“‘Rimbaud in New York’ Conjures ’70s Bohemia Downtown” – Observer, Justin Joffe

News article and photo from Observer

Rimbaud rehearsal at BAM in Brooklyn, New York. Chris Sorensen for Observer
Photo credit: Chris Sorensen for Observer

r1-mini The 19th-century cult icon’s poetry becomes a musical..

There’s this aestheticized legend of the late poet Arthur Rimbaud as the archetypal enfant terrible. Forever immortalized as the original bohemian, Rimbaud arrives in Paris to become the 19th century’s pre-eminent flâneur, wandering the streets with his married male lover, the symbolist poet Paul Verlaine, in an absinthe and hashish-induced haze. Then, at the height of his popularity as poetry’s hip, young bad boy, Rimbaud left Paris for Ethiopia, only to die of cancer in self-imposed exile.

While countless artists consider Rimbaud among their primary inspirations, the poet’s influence on New York’s legendary downtown scene was captured on celluloid in experimental filmmaker Jack Smith’s perverse kitsch or could be seen in Basquiat’s juxtapositions of jarring words and iconographic images.

Patti Smith wrote about Rimbaud often, considering his work among the most honest, true-to-life words she’d ever read and for years played a “Rock ‘n’ Rimbaud” tribute to him on his birthday. The frontman of the seminal New York art-punk band Television, Tom Miller, christened himself Tom Verlaine after reading about Rimbaud’s affairs. Bob Dylan, who echoed Rimbaud’s eventual rejection of poetry when he consciously rejected the folk scene to go electric (as portrayed in the Todd Haynes’ 2007 tribute flick to Mr. Dylan, I’m Not There), also stylized much of his surrealist work around the young poet. Indeed, Mr. Dylan’s collection of poetry, Tarantula, reads as a veritable love letter to Rimbaud’s lucid, pre-surrealist imagery.

Now, Rimbaud’s influence is the subject of a new show aptly titled, Rimbaud in New York, which premieres at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on March 1 and runs through March 6. It’s a joint collaboration between Chicago’s Poetry Foundation, BAM’s Humanities department and the avant-garde “investigate theater” company The Civilians, which transforms Rimbaud’s Illuminations poems into a musical that’s equal parts biography, interview and myth. The adaptation also serves as something of a tribute to the seminal New York artists who were so indebted to his writing.

“Rimbaud was a gateway poet,” Steve Cosson, writer and director of Rimbaud in New York, told the Observer over the phone. He explained that his love of Patti Smith eventually led him to fall in love with Illuminations.

“These poems did something to me. It felt like an action; it felt physical—a sense of being taken through a visceral experience of image and sensation.”

The Poetry Foundation, a Chicago-based literary organization dedicated to preserving poetry in American culture, initially provided BAM’s Humanities department with a list of 11 poems suitable to be adapted for the stage, which were then brought in front of an artistic team and work-shopped by BAM and The Civilians. Among more conventional fare like Robert Frost, Illuminations was distinctly more of a challenge and difficult to both stage and envision. But when Steve Cosson ultimately came back to the Poetry Foundation with….r2-mini– Observer, Justin Joffe

Continue reading on the Observer –

Rimbaud in New York
Brooklyn Academy of Music
March 1-6, 2016



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