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This review is taken from PN Review 86, Volume 18 Number 6, July - August 1992.

A TOUCH OF MODERNISM BY WAY OF INTRODUCTION Max Jacob, Hesitant Fire: Selected Prose of Max Jacob, translated and edited by Moishe Black and Maria Green (University of Nebraska Press) £19.95

Today, the Larousse Encyclopedia places Max Jacob alongside Apollinaire as 'one of the masters of modernism in poetry'; but, whereas Apollinaire is traditionally regarded as the watershed of modern poetry, Jacob's name is seldom mentioned and his work is often glossed over in critical appraisals of the French avant-garde. Born in Quimper, Brittany in 1876, and a painter as well as a writer, Jacob participated in the literary, artistic and cultural revolutions of his time. He was a resident at the Bateau-Lavoir in Montmartre during the formative period of cubism, and his work has been applauded by, among others, André Gide, Paul Claudel, Jean Cocteau, and Gertrude Stein.

The small readership that Jacob's books have enjoyed hitherto is partly attributable to Andrée Breton's exclusion of his work from the surrealist pantheon when surealism came into being in the early 1920's. While the surrealists claimed as their own the artists formerly championed by Apollinaire, and hailed Reverdy as 'the greatest living poet', they failed even to mention Jacob in any of their polemical writings - and this despite the fact that, in the earliest years of this century, Jacob had been writing poems using methods akin to the later surrealist practice of 'automatic writing'. 'I strove to capture within me, by every means, the material of the unconscious: words at liberty, daring associations of ideas, night and day dreams, hallucinations and so on …' wrote Jacob about his collection of prose poems called Le Cornet á Des (The ...


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