Friday, February 27, 2009

when poets are buried beneath letters...

house where rimbaud and verlaine lived in london 1873

rimbaud/verlaine site in 1966

two pictures of the same site. the first taken by roland penrose in 1937 of no. 44 howland street in london, which was the house where rimbaud and verlaine stayed from 1872 - 1873. at the time the photograph was taken, there was a plaque out front commemorating verlaine, while rimbaud in the late 1930's was not considered important enough to be mentioned.

the second photograph is the same site, showing that the rimbaud/verlaine house was demolished to make room for this mid 1960's post office.

one of the interesting things about this, is that at the time it was built, the post office was a fairly exciting modern building, and i'm sure there must've been some wonderfully heated discussions surrounding the value of a building's history versus the value of a building's architecture.

if the post office ended up becoming a mid level landmark such as libeskind's jewish museum or meier's getty cluster, would it eventually add more to a city than a broken down apartment that was once the home of two of the most important modern poets of the last 100 years; or, would the humble building's history eventually become a kind of pilgrimage site, with a greater kind of cultural value... and which would stand the test of time better.

how on earth would anyone in the mid 1960's have a sense of whether or not a modern post office would be of value and feel modern 50 years later; and similarly who could know if 70 years after penrose made his pilgrimage whether or not anyone would still be reading rimbaud or verlaine.

the magazine i pulled these images from made no comments in the text as to what was lost or gained in this situation... nor do they mention the irony that these two writers had part of their history demolished to make room for a gigantic structure used for sorting small traveling pieces of writing... a building to house words in the midst of their journeys.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Jeremy said...

i remember the excitement of the po tower being built - quite a landmark in the city. still has a frisson.

as cities change should we fetishize flats/houses that an artist has stayed in? how to decide which artist to memorialise? as in this case, rimbaud wasn't.

and i think of james joyce's many moves as child and man - should they all be kept. And why? What would seeing one of the homes add too our understanding of the works? And what would remain of the writer in a house after 50 or 100 or more years?

something to mull over

and the tower is more than a post office!

4:16 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

The house they lived in in College St is still there. You can't keep all the houses poets have lived in, especially when they don't pay their bills as often as those two.

1:44 PM  
Blogger ArtSparker said...

It looks like a something made of matchsticks, and reminds me of the film "brazil", and yet I see from the first comment that it is still standing.

8:17 PM  
Blogger Neil said...

If I can use the overused word "iconic", the Post Office Tower is certainly an iconic London building. I think Rimbaud especially would have rather enjoyed its phallic thrust. There used to be a revolving restaurant at the top. The loos were in the central column, so when you came back from the restroom there was a disorientating quality that was not quite the full derangement of the senses that Rimbaud sought, but still a bit queasifying (if I'm allowed a neologism to make up for a cliché). The English '70s comedy trio The Goodies undermined the Tower's authority by having it attacked by a giant kitten, in a homage to King Kong.

6:41 AM  

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