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Penny Rimbaud - Arthur Rimbaud in Verdun

  by Kimberly Bright

published: 22 / 12 / 2020

Penny Rimbaud - Arthur Rimbaud in Verdun
Label: One Little Independent
Format: CD


Crass founder, activist, and multimedia artist Penny Rimbaud envisions fighting in the Battle of Verdun with poet Arthur Rimbaud by his side

Penny Rimbaud has spent much of the centennial of World War I recording and performing readings of Wilfred Owen’s poetry, released as 'What Passing Bells (The War Poems of Wilfred Owen)' in 2017. On this latest spoken-word, jazz-backed album, with artwork by Eve Libertine, his subject is the worst, bloodiest battle of the war, and perhaps of all time, the eleven-month-long Battle of Verdun in 1916. Accompanying him on this fictional journey to the horrific massacre is French poet Arthur Rimbaud. Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) is an interesting choice for an anachronistic wartime companion. Arthur’s poetry is a perpetual favorite among young people in and out of university literature programs for his wild writing style and equally transgressive life. In addition to a forbidden and violent romance with Paul Verlaine, he stopped writing entirely at age twenty. He had been dead for over two decades by the time World War I started and also missed out on the birth of jazz by a few years. Arthur’s last major pop culture revival was almost thirty years ago after 'The Doors' movie and flurry of Jim Morrison biographies came out, pinpointing Arthur as a major influence on Morrison. A surprising array of angry young men started carrying around copies of 'The Drunken Boat' and 'A Season in Hell'. With the sometimes strident accompaniment of tenor saxophones played by Evan Parker, Louise Elliott, and Ingrid Laubrock, Penny conjures Arthur and envisions what the young romantic poet would have experienced as an unwilling soldier frighteningly well. Through ten instrumental intermezzos and eleven spoken pieces, the disturbing scenes unfold with impressionistic detail. Penny and Arthur are comrades, drinking buddies, and eventually lovers among scenes of gore, death, and carnage in the trenches. Penny describes how he created this scene: “Lost as to quite where to begin, I borrowed the ears of John Coltrane and the eyes of Jackson Pollock and ventured into a living hell with Arthur by my side. I guess, not surprisingly, it had taken little persuasion to muster his support in this venture. He was a natural; willing to die that he might better live. I can see him now, his wiry form darting amongst the shadows, kicking aside the rats, ever on the alert and defying sleep as if sleep was our greatest enemy. Continually on the lookout, I wondered what it was that he wanted from all this. When asked, his terse reply was ‘more.’” There is an undercurrent of bewilderment and anger in Penny’s voice, which becomes increasingly frantic from 'Part Five' on. It’s hard to know which part of the dialogue is Penny’s and which is Arthur’s, but they both start out as cynical, arrogant, swaggering young men and become more terrified and resentful, clinging to each other for comfort and possibly escape. Their love defies everything around them: tradition, art, culture, conformity, civilization, even linear Cartesian reasoning. “Disfigure the past to straighten the present.” It was this civilization, after all, that cavalierly sent young men off to the first world war, particularly that battle with its hundreds of thousands of casualties on both the French and German sides. Penny and Arthur see this willingness to sacrifice a generation of men as a waste. At the end of the final track, 'Part Eleven', Penny snarls, “The smug satisfaction of the bourgeoisie, fuck you, fuck you and your hollow whimsy.” Penny first performed these poems at the small Vortex Jazz Club in London in June 2019. Thankfully he decided to record them so they reached an audience of more than a hundred or so. He said, “I wondered what lessons would be learnt which could then be conveyed to a planet still so obsessed with conflict, grief, and suffering.”

Track Listing:-
1 Intro
2 Part One
3 Intermezzo One
4 Part Two
5 Intermezzo Two
6 Part Three
7 Intermezzo Three
8 Part Four
9 Intermezzo Four
10 Part Five
11 Intermezzo Five
12 Part Six 03:55
13 Intermezzo Six
14 Part Seven
15 Intermezzo Seven
16 Part Eight
17 Intermezzo Eight
18 Part Nine
19 Intermezzo Nine
20 Part Ten
21 Intermezzo Ten
22 Part Eleven

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Penny Rimbaud - Interview
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