by Roberta Lowing
Allen & Unwin, $32.99 pb, 504 pp
What’s not to love about Arthur Rimbaud? Having run away from his home in northern France, the outrageous and outrageously gifted teenage poet landed on the Paris doorstep of fellow poet Paul Verlaine in 1871. There, he co-opted the twenty-seven-year-old Symbolist into his artistic enterprise of ‘derangement of the senses’, which soon saw the pair embarking on a torrid affair that culminated in their fleeing to Brussels, where Verlaine shot Rimbaud (although not fatally) and was jailed.
A man who knew when enough poetry was enough, Rimbaud wrote his famous A Season in Hell (1873) in the wake of this débâcle, and renounced poetry. He signed on with the Dutch colonial army to obtain passage to Sumatra, where he promptly deserted. Subsequent years took him to Cyprus and finally to Africa, where he became a trader in coffee, guns and – according to rumour – slaves.