Illuminations

Arthur Rimbaud, Author, John Ashbery, Translator
Arthur Rimbaud, trans. from the French by John Ashbery. Norton, $24.95 (144p) ISBN 978-0-393-07635-6
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The prose poems of Illuminations include Rimbaud's most exotic ecstasies and most insistent contradictions, as well as (most likely) his last completed works: "crystal boulevards rise up and intersect, immediately populated by poor families who shop for groceries at the fruit seller's," while "the inevitable descent of the sky and visiting memories and the séance of rhythms occupy the home, the head and the world of the mind." Some may wonder whether we need yet another version of this much-translated book. But anything Ashbery does deserves attention, given his own towering reputation. Ashbery also lived in France for much of the 1960s and has translated several French moderns before. His versions of Rimbaud can be playful, even flirtatious, with an undercurrent of malice wholly true to the original ("Very robust rascals" for "Des drôles très solides"), and they pay attention to the ear: the poem "Bottom," for example, begins with a tussle of long "e" and short "i" sounds: "Since reality was too prickly for my lavish personality." Ashbery's Rimbaud (perhaps paired with Donald Revell's) should spark fresh discussion of the mercurial and evasive original, given often to dreamy reverie, yet just as likely to turn and spit in the unsuspecting reader's face. Presented with the original French en face. (Apr.)
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