One Thing On Which Patti Smith and I Agree.

by Sophia Harvey

For my birthday in April, my mother bought me two books: Patti Smith’s recent memoir Just Kids and, infinitely more fascinating to me, Arthur Rimbaud’s collection of prose poems A Season In Hell.

I have always been a sucker for the romantically deviant life stories of suffering artists. The more practical side of me knows that, in truth, it is a horrible thing to cut off an ear or drown in a bathtub of heroin. But the irrational and creative side cannot help but adore every example of servitude to the powerful command of artistic genius and every psychological defect that comes with following one’s passion. Because of this interest, I have known Rimbaud’s story for some time.

I knew that he was known as a rebel, a Decadent, a hedonist, a masochist, a depressive, a hormonal teenager, and a guiding light to many artists that I consider personal heros. I knew that he renounced poetry at 20, died at 37, and put forth his best work before 19. I had read a few poems but never seen anything substantial. To me, Rimbaud was just as mythic as Joan of Arc or Jay Gatsby.

In Just Kids, Smith speaks of the inspiration she draws from both his life and work. To her, they share a kindred transient soul.

Patti Smith, right, with lover and renowned rebel photographer Robert Mapplethorpe from ‘Just Kids’

Oh arthur arthur. we are in Abyssinia Aden. making love smoking cigarettes. we kiss. but it’s much more. azure. blue pool. oil slick lake. sensations telescope, animate. crystalline gulf. balls of colored glass exploding. seam of berber tent splitting. openings, open as a cave, open wider, total surrender. – Patti Smith, from Dream of Rimbaud

As I am currently in the middle of A Season In Hell, I do not yet have the authority to comment on its entirety. But I can say that so far, the prose are far more complex and far reaching than I could have imagined. Rimbaud is able to convey his tourment with a passion and poignancy that makes reading the collection a visceral experience. At the age of 18, I can almost see the words bursting out of him. Unmoderated. Passionate. Raw. A Season in Hell reads as if the poetry was storming through him and it was all he could do to get it out without exploding. I cannot wait to finish so I can write a true review. So more on this later.

Portrait d’Arthur Rimbaud, Picasso, 1960.