Tag Archives: Guillaume Apollinaire

Paris Wanderlust: Old Friends in Père Lachaise Cemetery

Old Friends in Père Lachaise Cemetery

Marcel Marceau (1923-2007)

I love the story of Marcel Marceau rescuing Jewish children from Nazi-occupied France. He’d dress a group of children in “scout” costumes and lead them in a “nature field trip” until they had safely crossed the border into neutral Switzerland. During their dangerous journey, he kept them quietly entertained with his mime routines.

The signature of “Bip,” Marceau’s clown character:

Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918)

On the grave of Guillaume Apollinaire is inscribed his heart calligram:

Mon Coeur pareil à une flamme renversée.

(My heart, like an inverted flame.)

Gertrude Stein (1874-1946)
Alice B. Toklas (1877-1967)

As I was wandering through Père Lachaise last year, I struck up a conversation with a Parisian tour guide who was just finishing with a group. He asked me which graves I wanted to see, and I mentioned a few names. I’m glad I had my good walking shoes on, because he led me on an as-the-crow-flies tour, zigzagging through the cemetery, unerringly arriving each time at the requested burial place. Needless to say, I — who flunked three-dimensional space — gave him a nice tip.

Below, he stands beside the common grave of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.

A carafe, that is a blind glass.

A kind in glass and a cousin, a spectacle and nothing strange a single hurt color and an arrangement in a system to pointing. All this and not ordinary, not unordered in not resembling. The difference is spreading.

Gertruce Stein, from Tender Buttons

Théodore Géricault (1791-1824)

sculptor: Antoine Étex

As a student, Géricault bucked the prevailing Neoclassical tradition of painting and chose themes with emotional and dramatic intensity. The subject of his monumental Raft of the Medusa still reverberates with its startling originality and pathos.

The painting portrays an actual event: the shipwreck of a naval frigate. Passengers and crew were left by the incompetent captain to die as they drifted helplessly on a raft constructed to save themselves.

Théodore Géricault, detail of The Raft of the Medusa (1819), Musée du Louvre

Géricault’s large-scale painting in the Louvre overwhelms with the passengers’ brutal suffering and death, and with their waning hope as a ship on the horizon sails on, oblivious to the desperate men waving their shirts.

The subject brings to mind countless disasters at sea, including Africans captured into slavery, who suffered and died during the Middle Passage (of which Géricault would have been aware).

Sculptor Antoine Étex pays tribute to Géricault’s art with his creation of bas-reliefs, which impress by their technical feat of translation from one art form to another.

But the star of the tomb is the gisant or recumbent sculpture of the painter, reclining casually in the manner of Etruscan tomb effigies, wearing a loose-fitting smock and holding palette and brush. The hollow cheekbones and deep-set eyes suggest Géricault’s illness of tuberculosis, which contributed to his early death at the age of 32.

Victor Noir (1848-1870)

What a cruel joke the sculptor played on M. Noir. Maybe he was rooting for Noir’s opponent in the duel that dispatched the man whose reclining likeness has become a fertility charm. It’s reported that Noir’s metallic bulge has been rubbed so often that it’s quite literally wearing away, micron by micron.

Oscar Wilde (1854-1900)

Enough ink and other fluids have been spilled (and lipstick smeared) over Jacob Epstein’s majestic monument to Oscar Wilde.

Jean Carriès (1855-1894)

Sculptor Jean Carriès specialized in miniatures and masks, both of which are featured on his tomb:

A little harder to see are an angel and a pitcher — and between them, a mysterious little eye.

Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)

Chopin, Polish exile in Paris, is buried at Père Lachaise — all but his heart. He instructed that organ to be removed and buried in his beloved Poland.

At Chopin’s burial at Père Lachaise in 1849, an orchestral arrangement of his Marche funèbre was performed. And for his funeral in the church of La Madeleine, Chopin had requested a performance of the Requiem of Mozart, a favourite composer.

