Ardennian Boy
William Maltese & Wayne Gunn

A Review

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Though the bloody, blazing Paris Commune had been ground to dust under the boots of agents of social order a season before Arthur Rimbaud acted upon his literary infatuation with Paul Verlaine, the excesses of the 'Bloody Week' tinge their bloody, blazing affair. Lines were drawn in the cafes and ateliers of Paris and beyond, and bourgeois sensibilities were ever after suspect in artistic circles. The Commune and its cultural aftermath are not directly addressed in Maltese and Gunn's perplexing, redolent, radiant lad of a novel, but the iconoclastic energy of the Communards suffuses Ardennian Boy with a gleeful moral anarchy in whose face (dare I say, fesse?) most readers - myself included - might find themselves by turns appalled and inexplicably charmed.


Much has been made (in other reviews, in promotional materials) of the redemptive power of Ardennian Boy. Though Verlaine and Rimbaud's places in the gay pantheon (in the literary one, for that matter) have been assured for decades, this book does do something other biographies and translations appear not to have done. Another poet, Audre Lorde, argued at a more recent moment in gay liberation that the erotic suffuses all of life, whereas the pornographic separates us from everything but the soullessly, mechanically sexual. Among the many barriers - legal and political, social and cultural - arrayed against us in the modern era, that one, that we are naught but pornographic creatures, has been one of the most durable. Gunn and Maltese set out to declare and celebrate the position of Rimbaud and Verlaine in gay letters and liberation. Not least among their successes on this front is the melding of the erotic and pornographic in their storytelling and poetic translations. When the twain have met, as in John Preston's work, the writer has tended to be transparent about his motives and method, as if to confirm that if one writes something sexy that is also literary one must defend that choice, be intentional and articulate about it. Though the short afterword can be read as this sort of apologia, Maltese and Gunn, like Rimbaud, preempt such a defense with the foregoing two hundred pages. Smeared with the piss, shit, and blood of violent coupling and violent creation, Ardennian Boy ends up, at bottom, a love story, "tender and fierce," as Paul Verlaine dared name it.

Disclaimer: Reviewers may have received copies of the book from either the author or the publisher but otherwise were not paid for their reviews.