Sean Bonney is another poet who turns to a poetics of iteration as a poetics of revolution. Especially in Baudelaire in Englishand Happiness: Poems after Rimbaud, Bonney adapts iteration to revolutionary poetic and political ends. In these two books, Bonney attends to the way revolutionary writing, if too direct or smooth, can become implicated in the power structures it seeks to overcome. Bonney’s Baudelaire in English concludes: “the poem is in danger of becoming an overly smooth surface fit only for the lobbies of office buildings and as illustrations / expensive gallery catalogues, that kind of bullshit.” In Baudelaire in English, Bonney stresses the relation between echoes and cracks in the smoothness in his version of “Correspondances,” which contains the phrase “their echoes split us.” Bonney’s texts are idiosyncratic translations of Baudelaire’s poems so breaking the smooth surface of standard translations. Bonney’s translations overlay lines of typewritten text to the point of illegibility, even as they superimpose twenty-first-century London onto nineteenth-century Paris. Through grainy photographs of neglected and forgotten places in London, Bonney (like Baudelaire) emphasizes the ruins and decay of the modern city, the fissure lines and suffering that are the neglected side of the progress of modernity.
In Happiness: Poems after Rimbaud, Bonney again makes the city of London his subject, this time through a focus on the protests against the existing economic and political order that took place in 2010 and 2011 in the wake of the financial crisis. Much of Happiness first appeared on Bonney’s Abandoned Buildingsblog so that the book functions as a retrospective archiving and framing of poems written as news, as part of and in response to a movement for revolutionary change.
We recently uploaded a recording of Wyatt Mason talking about Rimbaud. The event took place in November 2005, and the audio is here.
Wyatt is a contributing editor of Harper's where his essays regularly appear. He also writes for the New Yorker, the New Republic, and the London Review of Books. Modern Library has published, in three volumes, his translations of the complete works of Arthur Rimbaud. Translations of Dante’s Vita Nuova and Montaigne’s essays were in progress last I checked, as was his book of essays about American fiction.
Oh, yes, and I'm proud to say that Wyatt was once my student here at Penn.
(Please note: the beginning of the recording is over-run by the intro music we used to use at the Writers House before programs began. Sorry about that. Be patient.)