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Shadowmouth by Liliana A. Pasterska

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A father who loomed large in his absence. A mother who was herself motherless from the age of five, a carer from a young age, who grew up amongst religious strictures. And a son bursting with creative genius, primed for rebellion. The mother, Vitalie Rimbaud, is Shadowmouth, so nick-named by her son-authoritarian, religious, patriotic and, in Arthur's eyes, full of snobbery and outdated values, as well as grief and regret. The son, Arthur Rimbaud, runs away from home over and over, joining the insurgents in the Paris Commune that was brutally suppressed only three weeks after he left it and later entering a volatile, sometimes violent relationship with the poet Paul Verlaine. The scene is set for extraordinary creative output, before Rimbaud abandoned writing at the age of 21, having changed the landscape of French poetry.

Vitalie's trajectory is a harsh one, from losing her mother to being abandoned by her husband with four young children. Finally outliving the son she influenced enormously, but was often in opposition to, Vitalie became Rimbaud's privileged correspondent after he stopped writing poems to be a trader in Ethiopia. Rimbaud's work burst onto the world in a blaze of defiance. A creator who valued chaos, he wrote poetry of heart and fire for only five years, he bent form, upended punctuation and pursued a new language, before quitting as suddenly as he'd arrived.

Exploring the voices of mother and son, Liliana Pasterska's Shadowmouth is a skilful blend of empathy and imagination. Psychologically astute and using white space between beautifully crafted fragments to convey complex emotions, the poetry here is powerful and poignant. Raw emotions boil over or reach into a future that is not there to save either mother or son. And Shadowmouth captures all of this and more-the pain, the conflicts, the fire, the longing to find new ways of expression, reflected in poetry, whose form artfully matches its substance.



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