Johns Hopkins University Press
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  • Poetry, Politics, and the Body in Rimbaud: Lyrical Material by Robert St. Clair
Robert St. Clair. Poetry, Politics, and the Body in Rimbaud: Lyrical Material. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018. Pp. xii + 276, including 2 illustrations. £63.

Robert St. Clair's study of Rimbaud's early verse is erudite, wide-ranging in argumentation, and sensitive to the intricacies of poetry's expressivity. Homage is soundly paid to Ross Chambers, who was steadfast to the end with exhortations to "be brave and be strong" (viii). Four main chapters – categorized as "Departures," "Diagnostic," "Prognosis," and "Anamnesis"—revolve around "unabashedly 'close' readings of French verse" (14) that focus on bodily materiality as an inspiration for revolutionary poetic expression. Paramount importance is afforded to a single poem in each portion of the analysis: "Sensation" for "Natural Bodies;" "Les effarés" for "Impoverished Bodies;" "Au Cabaret-vert, cinq heures du soir" for "Happy Bodies;" "Le forgeron" for "Revolting Bodies." Hundreds of expansive footnotes bear out the depth of an undertaking pertaining to "History producing form as a kind of poetic upheaval within the body of language that is a poem" (17). Akin to discussions of Rimbaud's ecosensitivity in ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment (2015) and French Ecocriticism (2017), Chapter 1 elucidates an ecopoetics linked to "the body's weave within the world" (51), as the youthful poet touches on the complex interconnectedness of human and more-than-human being. In Chapter 2, the disfiguring forces of poverty around the time of the Paris Commune are shown to have spurred Rimbaud's concern for social justice to the point of him rebuking "the 'ogre industriel' that 'eats the poor alive' with no regard for age or social station, and that transforms necessary labor […] into a grinding source of alienation, if not an objective form of violence subtending social relations" (112–13). Chapter 3 illustrates not only how Rimbaud envisages triviality and a go-slow attitude as counterpoints to an unequal distribution of power, but also how "the stylistic signature of his verse in the 1870–71 corpus often resides in its innovative riffs on and radicalizations of poetic resources and practices—such as the semantic investment of enjambment, [and] the use of noncanonical rhyme schemes in sonnets" (131). A distinctive sense of politically oriented poésievoyante emerges in Chapter 4, which deals with "Rimbaud, like Hugo if more dramatically, navigat[ing] between breaking and respecting the rules of the poetic game in order to democratize the space of the lyric" (194). Concluding remarks about "Other Bodies" dwell on "L'idole—Le sonnet du trou du cul" as a Rimbaud-Verlaine coproduction, in conjunction with the iterations of Fantin-Latour's Coin de table from 1872–73. As in the case of the human-filled version of the painting, the lovers' handling of each other's style in the sonnet is evocative of "poetry as a […] practice carried out both with and against other poets, and whose contexts and circumstances play, along with these relationships, a crucial role in their intelligibility" (222). The sixteen-page bibliography and seven-page index succeed in pointing up key scholarship by the likes of Steve Murphy and Seth Whidden within a dense field that still has plenty of scope to be enriched through pioneering approaches such as St. Clair's. [End Page 137]

Daniel A. Finch-Race
Center for the Humanities and Social Change, Università Ca' Foscari, Venice

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