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John Isbell 08-11-2018 06:47 AM

Here is why almost all work on the visual layout of a poem post-Apollinaire bores me:

My apologies for the long link. Googling Calligrammes will turn up a fair sample of what Apollinaire imagined and achieved. To my mind, it blows e.e. cummings, to start with, out of the water. cummings looks timid.


PS Apollinaire was a friend of Picasso's, as one might guess. He wrote the Calligrammes largely in the trenches and died early shortly after WW 1.

John Isbell 08-12-2018 04:22 AM

Funny, I thought this thread might generate more discussion! It seems there's been a bit of a logjam in the middle of the homepage recently. I was thinking I should have called this "Apollinaire and Visual Poetry," a topic I'd think just about everyone here has an opinion on. :-)
The poem I link to is about the Eiffel Tower, natch.


Andrew Frisardi 08-12-2018 04:27 AM

I like Apollinaire a lot, John, and agree that his picture-poems are stand-out. An Italian poet I translated, Giuseppe Ungaretti, was a close friend of his. There's a prose piece of U.'s that describes receiving the news of Apollinaire's death and attending his funeral. U. was fortunate to survive WWI, and also wrote his first book in the trenches--in his case in the Carso in northern Italy. It was a good time to be in Paris, but also very dangerous (Spanish flu as well, after the war, which Modigliani, another friend of A. and U., died of).

Sorry if I've gone off-topic--Ungaretti did not do visual poetry, that I recall. But there were so many great painters in Paris at that time, no wonder visual poetry was a thing.

John Isbell 08-12-2018 04:37 AM

Hi Andrew,

Was Ungaretti a Futurist? Giuseppe? I've heard the name vaguely, and would be interested in his Apollinaire poem. Apollinaire died of the Spanish flu on November 9, 1918, says google - two days before the Armistice. I think he was weakened by the German sniper bullet he took to the head. Like you, I am a fan of the Calligrammes. His earlier collection Alcools is good too.

As you say, lots of painters in Paris in the first years of the C20th!! Apollinaire was quite mixed up in that avant-garde.


Andrew Frisardi 08-12-2018 04:48 AM

Ungaretti was not a Futurist though he was in Paris then and knew them. He was one of the first Italian "Hermetic" (very compressed and elliptical) poet and one of the originators of Modernist poetry in Italy.

Here’s a bit from my introduction to U.’s Selected Poems (published in 2002):


Ungaretti was in Paris for less than two years, but that was long enough for him to refer to that time, more than fifty years later, as his cultural and social coming-of-age. He attended Henri Bergson’s and other lectures at the Sorbonne, became a close friend of Apollinaire, and came into regular contact with the major exponents of the avant-garde: Picasso, Georges Braque, Fernand Léger, Giorgio De Chirico, Max Jacob, and others. Having become friendly with the Futurists Giovanni Papini, Aldo Palazzeschi, and Soffici, he was invited to collaborate with them on their new journal, Lacerba, where Ungaretti first published his poems. Lacerba, edited in Milan, and La Voce, in Florence, were the main organs for the earliest stages of Italian modernism.
And here’s U.'s prose bit (not a poem) about him learning A. had died:


Some days before the Armistice, when it was already predicted, I’d been sent to Paris to take part in a magazine for soldiers of our army corps. The magazine was called Sempre Avanti! Apollinaire had asked me to bring some boxes of Tuscan cigars, and, just having arrived in Paris, I hurried to the house of my friend. I found Apollinaire dead, his face covered by a black cloth, and his wife crying, and his mother crying.

Along the streets they were shouting, “A mort Guillaume!” Apollinaire, too, by heartbreaking coincidence, was named William, like the defeated kaiser.

John Isbell 08-12-2018 05:27 AM

Thanks for the passage, Andrew - I might quote "A mort Guillaume!" in class. Thanks also for the snapshot of Ungaretti.


Matt Q 08-12-2018 06:19 AM


Andrew Frisardi 08-12-2018 10:44 AM

You've probably seen Marinetti's concrete poem, John. Your thread got me looking things up, so I found this, which I remembered seeing pictures of at some point.

It's interesting that what the Futurists were doing with the printing press calligraphers Islamic and otherwise had been doing for centuries. Here's a piece by David Jones, which is a concrete or visual rendering of a traditional text:

The description of it reads:

Inscribed as a Christmas card to Harman Grisewood and his family and dated 1961, the Latin text is taken from the ritual of the Mass and reads "May the Lord enkindle in us the fire of His Love / and the flame of everlasting Charity"; the Welsh around the margin is a literal translation of the same.

John Isbell 08-12-2018 11:14 AM

Lovely. And yes, Islamic and Jewish calligraphy had been experimental for centuries before Apollinaire; thank you for reminding me! I believe East Asian calligraphy didn't experiment with formatting in the same way.


John Riley 08-13-2018 06:24 PM

Andrew, I recently discovered David Jones. Thanks for posting that. Here is a short video you may like if you're a David Jones fan.

John, I guess, and I'm not trying to be argumentative, but the comparison to Cummings and the apparent need for Apollinaire to be the greatest of the great shape poem is uncomfortable. You may be right but is his greatness great because he was better than Cummings? I don't know why they have to be compared.

As for the poem, I do like it. I'm working on reading it in French, so thanks for posting. I'm trying to relearn what I once knew of the language and to add more. It's slow going.

Thanks for posting this.

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