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This article is taken from PN Review 87, Volume 19 Number 1, September - October 1992.

The Shaping if Modern French Poetry:Visual Lyricism Roger Little

APOLLINAIRE is undoubtedly the best known and the most obvious 20th-century practitioner of that link between the verbal and the visual which expresses itself as pictogram or ideogram. The term on which he finally settled to cover both varieties (and also the rarer 'phonogram') was 'calligram', and Calligrammes is the title of the volume, written during the first world war and in the year immediately prior to it, which includes many of the most familiar examples.

Singularly susceptible to fashionable trends, Apollinaire also had a capacity for posturing which, in respect of his calligrams, led him to claim a spurious originality, a pioneering role on which others might improve: 'C'est un premier livre de cette sorte et rien ne s' oppose à ce que, d'autres allant plus loin dans la perfection que moi qui ai commencé cette sorte de poésie, il n'y ait des livres calligrammatiques fort beaux un jour.' More to the point, in the same letter to his friend André Billy, is his typological insertion of calligrams in the recent development of poetic form: 'ils sont une idéalisation de la poésie vers-libriste et une précision typographique à l'epoque où la typographic termine brillamment sa carrière, à l'aurore des moyens nouvaux de reproduction que sont le cinéma et le phonographe'.

It is true that the devising of picture-poems has always been sporadic rather than systematic. The 3rd-century B.C. 'technopaignia' of Simmias, Dosiadas and Theocritus made familiar through the Greek Anthology can scarcely have escaped ...


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