A Season in Hell with Rimbaud by Dustin Pearson. Rochester, NY. BOA Editions, Ltd. 2022. 96 pages. $17.00. Paperback.
Dustin Pearson’s collection A Season in Hell with Rimbaud finds itself in conversation with Rimbaud and influenced by Dante as the speaker goes on a Dantean journey through Hell in search of his brother. Despite the influence of tradition that is evoked throughout Pearson’s poetics, this collection reexamines the Hell narrative as the Hell lyric that navigates a relationship between brothers and questions the world at both a beginning and an ending. Pearson’s Hell becomes both grotesque and dreamlike that leaves the reader questioning how much is dream and how much is Hell. The poems in this collection also explore who we are to another, or who others are to us.
“Who in your life would you walk through fire for?” asks Pearson’s speaker in the first of two poems titled, “Things I’ve Thought, Things I Do.” The speaker is asking this question of his brother; however, the poet also acknowledges the reader and asks them to ponder this question of themselves, too. The speaker’s own vulnerabilities are put on full display throughout the poem when Pearson writes, “The thought of asking that question used to bother me, having to listen to a list that didn’t include me, // or thinking the one name you’d say wouldn’t be mine.” In the final section of the poem, the speaker begins to confront their own fears, “Brother, I never thought my answer would be you. I’m not disappointed like I thought I’d be.” This poem becomes an acknowledgement of love, but it’s hard to not feel the sadness with which it leaves the reader, too.
This prosaic diptych of poems becomes a sort of confessional refrain after the second “Things I’ve Thought, Things I Do” builds upon the first which helps to anchor the book. The repetition allows the speaker to negotiate the Hellscape Pearson offers to his readers through the speaker’s search of understanding not only their brother, but themself. These sectional poems offer a breadth of space on the page as the speaker searches inward, “These days when I sift through the past like this, when you’re lying next to me on the bed before you’re lost again, I’m trying to tell you what I will miss.” This final line of “Things I’ve Thought, Things I Do” guts the reader with the speaker’s raw confession, once again, to their brother and leaves the reader contemplating their own histories, relationships, and what they are unwilling or unable to say.
Pearson’s speaker remains confessional and vulnerable within these poems. However, at times, this confession leaves the inner exploration of the speaker and feels as if the poet is speaking directly to the reader. “The World at Its Beginning” leaves readers with a tenderness. In it, Pearson’s speaker concludes: “I tell myself / I’d follow him anywhere / to keep the world / from ending.”
The last four lines of “The World at Its Beginning”––and the last four lines of Pearson’s Hell Lyric––become a compassionate reach from the speaker to his brother, from the poet to the reader. The poet is prevalent throughout the invention that is this collection which makes for another juxtaposition of speaker and poet. With the diptych of poems “Things I’ve Thought, Things I Do” and the final poem “The World at Its Beginning,” the self-searching chants through the outward compassion and both juxtapose the darker images that wander through many of the other poems in the collection. The speaker has been giving us the vulnerabilities, but it is the poet who has given us the realization of the final lines that end this collection. Dustin Pearson’s A Season in Hell with Rimbaud is an epic lyric worth entering Hell for.
––Tyler Michael Jacobs, Blog Co-Editor