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The Anthropology of Magical Forms

The Anthropology of Magical Forms

Sigmund Freud. Photo by Max Halberstadt. 1921

I want to discover the magical links
Before they appear

Though to be honest I’d much
Rather actually see them
Than invent them whole-cloth
or whole-sale

Wouldn’t it be great if that were to happen?
Hallucinate my way into poetic fusions
Instead of just writing them?
Instead of twisting myself

Into pretzels alchemically
With nonsense salt
On top
Or on the plate?

This is what it all comes down to
For poets seers prophets and
Kitchen repairmen
Who turn the world upside down

This is what it means to have
Rimbaud’s gift
Lost too soon
To guns in Abyssinia.

The choice
The dilemma
The pick-em
The Trial

Real or imagined
Reality or the Absurd

One could ask: Why not both?
Yes and
Yes but
Won’t they cancel the link

The connection if they survive
If they mate for life
And leisure?

To make a long short story shorter:
Magicians can demonstrate stuff
They don’t need to narrate
Any kind of long dreary slog

I like that

Across the Universe

Across the Universe


Blue Shift


It’s not just that stars
Are yellow photographs
Left for Kafka to enfable

It’s not just that stars
Cover histories and make
Puppets for Rilke

They really do light our nights
Like flash bulbs in Arabia
A Mosque open skyward

A mirage of water
To die for

Wicked games above us
These stars fall on Rimbaud
And replace his guns

His Abyssinnia

With teenaged boats
And lapping
Cresting waves

Like night cafés
In Arles for Vincent

For McLean


— by Douglas Pinson


Journey in Progress

Journey in Progress

The Sleeping Gypsy, by Henri Rousseau. 1897





The objective of traveling can not
Be to lose oneself

Unless it be for a moment —
The sun shining like cartwheel fire
Between Grecian temples

The notes wrapping themselves around
The winged-legs of Flamenco
Dancers at night in Seville

The first taste after dawn
Of farm-cherished nourishment
In Grange, County Waterford

Or the view from that tower
In Paris
With soldiers at the base
Looking for dirty bombs

And Roma


The objective can’t be escape

Absolute severance

It can’t be to transform
One’s ghosts into lost shadows
Or shadows into dust

Rimbaud could never leave himself
Behind in the Africa of the guns

Gauguin always met Gauguin
Even among his Tahitian brides

The goddess Circe could not make
Odysseus forget himself or his



To travel is to spread oneself
Across a kaleidoscopic canvas
Of being in time-place

It is the boomerang dispersal and effect
Of synchronous power assemblage
Weighted toward inward-outward

It is
Quite simply
A circular trail



— by Douglas Pinson



Almost Dionysian Almost Free

Almost Dionysian Almost Free

Penny Lane, played by Kate Hudson

Rockers get to be Dionysian. It’s their thing. No one expects them to add the Apollonian, though they must to create music objects, or create as individual artists. They must. But the Dionysian is what their fans want, see, expect — in concerts, at least. Do they expect the same things when they sit at home, alone, listening to records of the same singer, the same band?

Right now, as of 2009, it is probably true that musicians can combine the Dionysian and the Apollonian better than any other kind of artist. Chaos, trance, inebriation, intoxication of one or more forms, group celebration and loss of the self, the dying of the self in that group celebration and swooning fall out. The lone guitar hero, fighting the system, standing outside the system, forever. Making his or her own name against the odds. Creative destruction on stage, in hotels, on the road. Create and destroy. Love, burn down, inflame, burn out.

Some poets, in ages past, wanted what Rockers have. Rimbaud preached the derangement of all senses, and he would have been doing so on a stage in front of tens of thousands in our time. Creating musical bacchanals, flipping off the crowds and the record execs, while he laughed and snarled. It might have saved him from the gun-running and the loss of his muse. Another Morrison, Hendrix or Jagger, but one with true linguistic genius.

Of course, those who know the history of Classical Music might object to the singling out of Rock Stars. In their own day, the geniuses of the Classical Era had their legions of fans, their swooning groupies, too. Women threw themselves at Mozart’s feet, among others. Perhaps it’s just music. Perhaps nothing transports us more, or gets inside our emotions so quickly, lifts us up and throws us down. The other forms take more time, in general. Reflection, contemplation, repeated viewing, reading, seeing.

Music. It cuts right through our defenses, our shields. Even our layered civilizing forces. Which is why the Establishment has always feared it. Those who want to control us and shackle us and stifle our own creative and primal impulses/spirits — because, yes, YES, to create is primal! Remember, it wasn’t that long ago that “the authorities” cut off Elvis at the waist. Thinking that would stop it. Thinking that would hold back the cultural forces so many Rockers had begun to unleash . . .

Sadly, some parts of the Establishment learned all too well how to control those forces. Co-opt them. Sign the Rockers up to fat contracts and try to herd them into pens as much as possible. Keep them on reservations. Bring them out on special occasions, like the finale of American Idol.

Always that battle between the primal, the exuberant, the youthful, the creative, the wildly unique . . . and the norm. The Establishment. The “way things are.” Which means, worshiping at the altar of the Business Model. The business establishment learned how to herd their new sheep, but they’ll never learn how to bring out the genius inside those pens. Genius can’t be bought and remain genius. All too often it repeats what the masses thought they wanted. Repeats it and repeats it, dries up, dies.

