A New Exhibit and Colloquium on Guillaume Apollinaire

A drawing of Guillaume Apollinaire by Pablo Picasso. Published in Picasso/Apollinaire: Correspondence.

Friday, November 9, marks the 100-year anniversary of the death of French poet Guillaume Apollinaire. To commemorate this occasion, the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures will be hosting a colloquium and exhibit in John M. Olin Library. The colloquium, titled “Apollinaire, Amour and Armistice, 1918-2018,” begins November 9 at 3:00 p.m. in Room 142 of Olin Library. Lionel Cuillé will deliver the keynote address at 4:45 p.m. More details about the colloquium can be found here.

An exhibit on Guillaume Apollinaire opens today and will be on display in the Julian Edison Department of Special Collections through November 16. The exhibit features books of Apollinaire’s work, as well as a collection of letters between Apollinaire and Louise de Coligny-Châtillon, or “Lou,” with whom he had a brief love affair.

More About Apollinaire

Guillaume Apollinaire was a French poet, playwright, short story writer, novelist, art critic, and a forefather of Surrealism. Born in Rome and of Polish decent, he was raised speaking Italian, Polish, and French. He immigrated to France in his teens, where he eventually came to represent the cosmopolitan “New Spirit” of the years preceding WWI in Europe. Apollinaire marked this age through his championing of Cubism, his playful enthusiasm for Futurism, his prescient invention of the term Surrealism, but above all through his poetry. Apollinaire is especially known for his shaped poetry, which experiments with the interplay of poetic texts and visual form.

A page from an English translation of Apollinaire’s Calligrammes, featuring some of his shaped poetry.

Apollinaire’s preoccupation with form led him to collaborate with many painters, including his friend Pablo Picasso, whom he championed in Les Peintres Cubistes. Apollinaire’s earliest volume of poems, the Bestiaire (1911), features woodcuts by the Fauvist painter and decorative artist Raoul Dufy.

A page from Apollinaire’s Bestiary featuring a woodcut by Raoul Dufy,

A Unique Collection of Letters from Apollinaire’s Lover

Apollinaire joined the 38th Artillery Regiment during WWI after the woman he was pursuing at the time, Louise de Coligny-Châtillon, known in his poetry and letters as “Lou,” discouraged his advances. He was sent to Nimes in December of 1914, and Lou followed him a couple of days later, initiating a brief affair. Lou was still involved with another man, however, and by January Apollinaire was already sending seducing love letters to another woman. The brief correspondence between Lou and Apollinaire, cataloged in the Louise de Coligny-Châtillon Letters Vertical Manuscript Collection, contains six letters featuring love poems, drawings, and detailed descriptions of his life on the front.

A letter from Lou to Apollinaire in which she declares her love for him, December 1914. From the Louise de Coligny-Châtillon Letters Manuscript Collection

Apollinaire and WWI

In 1916, Apollinaire received a head wound in battle and was discharged from the army. After returning home, he became obsessed with images of war, which infiltrated his later poetry. His final volume of poetry, Calligrammes, was published in April 1918 and reinvents the love lyric with its combination of battleground imagery and formal inventiveness.  It also represents the culmination of the creative approach to visual and literary aesthetics that can be seen throughout Apollinaire’s writings. Weakened by his wounds, Apollinaire died of Spanish influenza on November 9, 1918, only seven months after Calligrammes was published, and two days before the armistice ending the Great War.

A page from Calligrammes featuring Apollinaire’s shaped poetry,

About the author

Rose is a PhD candidate in English and American Literature at Washington University in St. Louis. When she is not working on her dissertation on post-1945 asylum novels or blogging about the amazing materials in Special Collections, she fills much of her time reading, writing, gardening, and wrestling.