At eighteen I was introduced first to Jack Kerouac, then Henry Miller, after that Charles Bukowski, and then naturally, Arthur Rimbaud. All of these writers affected and influenced me. I became obsessed with Rimbaud and started reading everything I could get my hands on. Initially I found the books slowly, at used book stores, most often the Strand in New York. I then worked in a Barnes and Noble and had access to their book database. I special ordered book after book. I spent hundreds of dollars. Once ebay was founded, I began ordering books on there. I have quite a collection and I am extremely proud of it.
I carefully read each of these books, took notes, underlined, wrote in the margins. I read them with a copy of Rimbuad’s poetry next to me.
I travelled to Paris and searched for one of the apartments he used to live in. He used to pick out his head lice and throw them at the aristocracy. People stared at me and wondered why I was taking a picture of a bland apartment in the middle of a busy alley filled with restaurants. On two separate occasions I made the pilgrimmage to Charlesville-Mezieres to see where Rimbaud was born and is buried. Charlesville is small, on the border of France and Brussels. Most stores sell some small tchotchkes with Rimbuad’s likeness on them. I bought a small vase with Rimbaud’s likeness taken from Henri Fatin-Latour’s painting of him. I also bought a small ashtray because it had a Rimbaud-centric map of Charlesville on it. I put it next to my reading chair and once every few years I’d catch people using it. I’d yell, “it’s for decoration only!!!” The guilty party would argue that it was in the perfect spot for a smoker. But I would counter, “I’m not a smoker, I’m just obsessed with Rimbaud.”
I found a print of Ernest’s Rimbaud at the Pompidou in Paris. It’s been on the walls of every apartment I’ve ever lived in. Sometimes I consider having it framed but I like it being as close to the wall as possible because Ernest pasted his art directly to the walls of buildings. I also own a copy of Bertrand Mathieu’s translation of Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations. He sent it to Henry Miller to look over so it was in Miller’s personal effects. I bought this on ebay while I was still in grad school.
I also bought some lovely books in French about Rimbaud. I did not speak any French at the time, nor could I read it, but I had to buy them: they were all so beautiful.
And yes they take up a lot of space and always have. But they are who I am. I was the girl who wanted to do an independent of study of a French poet. I didn’t speak or read any French. Because of him I started to learn French. I spent hours combing through bookstores, online chat forums, and reading. I had drunken conversations that led to yelling because I considered myself the authority (I was twenty and hadn’t read half these books yet and still couldn’t read French). I bought books because they were lovely and I carried them through multiple countries. I have moved them a minimum of seven times in and out of apartments in San Francisco and New York. I’m still that girl who wants to study Rimbaud and learn more, read things I missed before. And yes, I plan to one day read him in French.
Note: soon to come, a blog about why I was obsessed with the fifteen year old boy who changed the course of poetry and stopped writing at the age of 19. At the same time he had an abusive love affair with Paul Verlaine, who was married and later charged with sodomy. Rimbaud moved to Africa for a little over a decade and became a gun runner. He caught a disease and moved back to Charlesville to die.
After finishing this blog and posting it, I found more books tucked away in a trunk at my parents’ house. I thought I was missing some when I wrote the blog but I couldn’t find them.