Euterpe, muse of music, holds a broken lyre

Something that I had forgotten about Chopin — and that is still surprising when I think about it — is his devotion to the music of J. S. Bach. The late Baroque composer’s music had been all but forgotten until Mendelssohn reintroduced it to the world.

On the surface, it’s hard to think of two composers more different. Yet Chopin studied the works of Bach and assigned them to his piano students. Chopin’s 24 Preludes for piano, written in all the major and minor keys, were inspired in part by Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier.

On a more stylistic level, Chopin can be contrapuntal — not only because he wrote a handful of fugues — and Bach can be bel canto to rival Bellini. I always thought of Bach as something of a Romantic, in a clockwork universe kind of way . . .

Chopin’s heart being in Poland, literally and figuratively, did Chopin find Bach’s polonaises among his dance movements?

Georges-Eugène Haussmann (1809-1891)

Haussmann, responsible for Paris’ architectural daily bread of wrought-iron balconies and Mansard roofs, is buried in a Neoclassical crypt:

Art Nouveau cutouts decorate the nicely patinated door.

Next: So Many Parks . . .

Camille Martin

Paris Wanderlust: Parks Hugging Gothic Churches

Parks Hugging Gothic Churches

Two parks at Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés

Saint-Germain-des-Prés is one of the oldest churches in Paris. Its medieval Romanesque tower, dating from 1000, is the oldest structure of that church.

On the grounds surrounding this church are two parks with treasures of their own.

Gothic Ruins and a Picasso: Square Laurent Prache

There’s something compelling and mysterious about ruins, like these fragments of Gothic tracery and arches in the gardens of Square Laurent Prache:

These fragments were salvaged from the destroyed abbey adjacent to Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés. During the French Revolution, the abbey was appropriated, and the monks expelled or executed. The abbey was repurposed as a factory for saltpetre, an ingredient in gunpowder. When a fire broke out, the explosion destroyed the abbey. Today, parts of the monk’s former residence rise from the garden bed next to the church.

The park is also home to Picasso’s Dora, in the likeness of his companion. Picasso dedicated the sculpture to poet Guillaume Apollinaire, who had died of influenza during the 1918 pandemic, complicated by a head wound he received as an infantry officer during World War I.

For the love of ceramics: Square Félix Desruelles

The other park adjacent to the ancient church, Square Félix Desruelles, holds two treasures relating to the art of ceramics.

Sèvres showcase at the 1900 Universal Expo

The monumental and colourful ceramic wall on the edge of the park celebrates Sèvres, the national ceramics industry. Created by Sèvres for the 1900 Paris Expo, it decorated the facade of the Palais des Manufactures Nationales. When that structure was demolished, the Sèvres monument was salvaged and moved to the Square Félix Desruelles.

The detail below shows the monument’s range of colours and the depth created by the friezes and the recessed semicircle.

Statue of Bernard Palissy, polymath and artist of ceramic critters

The bronze statue below memorializes Bernard Palissy, 16th-century polymath and ceramics artist. Palissy wears a potter’s apron over his gentleman’s doublet and puffed trunk hose:

Palissy created ornate oval platters in a rustic style, decorated with life-like creatures such as lizards, moths, frogs, snakes, and crustaceans. He often took casts of dead animals to sculpt them more precisely. Below, Palissy holds one of his ceramic platters with a snake at the center:

Just as saints are depicted with “attributes” associated with their lives, Palissy is surrounded by objects symbolizing his artistry as well as his vast and varied knowledge.

Behind Palissy’s right foot lies a kiln. Next to his left foot are crystals, indicating his interest in geology, and a large mollusk shell, representing his knowledge of natural history.

The kicker about the shell? It refers to Palissy’s innovative and science-based thinking about the origin of fossils.

Palissy bows his head in sadness. An outspoken Huguenot (French Protestant), he died miserably, imprisoned in the Bastille for his religious beliefs.

Square René Viviani
(next to Église St-Julien-le-Pauvre)

This hospitable square is adjacent to Église St-Julien-le-Pauvre, the 12th-century Gothic church built around the same time as the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

Sculptor: Georges Jeanclos, 25 Quai de Montebello (5e)

Viviani Fountain, full of tenderness and sadness, speaks to the sculptor’s artistic rendering of his pain as a Holocaust survivor into figures of exquisite, transcendent emotion.

