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architecture, DISPATCHES art, muSic, architecture, film, ShoPPinG, newS and thinGS to make and do… art, muSic, architecture, film, ShoPPinG, newS and thinGS to make and do…
under the influence
Patti Smith on arthur rimbaud
portrait PhiliPPe and ceSarie yard
I was a skInny, unpopular gIrl in
school when i discovered the work of
the nineteenth-century french symbolist
poet arthur rimbaud. i was reading him
pretty early: in 1963 people weren’t
interested in him. he just wasn’t in the
public consciousness, not even when i
came to Paris. french kids thought he
was obsolete, and in america many people
had never even heard of him. back when i
was sixteen i thought of him like he was
my really cool boyfriend. People would
say, ‘how can you have a dead poet for
a boyfriend?’ but to me it wasn’t so
different from liking a boy in your class
who might not like you – both situations
would be unrequited. but i always loved
his work first. it didn’t matter that his
face was beautiful or he looked dylan-
esque or that he had an interesting life.
i haven’t shifted in that regard; his
work still holds the same fascination:
it’s still instructive, inspiring and
something to aspire to. i always find
something new in his poetry.
in 1971, when i was doing my own poetry
with an electric guitar, it was a radical
gesture: people acted as if i desecrated
poetry beyond repair. now no one would be
concerned with this. today young people
look to rimbaud because he was brilliant,
irreverent and independent. he was never
accepted in his lifetime; he was deemed
a failure and looked at himself as such.
by the time he was twenty-two he had
created some of the greatest masterpieces
of symbolist poetry – ‘a Season in hell’
[1873] is his best-known work, and i’ve
taken photographs and made drawings in
the town of charleville, where he wrote
it. but you don’t even have to put him
in any specific niche: he’s just a great
poet. he might have stopped writing
poetry, but he wrote an enormous body
of letters, which encompass a lot of his
poetic voice. he was such a traveller,
and they show a great dark wit. i just
think he was a guy that kept moving.
Patti Smith iS a muSician and artiSt. an exhibition of
her viSual work, Land 250, iS at fondation cartier, PariS,
until 22 June
ArTrEvIEw 36
Dispatches_Patti Smith.indd 36 6/3/08 09:46:29
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