It’s been a busy month or so of poetry/music events here in Sheffield. On 12 April 2013, we held our first poetry reading (in French and English) at the wonderful Nichols Building Cafe in Shalesmoor, attracting members of the public, students and colleagues from the departments of English and French. This first “Baudelaire in the City” evening was then followed up by two “Rimbaud in the City” evenings, promoted by the University of Sheffield’s French Department in conjunction with Arts Enterprise.
Reading Rimbaud in the city
The first Rimbaud event, on 17 May 2013, was another poetry reading in both French and English, using translations by acclaimed French poetry translator and translation theorist Clive Scott (Emeritus Professor, UEA) and by experimental Canadian poet Christian Bök. The reading was again attended by members of the public – some of whom had never read any Rimbaud before, others who had themselves attempted translations of Rimbaud, and others who came because they were interested in architecture and the city and how poets are influenced by this – as well as students and staff from the University of Sheffield. The collegiate, friendly atmosphere made for a rich and vibrant evening (the Nichols Building Cafe also supplied some delicious cakes to accompany!).
Performing Rimbaud in the city
The second Rimbaud event, on 18 May 2013, was a performance of a selection of Rimbaud’s Illuminations prose poems in the orchestral song setting by Benjamin Britten. I delivered a pre-concert talk exploring Britten’s “Frenchness”, and how extraordinary it is to see a 20th-century British composer select French prose poems, especially these fantastical, fragmentary texts by Rimbaud, to set to music. The richness of Britten’s setting sings out in performance (given on this instance by tenor David Webb and Sheffield Chamber Orchestra). For each of the 9 movements, Britten chooses a different mood and musical texture, changing from ethereal harmonics to drunken waltzes, and from marches to pizzicato strumming. With over 200 people in attendance, from all age groups, this was a chance to explore how Rimbaud’s texts resonate in a different context. The historical and geographical trajectory is revealing: from Rimbaud drafting the poems in Paris, Brussels and London in the early 1870s, to Britten setting them to music whilst in Suffolk, London and New York between 1939-1940, to a modern-day performance in Sheffield 2013.