is in fairly ordinary condition with some scuffing to the cover. One of the earliest of the Rimbaud biographies and a reasonably difficult one to source. I think I found mine at Abebooks.

As far as biographies go this one is non-essential, but certainly worth having as part of the collection.

From Absinthe To Abyssinia

Selected Miscellaneous, Obscure and Previously Untranslated Works. Translated by Mark Spitzer.

Quite an interesting little book. Spitzer collects together some less known pieces. He says, "After more than a century of affecting the landscape of poetry, it's amazing that a poet as vital as Rimbaud could have such an important body of work that has gone untranslated and unpublished in the English language up until now."

Spitzer also takes a shot at some of Rimbaud's best known translators - Louis Varese, Wallace Fowlie and Oliver Bernard - for "misunderstanding the poetry, and consequently leaving less than accurate impressions of his work."

Les Illuminations

Selections from Les Illuminations, translated by Helen Rootham. A New Directions Paperback.

I picked up this one from eBay for a very reasonable price, despite some very competitive bidding. It was a little disappointing in that some of my favourite Illuminations are not included. Still, the translations of the poems that are included are reasonably bright and vibrant, and it's well worth owning.

The very interesting cover drawing is the work of Alfonso Ossorio.

Friday, 22 April 2011

The Book of Rimbaud

Chapbook of prose poems by Keith Abbott, published by New Rivers Press in 1977. 46 pages. One of only 750 copies.

The author says that in 1972 he became interested in "certain psychic phenomena" and these poems, apparently written in a trance-like state, are the result of that interest.


Rimbaud lifted the curtain of green grass and showed me the feet, brown and muddy, that were marching underneath. The boots were ripped and tattered, leather scraps wound carefully around the tops to hold them close to the legs, and just as I was about to reach out and touch them, I found my hand resting on a small square of green turf.

The book also includes a portrait of Rimbaud, though there's no mention of who made it. Perhaps the author, himself?


I found this gem in a second-hand bookstore in Stockholm, Sweden. (Online, of course.) It features around a dozen essays on Rimbaud from the likes of Yves Bonnefoy, Etiemble, Antoine Adam and Maurice Nadeau. Unfortunately they're in French, so I can't read them.

However, that doesn't matter, because what mainly drew me to this book is that it's packed with drawings, paintings, facsimilies and even quite a few tipped-in coloured plates - a real smorgasbord for the eyes.

Among my favourite portraits are those of Fernand Leger (above) and Pablo Picasso (below)

If you can locate a copy of this book, I highly recommend it - whether you can read the French or not. Along with the Album Rimbaud it is the best book when it comes to photographs, drawings and paintings. But good luck in finding a copy!

The Time of the Assassins

A study of Rimbaud, by Henry Miller. I have the New Directions Paperback edition.

In typical Henry Miller fashion this book digresses somewhat from the subject of Rimbaud, but it's really a book as much about Miller's literary journey as about Rimbaud himself.

"In Rimbaud," writes Miller, "I see myself as a mirror."

Here was another wanderer, a man both in the world and outside it, another spirit in revolt who was caught in a destiny difficult to define and surmount.

I like personal accounts of discovering Rimbaud, and this is one of the best.

This one was a real find. A collection of writings brought together for a major celebration mounted by Plymouth Arts Centre to mark the occasion of the centenary of the death of Rimbaud. Contributors include Oliver Bernard, C.A. Hackett and Rene Char.

Poems, prose poems, prose and translations, also a few paintings, drawings and some collage work.

Well worth hunting down. Scarce!

From the back cover blurb: "... forms a tribute from numerous writers and artists and offers proof of the powerful impact and enduring appreciation of Rimbaud in Britain today."