Rimbaud Eyes

RimbaudOur eyes tell the story of our souls. Sometimes photos capture it, sometimes not. This photo does. Just look at them. He’s a poet; there is no doubt. Rimbaud was born in 1854. Over one hundred and fifty years later, the Dum Dum Girls wrote a song about his eyes. Love the song, have been deliberate about not reading what the lyrics mean to the band, I want my own thoughts here first. And his.

“Once, if I remember well, my life was a feast/where all hearts opened and all wines flowed.”

The first lines of his poem “A Season in Hell.”

Even as a young poet, if you look, you can see that “once” is the key word. Those are not eyes that reflect life as a feast. Those eyes do not show an open heart. It’s possible those eyes had too much wine the night before.

“One evening I seated Beauty on my knees. And I/found her bitter.”

These lines follow those above from the same poem. It’s not called “A Season in Hell” for nothing. And those eyes in this picture reflect that particular anguish.

This poet, who burned all his work and never achieved anything like happiness or fame, lives on because of his lover, a famous poet at the time still taught in university today, who, thinking Rimbaud dead, published the best of his work supposedly posthumously.

It cannot be grammatically correct to end a sentence with two adverbs.

As a young poet I read Rimbaud’s work and just this morning picked up the slim volume, kept all these years, and flipped to the first poem “A Season in Hell.” That first poem hooked me on Rimbaud for life. And now I cannot stop thinking about his eyes and how they reflect other eyes I have known, including, sometimes, my own. Because Rimbaud was a gentle soul, he wanted to escape debauchery and badness as much as he craved it.

“Let me tear out these few hideous pages from my notebook of one of the damned.” Ends the poem, ends a life, ends the look in the eyes.

Rimbaud was one of several poets who convinced me to stop writing poetry. I would never have that gift, I was convinced. I moved on to other kinds of  writing. Can you image Rimbaud as a blogger? What would he say? No doubt a scathing comment here if the mood struck him. The thing that happened to me as a young poet would not have happened had I listened more to the gentle, insistent Rilke in his “Letters to a Young Poet” in which he entreats his protégé to keep writing, keep practicing, and keep hope that maybe one day there will be a poem worth its ink.

But I’m of a Rimbaud temperament, not like Rilke, more’s the pity. Wish I’d stuck with poetry. I still love it so. If you’re a young poet, read them both, but heed Rilke.

Braided Poems

So much information and writing wisdom is tucked in my little notebook from the conference last weekend. My favorite class was called “The Braided Poem” even though I don’t consider myself a poet. I am a person who sometimes writes poetry as a way to shake things up for my novelist self. A way to pay more attention to language and nuance. Reading great poetry helps, and so does writing some not-so-great poems.

If I am fortunate enough to teach creative writing again, I will use this method of creating a poem that I want to share here. My teacher was Christine Rhein, author of Wild Flight. She said right out that she did not come up with the concept of the braided poem, so it’s not like I’m stealing her idea. I think many of my poems are braided, just because it worked out that way. But to know there is a process fires up poetic imagination. Try it!


1. Ground the poem in a common experience you know enough about so that you can dig into it.

2. List everyday activities, then break those down into smaller bits.

Here’s an example from my list: Cleaning: silver polishing, cat box, closet. I ended up with 7 common experiences and had 3 or 4 specific kinds of the general activity. Lots to choose from.


3.  This part is about emotional relationship issues, yours or someone else’s or imagined. The emotion can be joyous or devastating, an argument, a moment of peace, a death, a birth. Things that can be the emotional tie to the concrete activity in the first thread.

4. Brainstorm a list of names that have emotional resonance for you. I had a list of 14 names, with some comment after a few. Several of the names I came up with are people I already have written poems about.

5. Choose grounded common experience and person with emotional resonance. Write lines expressing both these things, not necessarily in a linear narrative form.

I surprised myself with this one, even though the person was the first name I came up with. It’s been an ongoing situation and brings up difficult emotions in me all the time. The common experience is my husband watching sports.

Here’s what I wrote:

Everyone left him, one by one

I watched this happen

While my husband watched sports.

“He’s laying on the lawn again” I said.

My husband, eyes glued to

hockey puck, football

swinging bat, does not reply.

“Is he drunk?” I ask, wanting an answer.

My husband shrugs, eyes on TV

We have lived next door to this guy for

25 years. First his wife walked out, then the

Kids, who left their dogs. One dog died

and we neighbors gathered in our common back yards

to grieve with him. Now his other dog has cancer

Neighbor and dog sprawl on front lawn,

Almost every day, his face in the crook

of his arm,

his other hand clutching the dog leash.

The dog isn’t going anywhere,

But the home team won.

Unlike my usual self, when she asked for readers, I put my hand up and read with no anxiety to the group. Her comment was to start with more action, like the neighbor laying down with his dog. I might try that, if I were a poet. I’ve been thinking about that. In a few years, when all my novels are out of my head and onto the page, maybe I will go back to poetry, ending up where I began. Also I have no idea why I cannot single space this poem. Because poems should be single spaced and Word Press should make it easy for poets to do that.

About the meaning of my poem. I’m concerned for my neighbor and my husband is not concerned for my neighbor or for me being concerned about my neighbor. The last line might not sound snarky but it is because I am not a sports person and my husband loves all sports, all the time. So there is a little bit of the unappreciated spouse in there. Doesn’t answer my questions.

Also, I don’t have a crush on my neighbor, not even close, but it seems so clear to me that he is lonely and sad and I wish he had someone to love him. Then I kind of juxapose that with my supposed someone who loves me but might love sports a little bit more. That’s unfair because my husband is a great guy. I know he loves me, and I feel lucky to have him. But I have these moments when I think “Why are good people who clearly would love a partner alone and then other good people who clearly wish their partner would shut up and make some nachos?” So there’s a little bit of that in there. We’re married 27 years. He takes me for granted sometimes and other times he is right there for me. I knew the sports deal when I married him. So did you get that from the poem?