Patti Smith in Ethiopia
I’m reading Patti Smith’s bio, Just Kids:
“One afternoon I fell asleep on the floor amid my piles of books and papers, reentering the familiar terrain of a recurring apocalyptic dream … I plowed through revolution and despair and found, rooted in the treachery of the withered trees, a rolled leather case. And in that deteriorating case, in his own hand, the great lost work of Arthur Rimbaud.
I awoke with a sudden revelation. I would go to Ethiopia and find this valise that seemed more like a sign than a dream. I would return with the contents preserved in Abyssinian dust, and give them to the world. I presented my dreams to publishers, to travel magazines and literary foundations. But I found the imagined secret papers of Rimbaud were not a fashionable cause in 1973 … I truly believed I was destined to find them. When I dreamed of a frankinsense tree on a hill throwing no shadow, I believed the valise to be buried there. I decided to ask I decided to ask Sam [Shepherd] to sponsor my trip to Ethiopia. He was adventurous and sympathetic and was intrigued by my proposition. Robert was appalled at the idea. He succeeded in convincing Sam that I would get lost, kidnapped or be eaten alive by wild hyenas. We sat in a café on Christopher Street and, as our laughter mingled with the steam of many espressos, I bade farewell to the coffee fields of Harar, resigned that the treasure’s resting place would not be disturbed in this century.”
Earlier this year I wrote a play, Arthur and Paul, about two people who are mirrors (sort of) of Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine. The play starts in London in 1977 when, as art students, they come across the house in Camden where Rimbaud and Verlaine lived for a while. It ends with the Arthur living in Abyssinia (Ethiopia) having found
Rimbaud’s ‘lost’ work. Paul turns up, a successful poet, on a British Council jolly.
It’s a fantasy, probably commonplace, that Rimbaud went on writing in Africa. It is hard to
believe that he just stopped when he was 18 and never wrote again.
The play is sitting on my hard drive waiting to go somewhere. I guess it’s the dream of anyone interestd in Rimbaud that more work will be found, but in 1973 hardly anything would have been published about his time in Africa.
Now I have a new play to write – Patti Smith in Ethiopia