Today marks the birthday of the great French poet, Guillaume Apollinaire.
“Guillaume, Guillaume how I envy your fame, your accomplishment for American letters/ your Zone with its long crazy line of bullshit about death/come out of the grave and talk through the door of my mind/issue new series of images oceanic haikus blue taxi-cabs in Moscow negro statues of Buddha/pray for me on the phonograph record of your former existence/ with a long sad voice and strophes of deep sweet music sad and scratchy as World War 1.”
These words are from Allen’s great 1958 poem, “At Apollinaire’s Grave” (available in Kaddish & Other Poems 1958-1960)
Apollinaire is buried (famously) at Pere Lachaise in Paris (“Peter Orlovsky and I walked softly through Pere Lachaise we both knew we would die/ and so held temporary hands tenderly in a citylike miniature eternity”)
“Came back sat on a tomb and stared at your rough menhir/ a piece of thin granite like an unfinished phallus/ a cross fading into the rock 2 poems fading into the stone one Couer Renversee/ other Habituez-vous comme moi A ces prodiges que j’annonce/ Guillaume Apollinaire de Kostrowitsky”
“Does anybody know who Apollinaire was at all? [this is Allen, August 1981, lecturing at NAROPA, a course he gave that year on “Expansive Poetics”] – Has anybody got some idea?” – “He was a friend of (Pablo) Picasso, friend of the painter Douanier Rousseau, the primitive painter. He wrote a book on Cubist painters. He operated in Paris as a great impresario, and editor, and writer of pornographic anonymous novels to make a living. He visited Le Bateau-Lavoir, which is the place in Montmartre where Picasso lived with (Georges) Braque and where there was painting experiments with Cubism, a totally modern means of visual representation…”
He goes on, in the course of this talk, to read, comment on, and further examine the classic, “Zone” (in this case, primarily, in Roger Shattuck’s translation) – ‘the first great example in European regular poetry of that collage method” – as well as his (Apollinaire’s) “Poem Read At The Marriage of Andre Salmon” (‘a great vigorous affirmation that actually comes out of Walt Whitman”) – and even, the less-expansive (but considerably better-known), “Le Pont Mirabeau”)
(A recording of this lecture is available here – alongside an earlier (1975), perhaps-even-more-illuminating, Ginsberg-on-Apollinaire-at-NAROPA discourse here).
Also, from the 1981 talk:
“Incidentally, there is a recording of Apollinaire’s voice as well. I don’t have it. The only place I ever heard it was in the Musee de Sonore, the Sound Museum [perhaps Archive de Parole?]..” –
“the phonograph record of your former existence”
Allen is, of course, referring here to Apollinaire’s own, historic, 1913 reading of “Le Pont Mirabeau”. (Here’s Le Pont Mirabeau, set to music, sung by Serge Reggiani)
There is also, magically, film, or perhaps the flicker-book illusion of movement, in this wonderful archive piece here (Apollinaire, seemingly, caught in conversation with his friend, Roland Dorgeles):
Here are several further examples of the form.
And Alcools, not only one of the most important books in French, but a key volume in 20th century poetry (“the printed poems, Alcools, in my pocket, his voice, in the museum”).
We reported earlier on Nic Saunders’ short feature film, At Apollinaire’s Grave (a filmed evocation of Allen’s poem)
Guillaume, we salute you.
“…voici le temps/ou l’on connaitra l’avenir/ Sans mourir de connaissance”