Friday, December 16, 2016

Kill-Floor: the final poems of Arthur Rimbaud

Arthur Rimbaud

A long prose poem (13 sections) has been published by 
Kill-Floor: The Final Poems of Rimbaud.

These sections are my own imagined version 
of what Rimbaud's final poems would look like if he had lived 
for another one hundred and fifty years, 
an immortal of sorts, unable to die, 
working marginal and low wage jobs, 
finally ending up in a packing plant 
somewhere in the Midwest.

This is the third 13-section poem 
from the manuscript "The Black Edge" 
that Mudlark has published over the last ten years. 

All praises to Mudlark!

Here is the opening section of Kill-Floor:


So many years since I last wrote. Where have I been? Cooking in back kitchens, cleaning toilets, slipping in blood on the kill floor. The horror of the cow’s voice at the moment of death; carcasses slung on moving hooks, disappearing down so many highways; meat trucks jockeying for position with hideous SUV’s. Where are they all going? Where did they get the money to always be on the road?
I fear that my angel now sides with all those cars and trucks. Huge beast, death angel, she has uncoupled from “candles” and “redemption” and “heaven” and become a cumulonimbus array—dark, churning—over these plains.

Why am I the only one who can see her many shapes? There is no escape. Look: her lightning... 


You can find the rest of the poem

If you don't know who Rimbaud is or want to brush up on your Rimbaud histoire, see the biography below.

A Not So Short Biography of Jean Arthur Rimbaud

Drawing of Rimbaud by Verlaine
Jean Nicolas Arthur Rimbaud was born in 1854 in Charleville, France. He started writing at a very young age and by the time he was sixteen he had written what became one of the seminal works of Symbolist movement in poetry: The Drunken Boat. His father was in the army and absent for most of his early life. His mother was a dark and dominating figure in his life and the life of his siblings (one older brother and two younger sisters). Rimbaud's private name for her was "Mouth of Darkness" (bouche d'ombre).

1870: Feeling stifled at home and at school, he ran away from home several times in late adolescence. The first time he ran away to Paris by train, during the Franco-Prussian War. He was immediately arrested for fare evasion and vagrancy and eventually released into the care of a former teacher. He stayed with the teacher for a brief time, then sent home. Ten days later, he ran away again, wandering through the Belgian countryside (near where I grew up for a time - Mons, Belgium).

It was during this time he wrote what are now termed "the seer letters (les lettres voyant)." They contain an excited and enthusiastic elucidation of his method for attaining poetical transcendence or visionary power. By this time, poetry for Rimbaud has become a way to strip the world of its illusions, a method to see into the heart of things.

One of the most famous sentences in the letters: "Now I am going in for debauch. Why? I want to be a poet, and I am working to make myself a visionary….to arrive at the unknown through the long, systematic derangement of the senses." Another famous one: "So then, the poet is truly a thief of fire." And my personal favorite: "I is another."

1872: During The Paris Commune revolt, he sold his watch for train fare, headed once again to Paris and spent two weeks living on the streets, eating what he could find. When he returned, he revolted against what he saw as the pretentious bourgeois life in Charleville. Obscenities and blasphemies appeared in the poetry of this period. And he began to study the occult.

Rimbaud and Verlaine on far left, seated

He wrote to Paul Verlaine, included some of his poems in the letter, and Verlaine invited him to Paris. Verlaine introduced Rimbaud to the literati of Paris and Rimbaud ended up alienating them all with his debauchery, sarcastic criticism, and outlandish arrogance. Verlaine and Rimbaud eventually became lovers and ended up living in London together.

1873: Within a year, Rimbaud began to see Verlaine as a debilitating influence (his sentimental drunkenness), and he returned to Charleville and began writing what most consider his masterpiece, A Season in Hell, about his relationship with Verlaine. Oh, but it's so much more than that. It is an alchemical formula for the transformation of the soul through the incredibly brutal analysis of his own life and consciousness - extending that analysis to the entire French nation - berating even his own ancestors.

During my twenties and early thirties, working in various restaurants, cafeterias, or on landscape crews, I would recite bits and pieces of Season during the long hours of boredom, especially the opening lines: "Jadis, si je me souviens bien, ma vie etait un festin ou s'ouvraient tous les coeurs, ou tous les vins coulaient…" (Once, if I remember well, my life was a feast where all hearts opened and all wines flowed…), and I would smile to myself, full of self-mockery, like Rimbaud. 

Verlaine & Rimbaud
While Rimbaud was writing Season, Verlaine telegraphed Rimbaud, begged him to meet him in Brussels at the Hotel Liege for a reunion. It went badly. They argued. In a drunken rage, Verlaine shot Rimbaud in the wrist and Verlaine was arrested and sentenced to two years in prison. Rimbaud returned once again to Charleville to finish Season. He then arranged for the work to be printed in Brussels. The majority of the copies sat in the printer’s basement until 1901 because he could not pay the bill. 

1874-75: Rimbaud returned to London with the poet Germain Nouveau. It was here that he finished my favorite of his works, The Illuminations, prose poems that are beautifully strange and strangely beautiful. Illuminations is the culmination of Rimbaud's belief in the occult power of language to transform the world. He gave the manuscript to Verlaine in Stuttgart and then abandoned poetry. Just quit. No more poems forever.

