by Jane Palmer
Apr 26, 2019
Portrait of Arthur Rimbaud in 1872 by Etienne Carjat
Portrait of Arthur Rimbaud at the age of seventeen
Étienne Carjat [Public domain]

I was introduced to French poet, Arthur Rimbaud in the late 1970’s, during my college-interruptus phase when his poetry was cultural currency in the bar and coffee shop conversations of New Orleans. Rimbaud’s awesome, irreverent voice has renewed and retained its legendary status with each subsequent generation, continuing this tradition of speaking to the alienated and unaffiliated since its initial emergence on the Parisian scene in the 1870’s. Yet Rimbaud became an acknowledged legend even while he was alive, upending French literary traditions in his teens and enhancing new poetic forms. By the time he retired from writing poetry at the age of 21, he had already cultivated a following and collections of the letters written during his post European adventures until his death at 37 only enhanced that mythology.

Whether you are new to Rimbaud or a long time fan fondly reminiscing your ‘school of life’ days (like the author of this post), Brooklyn Public Library will reward such interest. The library’s collection contains not only his  basic poetry, but also works of scholarship and poetic interpretations of his life and  work. I especially recommend bilingual versions of the text offering both the original French and English translation side by side, which allow the reader to experience the beauty of both languages simultaneously in poetry that is always raw, honest, and fresh.

The Academy of American Poets designates April as National Poetry Month and since its inception in 1996 the goal of increasing interest in poets and poetry has evolved into a major literary celebration. Publishers, booksellers, libraries, students, K-12 teachers, literary curators, and poets actively promote the reading and creation of poetry during this month. As April is also the month that Rimbaud found a kind of bliss in beginning the work he would entitle, “A Season in Hell (Une Saison en Enfer),” it seems fitting to honor of both Rimbaud and National Poetry Month, with a few choice selections from our catalog:

Arthur Rimbaud by Seth Whidden - This recent biography by longtime Rimbaud scholar and translator Seth Whidden is one title in the “Critical Lives Series” which explores the lives and works of major modern cultural figures.

Rimbaud Illuminations translated by John Ashbery - Ashbery, a fine poet in his own right, provided the English translation to this classic bilingual volume.  There is a story regarding “Illuminations” that Rimbaud gave his manuscript to Verlaine to pass on for publication. Verlaine had just been released from prison for his attempted assassination of Rimbaud.  Although Verlaine complained about the cost of postage, we have the proof that he upheld their complicated friendship. 

Rimbaud: Complete Works, Selected Letters translated with an Introduction and Notes by Wallace Fowlie - This has it all: the poetry, the later letters detailing his personal dramas in French and English. One stop shopping for Rimbaud completists.

Rimbaud: the Double Life of a Rebel by Edmund White - This biography is filled with detailed observations of  French culture and history, as well as Rimbaud’s personal, sexual and literary relationships. White also suppllies his own interpretations of Rimbaud’s poetry.

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