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Toby Fitch: a note on Sydney Spleen

A few years ago, when I was mistranslating Arthur Rimbaud’s prose poems from his Les Illuminations into a variety of inversions (visual poems, formal poems, erasures, anti-lyrics), it occurred to me that I could try a similar project with the prose poems of Charles Baudelaire’s Le Spleen de Paris, another favourite book of mine. However, the same processes – taking the original French and homophonically translating backwards through it to generate weird and wild new poems – didn’t create anything as interesting as that previous project. I began instead to think of Baudelaire’s idea of the splénétique as a mood or mode, and whenever I wrote a poem with a more trenchant, urban realist or political bent, I set it aside in a folder on my computer that I’d named ‘Sydney Spleen’. Over the next few years, some of my more scathing and satirical poems ended up there. Perhaps that folder, and the Baudelairean mood, freed me up to vent my spleen in poetry in ways I hadn’t been doing. The project languished a bit while other quite playful books of mine came to the fore (ILL LIT POP in 2018 and Where Only the Sky had Hung Before in 2019), but 2020 unearthed all kinds of splenetic moods, and so in lockdown, despite four precarious jobs and homeschooling, I found myself writing into the nights to capture the fragmented emotions I was experiencing with my family, and vicariously through the internet, as we watched and re-watched a world seemingly undergoing apocalypse upon apocalypse – megafires, 1 billion animals dying, massive hailstorms and flooding, the ongoing pandemic, the return of fascism ‘like a fossilized piece of moon’ (Ernst Bloch); all symptoms of a broken but still all-consuming capitalist system that allows the ruling classes to exploit the Earth unchecked at the expense of minorities and the working class. 

– Toby Fitch

Author photo by Tim Grey

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