Rimbaud in Aden
1876-1880: Although the story of Rimbaud's poetry writing years and his relationship with Verlaine are what most focus on when studying him, I find the rest of his life equally as fascinating. He traveled around Europe on foot, enlisted as a soldier in the Dutch Colonial Army and then jumped ship in Java (Indonesia), became a foreman in a quarry in Cyprus (where it is rumored he killed a man), and then ended up in what is now Yemen (where a bombing massacre on the civilian population is currently being conducted by both Saudis and Americans), working for a coffee company.

Rimbaud in Cyprus?
1881-91: Eventually he moved to Harar, Ethiopia, as an agent for the coffee company and got involved in many schemes to make large amounts of money in a short period of time. One of these was trying to sell outdated firearms to Menelik II, Emperor of Ethiopia, during a period of civil war and war with the Italian Army. At the same time he was also engaged in exploring and struck up a close friendship with the Governor of Harar, Ras Makonnen Wolde Mikael, father of future emperor Haile Selassie. He was the third European ever to set foot in the city of Harar. And the first to do business there. Looking at how he lived his adult life, after writing such brilliant poems in his youth, the question might be: WTF? 

1891: His knee swelled in size, making him an invalid. He ended up paying for a litter and a few men to carry him across the desert to catch a steamer back to France. Upon arrival in Marseille, he was admitted to the Hôpital de la Conception where, a week later, his right leg was amputated. The post-operative diagnosis was bone cancer. After a short stay at the family farm, he attempted to travel back to Africa. On the way, his health deteriorated, and he was re-admitted to the Hôpital de la Conception in Marseille. He died on 10 November 1891 at the age of 37. 


 There are many theories as to why he would just up and quit writing at the age of 21, then spend the rest of his life wandering the world, trying to accumulate enough money to find a bride and settle down on a farm in Northern France, near his family. And most of them have some merit. 

I am partial to the idea that he was in a pattern of revolt - from adolescence until his death - against his upbringing, especially his mother. She was brutal and had absolute control of his life until the age of sixteen. Rimbaud's first wave of revolt was against her, her church, and her desperate struggle to be accepted by the bourgeois world. And yet, he kept returning to the scene of his childhood pain, kept returning to his mother. 

The works of Alice Miller are helpful in illuminating the seeming paradox. Our formative years have a tremendous (and unconscious) pull on us - mostly because we don't know that the patterns forced on us up until the age of five or six dominate most of our actions, and the choices we make, throughout our lives. Because of these patterns, we are continually drawn into the orbit of the kind of people - or the very people - who betrayed us during childhood. 

There is comfort found in the familiar. Whether that comfort causes us pain or not is immaterial. It's an unconscious drive. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to transform those patterns and break free of the cycle established in childhood. Rimbaud did this several times, but always lapsed back into familiar patterns, always returned home. 

His travels and eventual work in Africa were an attempt to get as far away from his mother (and her Europe) as possible, and, at the same time, could also have been a kind of self-inflicted punishment for abandoning her and her dreams for him. While in Aden and Harar, his letters constantly complain of boredom and pain - for his work, for his life. Penance.

In the end, it doesn't matter how we break down his life. My analysis probably has more to do with my life than Rimbaud's. What we have left are the poems. And that kind of analysis won't do with poems. Poems - the good ones - come from a different place than the psyche. And we have five years of poems. These five years have led to a one hundred and fifty year long carnivalesque feast of poets continuing the work he began. French poetry in the 20th Century would not be the same without Rimbaud. Some of the luminaries of 20th Century French poetry owe much to Rimbaud: Paul ClaudelRene Char and St. John-Perse, to name only a few. 


There are many good translations of Rimbaud. I think the best translation of A Season in Hell is still the New Directions version translated by Louis Varese. The best translation of The Illuminations, hands down, is a recent one by John Ashbery.

Books about Rimbaud or Including Rimbaud

Disaster was my God  by Bruce Duffy. A great work of fiction about the life of Rimbaud. It works its way backwards from his final illness to his childhood. The language of the novel is akin to the language of The Illuminations. Check it out.

A Fish Trapped Inside the Wind by moi. There's a character in the novel in pursuit of Rimbaud's life after writing. Ruminations on the why's of Rimbaud's flight.

Rimbaud: a biography by Graham Robb. Best Bio. Very in-depth. Quite a bit about Rimbaud's life in Africa.

Somebody Else: Arthur Rimbaud in Africa 1880-91 by Charles Nicholl. Tracks Rimbaud's time in Africa.

Time of the Assassins: A Study of Rimbaud. Henry Miller's take on Rimbaud.

One of the best books about The Illuminations is Wallace Fowlie's
Rimbaud's Illuminations: a study in Angelism (sadly, out of print)

A good site with biography and links can be found here.  

In Other News 

I will have a new story in 
in January 2017 called 
The Noise & The Silence. 

The January issue will also have stories by
Julie C. Day, Val Nolan, T.R. Napper, Mel Kassel & Michael Reid


Patti Smith avec Rimbaud T-Shirt


There is a crisis in Aleppo. 
Going on Right now. 
Civilians blocked from leaving the city. 
Armed groups going door to door,
killing everyone.
Upworthy posted an article on  
7 things you can do right now
about the catastrophe in Aleppo.

You can read it here.

Please help.


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