Poet Bella Li on Arthur Rimbaud in ‘Rhyming the Dead’ by the Red Room Company

The Red Room Company  are a non-profit organisation dedicated to bringing poetry to the masses, making it accessible in new and exciting ways. Their latest poetry project is ‘Rhyming the Dead‘, commissioning ten living poets to respond to the works of ten dead poets.

Episode three sees contemporary poet and editor Bella Li delving into the works of French-born Arthur Rimbaud, whose brief body of work preempted Surrealism and influenced generations of new writers. Rimbaud died from bone cancer in 1891, at the age of thirty-seven.

Listen to episode three, ‘Chalk is Falling’…


Bella Li on Arthur Rimbaud

Bella Li is a freelance editor and PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne. Her poems have been published most recently in Best Australian Poems (2012, 2013), Contemporary Asian Australian Poets (2013) and Land Before Lines (2014).

Her chapbook Maps, Cargo (Vagabond Press, 2013) was shortlisted for the 2014 Wesley Michel Wright Prize. She is a managing co-editor at Five Islands Press.

Read Bella Li’s reflection on Arthur Rimbaud on the Red Room Company website.

1. How did you get involved with the Red Room Company and the Rhyming the Dead project?

Tamryn Bennett and Joanna Featherstone (Executive Director and Artistic Director, respectively) contacted me about being involved in Rhyming the Dead earlier in the year.

Red Room has always taken an innovative and inclusive approach to poetics, and I was particularly interested in the question of influence—the sounding of past voices within contemporary ones—that seemed to lie at the heart of the project.

2. What is it about Rimbaud that makes him important for writers and poetry readers to explore? Why should we read his work, and why is he still relevant today?

Rimbaud’s work was and continues to be influential for a number of writers, artists and musicians: Patti Smith, Bob Dylan, Picasso, Nabokov, Henry Miller, Brett Whiteley, to name a few. Many, many poets.

He is also often seen as a key figure of the Symbolist movement, which had an impact on the Modernists and beyond. An awareness of the history and lineage of ideas and artistic movements is by no means necessary for reading and writing, but it can enrich and inform your experience of both.

Symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud still resonates today. Image Credit: Brandon Burke via Flickr Creative Commons
Symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud still resonates today. Image Credit: Brandon Burke via Flickr Creative Commons

The writing itself, both in terms of content and style, has a timeless quality; it does not date. And, on a praxis level, I find it is of the kind that generates more writing.

To me Rimbaud’s poems are more analogous to paintings or pieces of music; they are often less about anything fixed or immediately discernible than they are a succession of strange and beautiful, often otherworldly, images or moods.

3. What works would you recommend to a new reader who wants to start reading from Rimbaud?

Rimbaud only wrote for a brief period, and was by no means prolific, so only two collections of his work exist: A Season in Hell (which often includes his long, uncollected poem ‘The Drunken Boat’) and Illuminations.

I’d start with the latter, and would recommend the edition published by New Directions, translated by Louise Varèse, which includes the original French.

4. Why are projects like Rhyming the Dead and organisations like the Red Room Company important for writers and readers to be involved in?

It’s often said that writing can be an intensely solitary activity—and this is perhaps part of the reason why certain people, with certain predispositions, are drawn to it in the first place.

What an organisation like Red Room, and a project like ‘Rhyming the Dead’, do, is to bridge the gaps between these small, solitary cells; to illuminate those lines of continuity that exist between ourselves and the writers and readers of the past, as well as the writers and readers who surround us in the present.”

The building of communities in any human endeavor, artistic or otherwise, is always necessary and important: nothing exists in a vacuum and without writing there is no reading, without reading there is no writing.


Writer’s Edit would like to thank Bella Li and the Red Room Company for their insights and advice. More episodes of ‘Rhyming the Dead’ can be listened to on SoundCloud.

Kyra Thomsen

Kyra is a writer and editor from Wollongong. She works full-time as a content writer while reading on the train and drafting short fiction stories in her spare time. Kyra won the 2012 Questions Writing Prize and has been published in Kindling, Seizure Online, Space Place & Culture and Tide. She enjoys admiring her bookshelves, watching cheesy shows on Netflix, and browsing her Tumblr. You can learn more about Kyra's previous publications, plus find fortnightly posts, on her website: kyrathomsen.com.

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