Ugly Duckling Presse

The Sad Songs of Hell
The Sad Songs of Hell

Brent Cunningham

Poetry | $12 $10
Fall 2017
Buy"exquisitely and skillfully...hilarious and/or solemn bursts of dramatically charged poems."
The Sad Songs of Hell are rooted in the French poems of Arthur Rimbaud. Since Cunningham knows almost no French, his "translations" use improvisation to create new works, ending up with something between projection, personal indulgence, and some possibly accurate interpretations.

What are these poems 'after Rimbaud'? What, of his language, sticks around? Perhaps some of his attitude, or political disgust. Maybe we can still hear his famous dialectic between the beautiful and the transgressive. Is it possible that these poems have as much Rimbaudian energy as an accurate translation, or even more? And if they have something to say in their own right, should their relation to the original matter?

Excerpt ˇ



her pinkie, a curlicue wrapped in rabbit fur
dips into the cheese; she pulls back her hair
& then, the unexpected: vegetarians
steal the butcher’s financial statements

whether your soul is gray, green, or buffet-colored
makes a difference to the two kinds of people at this resort
there’s the Cowboys, pissing on the poor
& the Gracious Sons, who consume them like parfait

tonight society’s antenna glows red, transmitting gout
& alien horrors into the mind’s buried cables
weaving a fate so singular & brutal it’s unspeakable

& on a dozen rainy graves this phrase: LOVE SAVES
yet the wheel does wheel, sending another corpse
through the terrible, angelic, ulcerous Asshole of the World

Close ˆ

About the Author

Brent Cunningham
Brent Cunningham is a writer and publisher living in Oakland. He has worked for Small Press Distribution in Berkeley since 1999 and currently serves as their Operations Director.  His first book of poetry, Bird & Forest, was published by Ugly Duckling Presse in 2005; his second, Journey to the Sun, was published in early 2012 by Atelos Press. Over the last decade he has served on the board of Small Press Traffic in San Francisco, helped found the annual SPT Poets Theater festival, and helped coordinate the Artifact Reading Series in San Francisco and Oakland. In 2005 he and Neil Alger founded Hooke Press, a chapbook press dedicated to publishing short runs of poetry, criticism, theory, writing and ephemera.

Advance Praise

Why do I laugh hysterically merely at the title of this jubilant suite of translations and their originals plucked from Rimbaud’s Hell? Wait, what are originals, what are translations? They are all originals. Real, authentic poems. But then what is the relationship between the poetry of Rimbaud and that of Cunningham? Now we get to the cunning of Cunningham’s work. Using key cognates (true or false), a lot of freedom (free association, cf. Freud), magical thinking, and sounds, or the idea of sound, or the sound of an idea, Cunningham exquisitely and skillfully constructs, with logic and anti-logic, hilarious and/or solemn bursts of dramatically charged poems. As Norah Jones says, “It’s music, man!”—Norma Cole