Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Apollinaire: French Innovator Still an Influence

Poets will mechanize poetry one day, 
just like other things have been mechanized. 
They will provide a completely new lyricism
driven by the motion now taking place with
the phonograph and cinema. . . .
~ Guillaume Apollinaire*

Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918), a French poet, novelist, short story writer, playwright, and art critic, is considered one of the early 20th Century's most important literary lights. Though he lived only 38 years, he not only influenced such artistic movements as Cubism (1907-1922), Futurism (1909-Late 1920s), Dadaism (1916-1924), Surrealism (1924-1966); he also is credited with creating calligrammes, or "poem pictures" (birds, clocks, etc.), in which he experimented with typeface and words' typographical arrangement to suggest or produce a visual image on the page. His calligrammes could be said to be a forerunner of concrete poetry — sometimes called "shape poetry" — of the 1950s and 1960s and of visual poetry today.

The charming and informative TED-Ed video below is an excellent introduction to Apollinaire and his innovations in poetry:

The Public Domain Review has uploaded for viewing Apollinaire's Calligrammes: Poemes de la paix et dan la guerre, or "Calligrams: Poems of Peace and War, 1913-1916". The volume was first published in 1918. The original collection also may be viewed at UbuWeb. An annotated, bi-lingual edition (2004) is available from the University of California Press.

An exhibition of the word pictures from Calligrammes took place at Princeton University Art Museum in 2013. At the link is a 1913 recording of Apollinaire reading his poetry.

Apollinaire continues to inspire. Recently, I came across an inventive project, "Calligrammes — A Song Cycle of Visual Poetry", in which composer Albert Behar interpreted Apollinaire's calligrams as a visual music score for accordian and soprano Ariadne Greif. Designer Gretchen Vitamvas crafted costumes for Behar and Greif in which she "embedded" the poems. Behar and Greif gave a performance of the work in September 2015 at La Maison Francaise at New York University.


* Quoted from Apollinaire's Lecture "L'Espirit nouveau et les Poetes", or "The New Spirit and the Poets" (1917)

Official Apollinaire Website (Hosted by Western Illinois University)

"Poems Take Form on the Printed Page" at Poetry Through the Ages.

Also see Robert Simanowski's "Concrete Poetry in Analog and Digital Media" and Peter Mayer's "Concrete Poems Just Are".

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