Georges Jeanclos, Fontaine St-Julien (1995)

At the entrance to a shady slice of heaven with park benches stand ancient stones piled up like cairns:

These venerable old stones were removed from Notre Dame during 19th-century renovations by Viollet-le-Duc.

Next door are the gardens of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, where you can stroll by a 12th-century stone well with a wooden wheel that has aged to the color of the grey stones.

The well is accessible from both sides of its jagged wall, which appears to have been sledgehammered. French Revolution?

The locust tree below may not look like much, but it’s the oldest tree in Paris. It was planted in 1601 by the gardener of Henri IV. Its hoary old branches are propped up by planks, but its leaves appear as young as spring shoots. On display here is Paris’ veneration of arbres remarquables.

Square André-Lefèvre
(next to Église Saint-Severin)

Square Saint-Médard
(next to Église Saint-Médard)

Next: New Parks on Old Rails

Camille Martin

he-you-i: Who’s thinking, anyway?

Review of Every Day in the Morning (Slow) by Adam Seelig
Vancouver: New Star Books, 2010

          Adam Seelig’s Every Day in the Morning (Slow) is a savvy cross-genre poetic narrative that gets inside the head of Sam, a composer facing a crisis of creativity. Sam’s meandering morning thoughts reveal his frustration about his blocked creativity and his diminishing prospects for fame and money in an economy that he views as encouraging style, sentimentality, and the shallow repetition of the comfortable and familiar. These thoughts intertwine with Sam’s conflicted emotions about his mother, who died giving birth to him; his wealthy father, who has little understanding for Sam’s musical endeavours; and his wife, whose supportive words only send Sam into a spiral of guilt because of his lack of income.
          The book is a deceptively easy read: because of the liberal use of space on the page, it can be read in less than a couple of hours. But what makes it so extraordinary is Seelig’s seamless interweaving of the complex psychological, sexual, economic, and aesthetic themes within Sam’s reveries, the way that he guides the reader smoothly from one plane of thought to the next and demonstrates the interrelatedness of the themes flowing through Sam’s consciousness. For me the greatest pleasure is in re-reading the text, revisiting passages to experience at a slower pace the subtleties of their music. And there really is something musical—ironically enough, given Sam’s compositional block—in the thematic development and variations and in the rhythmic expressiveness aided by the use of space on the page, which reads something like a musical score: Sam’s elusive magnum opus, perhaps?
          Seelig’s striking use of space on the page places the text in a liminal genre between prose narrative and poem. The lineation and zigzagging left margin might seem daunting at first—quite a bit of eye hockey required—but an expressive rhythm emerges that, like a song by Janacek, aligns with speech patterns and with the emotional hesitations and associative streams of thought characteristic of the internal monologue. Here’s an excerpt from a page in which Sam contemplates the possible compromises a composer might make in an economy that rewards the commercialization of art:

The arrangement of the words emphasizes Sam’s bemoaning the correspondences between art, power, and money: like a capitalist bottom line, “sell” keeps hitting the left margin as a reminder of the hard economic realities of being an artist. Also, the repetition of words echoes the use of repetitive motifs and rhythms by composers of minimalist music, whom Sam views as a prime example of selling out in contemporary music. And the cheesy rhyming of “sham” and “ham” foreshadows his rant on the following page that “the cheesier the style the more it sells.”
          What might at first blush seem like an arbitrary scattering of words on the page is in reality a very smart use of space on the page—positions, margins, repetition—effectively scoring Sam’s thoughts. This use of space is a kind of stylistic signature of the book, but far from being what Sam sees as the vapid triumph of style, Seelig’s spacial manipulation meshes with and emphasizes the intricate interplay of ideas and emotions in Sam’s monologue. And the lineation produces a seamless quality, not only because of its cohesive effect on the whole, but also because the spatial patterns give the meandering thoughts the continuity that allows the reader to make connections among them, for example, between his troubled relationship with his wealthy father and his feelings of disgust toward the commercialization of art.
          But what is perhaps easier to take for granted in Every Day is the intricate and sophisticated shifting of perspective—thus the “he-you-i” in the title of this review. Although long passages of Sam’s internal monologue are written in the first person, the point of view shifts almost without the reader being aware of the change. The opening of the narrative shows just how Seelig glides from a third person narrator’s prologue:

This is what happens in the morning of course many things happen to many people in the morning but this is what happens when Sam wakes up . . .
. . .
he puts on some shaving cream picks up his razor blade and starts shaving in the yellow light he’s flicked on a slightly yellow light that flickers at first above the mirror that reflects him

to the second person:

well what else can a mirror do but reflect and what else can you do in the mirror but face your face and reflect on how you used to believe you could write music to make a living simply make a living from writing your own God how naive you were to believe that back then . . .
. . .
while he does fine all the same because whatever Father wants Father gets with all the money he has for what for sitting for sitting on his rump all day as if his fat all shits bills all day long a trumpet call of bills from his ass as if from out of his fat ass pops one long trumpet that toots bills all day long just sitting since he sits on his ass all day

and finally to the “i” of Sam’s internal monologue:

like me i guess a little like me so what if i also sit when i work i really work i don’t just sit and get fat if anything i’m getting even thinner

          The conversational “well” that opens the shift to the second person shows how subtly Seelig accomplishes the transition toward the internal monologue. Moreover, the “you,” which could be apprehended at first as an indefinite pronoun (a “you” out there, perhaps also the reader), presages Sam’s internal dialogue shaving before a mirror, addressing himself as “you” and responding as “i,” wondering whether he should latch onto a trademark, like the minimalists’ use of repetition, to become a famous composer. At the end of this passage, he agrees with his internal questioning voice, rejecting the prospect of becoming a “famous bore”:

maybe one note is all it takes why not like Cage one note to be like John Cage or Riley repetitive like Terry Riley why is Terry Riley so repetitive a bore like Reich take a bore like Steve Reich is Philip Glass as repetitive you wonder as you shave in the mirror is one note all it takes for me to be the next Glass or Reich or Riley or Cage sure if what you want is to be a bore a famous bore mind you but a bore all the same why are they all the same and why is one more repetitive than the next is it to bore me to death

          These subtle shifts in perspective enhance the seamless quality of the narrative, which is written so skilfully that a reader might marvel at the effect without at first being aware of how it was accomplished.
          Seelig’s shifting points of view remind me of Apollinaire’s “Zone,” a poem whose alternations among first, second, and third points of view have been associated with cubism. Some have interpreted these shifts as symptomatic of the modernist rupture of the self into expressions of self-alienation brought about by cultural forces of urbanization and technology. I’ve always felt that this argument is insufficient to explain the fracturing of the traditionally consistent point of view into modernist literature’s prismatic investigation of subjective experience. Call me an optimist, but I’m drawn more to Mary Ann Caws’ interpretation of the shifting points of view in “Zone”: “the pronominal zig-zags vibrate within the text, creating a warmth of contact between narrator and reader, drawn into the poem” (52).
          And to me, this is the effect of Seelig’s shifting points of view in Every Day, as the “he-you-i” flow at the opening demonstrates, for the reader is implicated in Sam’s dialogic “you.” Thus the boundaries between points of view are permeable, as are the resulting boundaries between narrator, character, and reader.
          In Every Day Seelig takes seamlessness, a quality associated with stream of consciousness writing, to another level through the musicality of the writing. And like hearing the music that Sam would probably like to compose, reading his thoughts is a hypnotic experience.

Work Cited
Caws, Mary Ann. “Strong-Line Poetry: Ashbery’s Dark Edging an the Lines of Self.” The Line in Postmodern Poetry. Eds. Robert Frank and Henry Sayre. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988.

