Pierre Albert-Birot

Eumenis Megalopoulos | Dec 1, 2023

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Pierre Albert-Birot, born on April 22, 1876 in Angoulême and died on July 25, 1967 in Paris 7e, is a poet, sculptor, painter, typographer and man of theater French.

A convinced avant-gardist during the First World War, through the magazine Sic (1916-1919) of which he was the founder and director, he became the defender of futurism and cubism. The Dadaists considered him as one of theirs, without him ever subscribing to it. He declared himself founder of the "nunic" school (from the Greek adverb νῦν

After the war, he stayed away from the Surrealists, who nevertheless owe their name in part to the discussions between Apollinaire and himself, and built a solitary work and a touch of everything, printing his books at home, cultivating the childish joy of artistic creation, as he himself wrote: "I find my joy in poetic creation and I find my joy in the creations of my hands. All this is play, I like to play, I maintain the kid."

If he was mocked by the surrealists for his pretensions to illustrate himself in too many arts, decried by Philippe Soupault as an extravagant without real poetic talent, he attracted the praise and friendships of Francis Picabia, Max Jacob and Apollinaire. Later, Gaston Bachelard will praise the depth of his philosophical views, and he will mark of his influence various poets, such as Jean Follain, Pascal Pia, and until today Valérie Rouzeau.

Provincial childhood and adolescence (1876-1892)

Pierre Albert Birot (he has not yet added his middle name to his name) was born on April 22, 1876 in Angoulême. His mother, Marguerite, "embroidered, played the piano and sang," and "never stopped doing business, but it was hardly solid. After a short stay in Paris, the family moved back to Angoulême, the father having inherited a house, when Pierre was 7 years old. Pierre was then enrolled in the Guez-de-Balzac high school.

The family spends its summers not far away, at the Château de Chalonnes, in Fléac. There, the young Albert-Birot, still a high school student, sets up with a cousin a girdle puppet theater, makes the dolls, paints the sets, writes plays, and invites the village to performances.

The father, having done bad business, sold his house in Angoulême, and the family moved to Bordeaux. When he entered the fourth grade, Pierre received private lessons in Greek. His passion for carved wood led him to build small objects and to give a cigarette holder to his Greek teacher.

In the same year, her father left home to live with a friend of his wife. Finding herself without resources, Marguerite set up a family boarding house in a large house adjacent to the Théâtre des Arts. Pierre, who had become a turbulent high school student, had a large "workroom" where he "scribbled". The house welcomed artists who came to perform in the neighboring theater, including young dancers who came to perform in Miss Helyett. However, the boarding house was not enough to cover the family's needs, so Marguerite Birot and her son moved to Paris at the end of 1892. The mother improvised herself as a seamstress.

Early years in Paris (1892-1916)

In Paris, Albert Birot, barely sixteen years old, met the sculptor Georges Achard, who admitted him to the École des Beaux-Arts and introduced him to Falguière. Wanting to become a painter, Albert-Birot met Gustave Moreau and Gérôme at this time. It was finally sculpture, especially hard materials, that caught his interest: he worked in the studio of Georges Achard and met Alfred Boucher. In the latter's workshop, an Italian metteur au point taught him how to reduce marble.

He set up his studio in a shack on Boulevard du Montparnasse, then, having received a grant from the city of Angoulême in 1895, moved it to Rue Vaugirard, and finally, around 1900, to Boulevard Saint-Jacques. At the same time, he attended courses at the Sorbonne and the Collège de France, notably the philosophy course of Alfred Espinas.

In 1896 he married the sister of the painter Georges Bottini, Marguerite, with whom he had four children.

He exhibited at the Salon des Artistes Français for the first time in 1900. Seven years later, his sculpture The Widow was bought by the State for the cemetery of Issy-les-Moulineaux where it is still the main monument today. For food purposes, he sculpted Parisian facades. From 1900, he also worked as an art restorer in an antique shop, a job he kept throughout his life and which later provided him with the material for his novel Rémy Floche, employé.

Around 1909, his companion Marguerite Bottini, with whom he had a conflicting relationship, mysteriously left him and his children without giving any news. Albert-Birot then met, in 1910, Hélène Chapelain-Séjourné, the mother of Roger Chapelain-Midy. She broke up with him in 1912, giving up their marriage project under pressure from her family.

