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“My poor heart drools at the poop. My heart covered with shag tobacco.” Henry Miller, according to Jamie James, got obsessed with Arthur Rimbaud, Rimbaud who quit writing before he was twenty-one, Miller who was just getting rolling at forty. Miller would hear Rimbaud whisper (or hiss?) in his ears. “Someday you will have to come to grips with me.” I’ve been whining too much and reading too many library self-help books, but I’m not doing so badly. Arthur Rimbaud wasn’t any better at being thirty-seven than I am. He didn’t even survive it.
I like to imagine both writers in the same room. They try to have a conversation. Dostoevsky paces back and forth. He pours out his passionate views on the decadence of Europe and the holy mission of the Russian Orthodox Church. He wrings his hands, rises to a higher and higher pitch of excitement. His agitation largely blinds him to Eliot’s presence. He argues not with her but with the phantoms of all the viewpoints he carries around with him everywhere he goes. Eliot sits and watches. Calm and amused, she tries to point out the flaws in his reasoning. Once she realizes the task is hopeless, she makes mental notes on how she might use him for one of her novels.
For four decades now, Adam Zagajewski has been making poetry (and idiosyncratic essays) out of the tension between “the recurrence of impressions blunted by reiteration” and those fleeting moments when a person stumbles across the “wonder of our being.” Not just “our” being, but the being of city streets, birds, trees, the sea, and the voices calling to us from art, literature, music, and history. His poems capture those epiphanies that wake us from the tired, tiresome habits of thought and language that we fall into; they allow us to see our “common universe” afresh and alive with meaning.
Brox: This may be where Heraclitus meets Sinatra -- "Nothing endures but change" plus "That's Life" -- with a healthy dash of Rust Belt fondness for the broken-down. Which is to say the question again comes back to place: physical, temporal, emotional. There is energy in interstices, in overlap, in flux. Living in a post-industrial city in a post-industrial age for the United States, I see the fetishization of urban decay, or what I like to think of instead as industrial evolution, and I think as a product of Detroit, Michigan, you understand what our landscapes do, or fail to do.
Robin F. Brox and David Hadbawnik