* poets in novels and countdown update

“Coming on the scene, he thought what a mercy shipwrecks were, how clean, their horrors swallowed by the sea.  Not so here.”


The above is from the book I just finished, Bruce Duffy’s Disaster was my God: a novel about the outlaw life of Arthur Rimbaud.  The book covers in a meandering manner the life and death of a poet who, after five years of brilliant writing that changed the course of poetry for years to come, swears off writing and runs off to be a sort of mercenary merchant in Africa.

Having a poet as the hero of your novel is always a gamble.  Will they be believable?  Duffy’s Rimbaud, I’m happy to say, is pretty convincing.

Not only is Duffy able to pull off lines like the ones above, that present an idea, a parallel verging on metaphor, and follow through, but there are several moments where you feel like he is trying to sneak in pieces of poems into his narrative.  Here is a snapshot of the poet Paul Verlaine:

“…squinty eyes.  The beard is thin and leonine, the forehead a looming moon, the mouth a single crooked horizontal line as might have been drawn by a somber child on a rainy day.”

Phrasing such as this means even more when you find it in a novel about the poet who brought the prose poem into use.  The focused wording, the leaps of logic – Duffy spins his story well-versed in the, ahem, verse of his subject.  Here is a snapshot of the young Rimbaud before he ran away for good:

“Perfect eyes.  Perfect hearing.  Perfect skin.  Hair still cut, nails clean: studious, well dressed, polite.  Perhaps most amazing under the circumstances is that fact that behind those angelic blue eyes burns a soul remarkably intact, million-leaved like a great oak lifting its branches, aroused, in the evening wind.”

The punctuation here is fascinating.  The initial clipped sentences, then the mix of details paced with commas and a colon.  Then that expansive description of the soul.  Read closely this excerpt has the effect of watching a card dealer change speeds while dealing out cards then stopping to look you in the eye.


The other gamble of writing a poet in your novel is attaining a sense of truth in your description of this specific writing process.  For me, Duffy gets it right, as in this interaction between an elder poet and the young Rimbaud:

“…but, Monsieur Rimbaud, surely as poets, it is our job to explain, to be clear.”

“No,” said the boy testily, “but you see, when I read your writings – many of you – you labor to explain.  To merely be clear, as if a poem were, what, a newspaper?  Read once, then used to wipe your — “

Rather than an argument between two people, this could easily be the transcript of an argument in a single poet’s head.


As for the countdown, I plan on going tonight to another East of Edith open mic.  I am going to be reading from my forthcoming chapbook, The Wall.  I haven’t read these in public yet, so, wish me luck.


One response to “* poets in novels and countdown update”

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