Rimbaud, Psychogeographer

An email from The London Adventure informs us of an upcoming event surely of interest to Bookkake readers:

Niall McDevitt leads a poetic walk tracing the steps of the legendary Frenchman and his fellow communard/poet/homosexual/alcoholic Paul Verlaine.

Sunday 19 Oct meeting at the Eleanor Cross in the forecourt of Charing Cross station. 1pm. £5/3 (unwaged). Info: 07722163823

The London Adventure is an informal literary club whose regular perambulations of the English capital have taken in such favourites of Bookkake as Patrick Hamilton, Aubrey Beardsley, William Burroughs and many others. This walk should be of particular interest, as it promises to include access to Rimbaud and Verlaine’s house on Royal College Street, where the pair lived in 1873.

Only recently I picked up a copy of Rimbaud, Psychogeographer by Aidan Andrew Dun, originally presented as a lecture at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institue in 2006. If you don’t know Dun, he’s a contemporary poet of a particularly fine skill, with a special affection for London: his Vale Royal, an epic poem in 12 cantos, concerns the mythology of the city, centred on the church of Old St Pancras, once acclaimed as “the head and mother of all Christian Churches”. An early, and rather poor quality reading – by Dun, in that very churchyard – is available on YouTube:

Rimbaud, Psychogeographer covers much of the same territory as Vale Royal, but links those emanations to Rimbaud’s poetry:

Single-handedly, and by the age of nineteen, Artur Rimbaud laid the foundations of modern poetry. He then torpedoed literature, hit her below the water-line, Pearl-Harboured his vision in a surprise attack and vanished from civilisation. Let’s take an aerial view of the life and work, the doomed loves and dark fate of the great Artorius. I’ll then present you with a new theory of his literary suicide. The decision of the poet to abandon his art represents the most impossible disappearance in the history of escapology. My hypothesis hinges on the psychogegraphy of London, where Rimbaud did much of his great work, both writing and research.

Dun goes on to give a crash-course in the mythology of Kings’ Cross, from the time of Arthurian legend up until the present day, and decodes Rimbaud’s works and its references. In Promontoire, from Illuminations (French text, English follows), he finds:

Villas and dependencies? That sprawling empire of gothic hotel, ‘flanked, hollowed and dominated’ by Railtrack. Mounds in odd parks? Humpbacked Old St Pancras Churchyard with its atmospheres and willows. ‘The Japanese tree’, that dreadlocked witch-elm behind the church. All the connections! The vagabond Rimbaud had left a cryptogram in the Illuminations. Like some intentional gypsy heiroglyph made of twigs and acting as a marker, waysign to be read by the next man down the line.

Old St Pancras Churchyard, tucked away behind the railway station, is indeed a strange and resonant place, as anyone who has visited it will know, full of odd assemblages, such as the Hardy tree, arrayed with gravestones stacked up when the churchyard was first cleared by the Midland Railways.

Dun goes on to talk to old residents of the area to uncover other correlations to buildings destroyed in the Blitz, and described by Blake in his Jerusalem. It’s an excellent and poetic work, and not easy to track down, but Housman’s had a number of copies last time I was there.

My favourite reference to Rimbaud and Verlaine’s sojourn in London, however, is in Patrick Keiller‘s peerless film London, which I urge you to see if you’ve never had the pleasure. Noting that, before Camden, the pair lived in Howland Street, W1, just west of Tottenham Court Road, the narrator of the film reveals that, although that house has long since disappeared, the inhabitants of London saw fit to commemorate the relationship with a suitable memorial:

Photographs of plaque from No. 8 Royal College Street by Graham, of St Pancras Churchyard by StefZ and of the BT Tower by Uli Harder, all under Creative Commons.

Posted October 14, 2008 by James Bridle. Comments Off on Rimbaud, Psychogeographer
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