It’s not as simple an equation or dynamic as:

Every generation needs to recreate the First Moment, the First Yeah!

But it’s close. Trouble is, we’ve been caught up for too long in the Business Model. More than a generation, and it’s killing us. It’s killing art. Commodification, accepted, taken for granted, internalized.

Which new generation will break free? Where are the new heroes of vigorous, proud, joyfully unique voices and views? Who will leave the reservation of the commodity, the marketing ploy, the trained seal?

Russell, in Almost Famous, drunken, on Acid, as inarticulate as he was when sober, stumbles into a gesture on the right path . . .




Dino Campana, Poète Maudit

Dino Campana, Poète Maudit

The tragic case. The artist apart. Mixing dreams with metaphors of wandering in and out of dreams. Mixing ancient, primal scenes, Mediterranean blood, the gods and goddesses of our imagination with the teeming cities and futurism of the early 1900s. Never able to quite express it. Never able to stay fully enough in the moment to be rationally, carefully mad. Rationally, carefully behind the words as the world engulfs you. Because of the world. Because of woman.

Dino Campana is one of the most remarkable poets of the 20th century. His Canti Orfici ranks with Rimbaud’s Une Saison en Enfer, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, and Rilke’s Duino Elegies for visionary, hallucinatory power. All of these lyric poets were inveterate wanderers, almost at home with homelessness, able to get close enough to the Other without destroying it or losing it . . . except for Campana. He finally succumbed to the Other in 1918 and was permanently confined in an asylum. He died of septicemia in 1932.

Campana was heavily influenced by Rimbaud, Poe, Whitman, Nietzsche and the futurists. He regretted not studying literature in college, instead opting for chemistry. He said literature might have saved him. He needed saving. The Italian countryside, Tuscany, Florence, Bologna, off to Argentina, back to Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, back to Italy, wandering, being forced into sanitoria. Wandering. Freedom and confinement. Dreams, escape from and into dreams. Then harsh realities all too often. Art from extremis.

*     *     *     *      *

From my point of view, his prose poems were stronger than his verse. Like Rimbaud, he may have needed the extra room to breathe through extended sentences, paragraphs, pages. Some critics think he may have developed his verse if he had worked at it longer, if he had not succumbed to a kind of madness that put him forever in the sanitorium. The wanderer needed less development on his poetic prose.

Will try my hand at retranslations of some of his work in my next post or soon after . . .

*Charles Wright translated Campana’s Canti orfici as Orphic Songs, in 1984.


Michaux, Meidosems, and the Art of the Uncanny

Michaux, Meidosems, and the Art of the Uncanny

Garden of Earthly Delights, by Hieronymus Bosch. 1504.

 I first discovered Henri Michaux in the 80s, thanks again to Paul Auster’s anthology of 20th Century French Poetry. One of the truly magical writers of the last century, Michaux was blessed and cursed like Kafka with a sense of endless anxiety and dread and the comedic possibilities of both. He shared with Marianne Moore and the Magical Realists the ability to create surreal gardens with real frogs, but added serious warts on them all. He possessed the idiosyncratic and curmudgeonly qualities of E. M. Cioran, Samuel Beckett, and Thomas Bernhardt, along with the vivid, mischievous, almost mad imagination of Hieronymous Bosch. In short, no one was like him in the world of the arts, though many wanted to claim him for their own team. Especially the surrealists, whom he refused.

Michaux was a great poet, painter, aphorist and inventer of words and monsters. Born in Belgium, he wrote in French, and travelled the world, wanting, like so many before him, to break free of Western repressions. Like Rimbaud, he travelled to escape the West. But unlike Rimbaud, I think he found the East, loved it, was moved by it, embraced its art, philosophies, religions and disciplines. Like his elder contemporary, Victor Segalen, he wrote poetry, fiction and travelogues about his experiences. As far as we know, Rimbaud did not write creatively about his own travels.

Michaux also made many an internal, mystical voyage, experimented with mescaline, and studied the trip and the results . . . .

His aphorisms, as well as his poetry, can be riotously absurd:

 From Slices of Knowledge:

 “At the age of eight, I still dreamed of being granted plant status.”

and startling:

 “Without answering, the Tibetan took out his storm-calling horn and we were thoroughly drenched under great flashes of lightning.”

 and profoundly basic:

 “He who hides his madman dies voiceless.”

 In a similar vein:

 “He who has rejected his demons badgers us to death with his angels.”

Michaux was a brilliant absurdist, wonderfully, comically violent . . .

 From The Big Fight:

 He grabowerates him and grabacks him to the ground;
He rads him and rabarts him to his drat;
He braddles him and lippucks him and prooks his bawdles;
He tackreds him and marmeens him
Mandles him rasp by rip and risp by rap.
And he deskinnibilizes him at the end.

But it is probably for the character of Plume that he will be best remembered. Plume, the man who couldn’t be bothered with staying awake after a train hit his house and killed his wife. A man who couldn’t be bothered with staying awake for his own last trial. Back in my university days, I wrote a truly brilliant and stunning essay about the connections and similarities between Michaux’s Plume and Camus’s Meursault. It was so brilliant and amazing it had to be lost. Oh, well. Perhaps I will always remain a stranger to my own best works, lost in the searing sun, asleep while the judge renders his or her final, absurd decision.

  • All translations by David Ball, from his collection of Michaux’s work, Darkness Moves (1994).
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