Camille Martin

We Are All Walloon Poets

walloon poetry

          In an age when the Goliaths of the world’s languages are edging out diminishing pockets of diversity, and languages are estimated to die at the rate of about two per month,* writers are increasingly faced with the dilemma of whether to write in their native tongue or to enjoy a broader audience. Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe (b. 1930) chose the latter, writing in English instead of Igbo. On the other hand, French writer Max Rouquette (1908 – 2005) decided to write in his mother tongue, Occitan, now considered to be almost moribund. I met Rouquette years ago in Montpellier; he was introduced to me as a living treasure in the Languedoc region, where he lived and wrote, against the odds, in his native language.
          Is anyone today writing and publishing poetry in Walloon, the traditional dialect of the French population in southern Belgium? Perhaps writing in relative isolation, but publishing? During the nineteenth century, Walloon’s viability was reasserted, and there was a critical mass of Walloon speakers to make it a vibrant, living language with at least three dialects. Guillaume Apollinaire even learned Walloon and wrote a few poems in it. But that time has passed. It is not spoken much these days, having been largely supplanted by standard French.
          Nonetheless, in 1979 an anthology of twentieth-century Walloon poetry was published. It is likely the last printed manifestation of poetry in Walloon, a relic of a nearly-extinct cultural expression.
          In a way, we are all Walloon poets writing in a language that is destined, sooner or later, to be learned only by scholars and translators. The language so familiar to us that we may assume it to be immortal, will die by attrition or absorption, or else it will evolve to the point that our words will be unintelligible to our descendents. Language is the original product with built-in obsolescence. Today’s Ashbery is tomorrow’s Chaucer.
          A poet once told me that poets should not use slang or name any TV shows because the next generation would need footnotes to understand the references. If there were an English equivalent to the Académie Francaise, I’d nominate her for one of its immortels.

* David Crystal, Language Death (Cambridge UP, 2000)

* * * * * *
          The poems below are reproduced from The Colour of the Weather, a translation into English by Yann Lovelock of the anthology of Walloon poetry. It was published by The Menard Press and may still be available at Small Press Distribution.

Gabrielle Bernard (1893 – 1863)


Their skeins stretch
like white silk between the hedges
as October rusts the woods.

Mornings grow cooler,
frost whitens the pastures.

Gossamer down flume-sides
webbed by the dew with pearls . . .

The north wind whispers a winter warning.

Is it white mourning for the bright summer,
this gossamer everywhere,
spun from witches’ fingers over beck and dyke?

Roadside gossamer;
dreams of old days to come;
the farms have gathered in the harvest.

Slopes of gossamer . . .

Webs on the bushes,
white shivering weeds of the good season,
trembling on leaves already withered . . .

Gossamered temples . . .
what use is plenty in the barns
when heart and arms are empty?

Albert Maquet (1922 – 2009)

Sick man

The man who had eyes in place of his hands and nothing in place of his eyes lay bedridden till yesterday.

I brought him a cup of camomile and while I stirred the sugar with a silver spoon his hands watched my eyes while his eyes did nothing.


What time is left he passes
Watching it grow like a flower
His hand glued to the window,
His long thief’s hand.

The others, huddled by the fire,
Drowse and contract
As their frosting dreams
Freeze to the pane.

Make no noise to wake them,
Be still if you enter.
Hand, flower, and window
Are not what you think.


Folk, all the acquaintances I’d had
Would make believe they were dead to cut me.
The others would watch me pass like the plague
From the shelter of their narrow windows.
Wherever I’d be, no-one there but myself.
Nothing hidden but at my approach.
Water, the ponds would rebuff my face
And my shadow itself leave no trace now.
It would be a day that never ended,
As if the darkness flinched back before it.
And so quiet you could hear a fly!
I’d search for a sign to say I existed;
Then feel so alone all at once
I wouldn’t know where to go any longer.
I’d stretch out there full length on the stones
And see the sun through my lids.
I should think of nothing. Let myself get well.
Would hear the sound of my blood pumping madly.
And before I needed to come to myself
I’d take my life up, unwrinkled, at will.

Camille Martin