Rimbaud is many things to many people. He has been claimed by mystics, revolutionaries, feminists. He is a gay icon. He is a pagan. He is reformed Catholic. He is the first punk poet.
While he was still alive, though having abandoned poetry and buried himself away in Abyssinia, he gained a cult following of young poets. He was the icon of the Symbolists who hailed him as their own.
Since then he’s been a beatnik, a punk, a rock star. He’s been depicted in jeans; with a backpack; with a guitar.
He was the Dylan of his time; or the Patti Smith. He disappeared into Africa like Jim Morrison is alleged to have done – Jim supposedly following the trail of his hero and not dead at all.
For me it went like this:
Firstly, fascination with his love affair with Paul Verlaine. The story had everything: passion, poetry, violence, an abandoned wife. It had drink and drugs and degenerate behaviour. It had unwashed poets struggling to survive, living in squalor, welcoming their degradation, refusing to labour for an honest day’s pay. Their story involved knives, punches, wife-burning, baby battering – and it ended with a bullet in the wrist.
Secondly, he was the hero of my heroes. Bob Dylan read him, wrote a song mentioning him and Verlaine. Jim Morrison acted like the uncontrollable Rimbaud – unwelcome in polite households.
Patti Smith wrote poetry and songs inspired by him. Van Morrison was a Rimbaldian too. I saw him everywhere – on record sleeves along with scattered Tarot cards and mystic symbols, graffitoed on walls, on the covers of books.
He was the bliss that I was feeling.
He was influenced by his reading of mystic and occult books – Eliphas Levy, kabbalists, alchemists, Edgar Allan Poe, Eastern religions. I went to his source material and tried to see things how he saw them.
He tied in with my obsession with Dionysos. The Greek demi-god with a human mother and divine father. Dionysos is the Lord of the Dance. The bringer of thrilling music and wailing. The enticer of women, who enchants his Bacchantes and exhorts them to wildness and rapture.
Rimbaud, like Dionyosos, provided an entry point to the mystic realm: The words he used. The images he conveyed. The way he reached for something beyond – and seemed to grasp it.
He made me feel it, see it, understand it.
And that’s why I wanted to write about him.
DELIRIUM or The Rimbaud Delusion will be available as a paperback and ebook later this year.