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."