Who knows how a skinny white girl from rural West Virginia becomes the first urban tagger in D.C. in the late ’70s… Who knows why bitter winter and the colder bitterness of family discontent fuel a young poet during war…
And should you ever be looking for a photo of Arthur, the one on the cover of Radiant Days will be what you almost always find, as Rimbaud flared and flamed out as a very young man, writing all his poems by age 20, then abandoning it for a vagabond life.
“Early ripe, early rot” or my own phrase “a meteor in a world of candles” – which describes the young, soul-tortured artistic genius to you?
My recommendation: Merle’s art didn’t fit into any of the neat categories her instructors required; Arthur’s poetry wasn’t pretty or uplifting. This passion for expression brings them together, the girl of 1978 and the boy of 1870, crossing the boundaries of time like a spear of light.
That her unconventional art was her ticket out of rural Appalachia surprised Merle a bit, but the Corcoran School accepted her. During their affair, elegant instructor Clea attempts to connect her with influential gallery owners and culture beyond her ‘white trash’ origins, but Merle chafes at assignments and deadlines. The act of creating her art to be seen by passing commuter trains is far more important than passing classes, and soon her iconic Radiant Days graffiti appears all over D.C.
As the war closes his school, Arthur is out of a home, out of classmates to get money from, out of paper and ink for his poems. The brash young man heads toward Belgium when all sensible people are fleeing ahead of the Prussian Army, goes after a Paris newspaper job as discharged soldiers flood the city seeking work after the armistice. The turmoil in his spirit erupts in poems reflecting brutal post-war realities, torn relationships, bitter lovers’ quarrels with his mentor Paul.
Somehow, Merle and Arthur (in their separate centuries) meet a gruff man fishing for carp along a canal, are directed by him to an abandoned lockhouse for shelter, awaken in the same century – together! Somehow, they hear the other speak in their language, understand the vibrant images of each other’s work, are separated and reunited in one century and in the other.
How can they both know the same fisherman in different cities, different centuries?
How have they summoned one another across time and distance?
How do they share the same blazing visions, shown in her art, chronicled in his words?
As message, as weapon, as mirror of the soul, their work pleased them even if it satisfied no one else. This tale of early talent recognized by the world only in later years brings French poet Arthur Rimbaud into the life of an unheralded American artist, threaded through with music and mystery. (One of 6,000 books recommended on www.abookandahug.com) Review copy and cover image courtesy of the publisher.