Yesterday I found myself in Berkeley for the day. I had to be out of my hotel in San Francisco at noon, so I took a cab to Telegraph Avenue and hung out in a café called Le Bateau Ivre
. I spent way too much time attempting to recall the Rimbaud
poem of the same name. I haven't read it for ten years (at least), and this made me feel a great wave of nostalgia for that teenager I used to be, who had all the time in the world to simply sit and write in a journal and think about poems.
Here are a few stanzas from Rimbaud's "Le Bateau Ivre" (The Drunken Boat) translated by Holly Tannen:
I know the sky split wide by lightning, tides,
And surf, and waterspouts; I know the night,
And dawn exalted like a flock of doves
And sometimes I have seen what man has thought he's seen!
I've seen the setting sun light up the shiv'ring purple waves
Like actors in some ancient tragedy...
I've dreamed the evening green with dazzled snow and singing phosphor
And kisses rising slowly on the eyelids of the sea...
I've touched the shores of Floridas where flowers mingle
With the eyes of panthers in the skins of men
And monstrous serpents eaten up with lice
Drop down from trees entwined with black perfume...
I've seen sidereal archipelagoes and islands
Ecstatic skies thrown open to the traveller on the wave
Is it in these endless nights you sleep in exile
O million golden birds, o future strength?
Rimbaud should be read when you're sixteen and feeling that nobody in the world understands you.
But now I'm thirty-two ? twice that age! ? and am traveling to bookstores, reading from my first book. I wonder how much I've changed since then. If my sixteen-year-old self met my thirty-two-year-old self, would they like each other?
I also found a painting of Le Bateau Ivre, but I prefer Rimbaud to Turner. I guess that is why I'm a writer and not a painter.
After hours of waiting, I headed over to Cody's at 7:00. There, I had a chance to speak to a really nice bookseller, who showed me his first official rejection letter for a short story he sent to a magazine. He asked me if I had gotten rejection letters, and although I didn't say it, I wanted to tell him that the road to being published is 90% rejection. Rejection hurts, but the really hard thing is to balance tenacity with a capacity to correct your work, revise it, and improve. Here's the bookseller I met, with his letter:
Tonight I will be reading at everybody's favorite bookstore, Powell's! I am sure that this is going to be the highlight of my tour, and I cannot wait! If you're in Portland, please stop by at Powell's Burnside at 7:30!
See you there!