Books: Damnedest of the Damned

THE DAY ON FIRE (701 pp.)—James Ramsey Ullman—World ($5.95).

Most of today's young poets lead three-baby, two-martini lives at the universities where they serve as assistant professors. The snowy-souled coeds they shepherd through seminars must be highly skeptical about French Poet Arthur Rimbaud's formula for creative success: "Systematic derangement of the senses," sometimes through ordinary alcohol, more often with absinthe, sexual inversion and hashish.

Rimbaud was indisputably the damnedest of the damned, but his biographies cloud into vagueness just as they become most fascinating. At 19, after four years of systematic "derangement" and blazing creation, Rimbaud wrote his bitter valedictory, A Season in...

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