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This report is taken from PN Review 138, Volume 27 Number 4, March - April 2001.

Triplex Lawrence Sail

I remember a survey in which people were shown photographs of poets and asked to identify which of them were indeed poets. The results, thought to be surprising, suggested that the public at large had a clear, if inaccurate, idea of what a poet ought to look like. I wonder how it would have gone with the three photographs of writers which have haunted me since my schooldays, when I first saw them. The first is one of Nadar's portraits of Baudelaire: head and shoulders, with features of extraordinary intensity, the face deeply lined, the mouth thin but wide, dark hair straggling forward over one side of the domed forehead, the whole expression suggestive of a knowledge acquired through suffering, a man bearing the scars of being put through the mill. Then, a picture of Kafka, cropped perhaps from a picture of the writer standing beside a seated Felice Bauer: the appearance of knowledge turned inwards, with a secrecy about the finely honed features even though the subject is looking directly at the camera. And thirdly, the famous picture of Rimbaud taken by the poet and photographer Étienne Carjat in December 1871. In each of these photos it is above all the eyes which make the strongest impression: Baudelaire's, darkly ringed with fatigue or exhaustion, the pupils with a pinpoint of light at their centre and huge, virtually flooding the sockets; Kafka's, clear and precise, again very dark though the whites are clearly defined; and, most compelling of all, ...


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