Between 1911 and 1913, Albert-Birot learned Esperanto and wrote about thirty poems in this language. He frequented Esperanto circles in Paris and it is perhaps there that he met the musician Germaine de Surville. The same year, he abandons his children. His daughters entered the Orphanage of Arts in Courbevoie, his sons the Artistic Fraternity.

Wartime: the SIC years (1916-1919)

"Yes really I was born in January 1916, before I was just a fetus."

Reformed during the Great War because of respiratory insufficiency, Pierre Albert Birot will, according to his own expression, "really be born" on the occasion of the creation of the magazine SIC (Sons Idées Couleurs, Formes), in 1916, the moment when he definitively takes on his artist's name, adding his middle name to his family name.

Between 1914 and 1915, the war having led his employer to dispense with his services as a restorer, Birot traded in prints and postcard poetry of the war for the "poilus" and their families, while his wife gave singing and recitation lessons. But Birot was deeply dissatisfied with his life and his artistic career, and pondered the idea of a review. After several trials and errors, the first issue of SIC appeared in January 1916.

The title of the magazine, represented by a "SIC" engraved on wood framed by two symmetrical "F", has two meanings; it is first the Latin absolute yes, "will to oppose constructively the war negating human values" and more generally, will "to assert itself by an integral acquiescence to the world". It is finally the acronym of its subtitle "Sounds Ideas Colors, Forms", which for the time being is only the expression of the multiple activities of the couple Albert-Birot - Sounds for the music of Germaine, Ideas for the poetry, Colors for the painting, and Forms for the sculpture, of Pierre, but becomes soon the watchword of a "synthesis of the modernist arts".

Pierre Albert-Birot writes the first issue in its entirety. A refusal of the pastism and the principle of imitation is outlined there. "Art begins where imitation ends", one reads, next to vaguely nationalistic proclamations, like "Our will: Act. To take initiatives, not to wait for it to come to us from across the Rhine". But the publication remains vague in its content, and shows that its author had "no contact with the modernist world" at the time. It can be seen as the outstretched hand of an isolated artist to avant-garde circles of which he is both totally unknown and ignorant. When Albert-Birot mocks Claudel by calling him "a beautiful poet of the past", and declares "I would like to get to know a poet of today", this last statement can be taken literally, as a "vibrant call to others".

The one who first answered this call, and through whom Albert-Birot "who knew no one, in a few months knew everyone", was the futurist painter Gino Severini, whom he met in February 1916. The two artists became "very friendly" and under the impetus of Severini, SIC definitely joined the avant-garde, as Albert-Birot explains:

"Severini had already spent many years fighting and researching ultra-modern art, since he had been at the side of Marinetti, the creator of futurism, for a long time. Naturally, for him, the first issue of my magazine was very timid, but after talking to me, he sensed that I was ready to become a real fighter for the right reason.

The second number, published in February, devoted to the futurism, makes the report of an exhibition of the painter. Albert-Birot summarizes the aesthetics of the Italian avant-garde movement with this formula: "The painting until then fraction of the extent becomes with the futurism fraction of the time.

Through Severini, Albert-Birot met Apollinaire and thus entered the Parisian artistic life. Just as Apollinaire gathered his friends on Tuesdays at the Café de Flore, SIC organized meetings on Saturdays in the rue de la Tombe-Issoire, where Apollinaire came and brought his friends, including André Salmon, Reverdy, Serge Férat, Roch Grey, Max Jacob, Modigliani, Cendrars. Saturdays are also frequented by the Russian painters Alexandre Orloff, Léopold Survage, Ossip Zadkine, and the very young Aragon, Soupault, Raymond Radiguet. So many collaborators for the fifty-four issues of SIC.

Open to all avant-gardes, the magazine plays during the four years of its publication a leading role in the artistic creation of the time. With contributions from Apollinaire, who offered several unpublished poems including "L'Avenir" from number 4, it was enriched by contributions from Cubist sympathizers: poems by Reverdy, prints by Serge Férat, and reports on an exhibition by the Fauvist André Derain. It is also widely used as a Parisian tribune for the Futurists, and welcomes the texts of Severini, Luciano Folgore and Gino Cantarelli, the prints of Depero, Prampolini and Giacomo Balla, as well as the scores of Pratella. It also welcomed those who would later form the Dadaist group in Paris: Philippe Soupault, Louis Aragon, and Pierre Drieu la Rochelle. Finally, SIC was not afraid to get closer to the Zurich Dadaists, and Tzara found there, as well as in Nord-Sud at the same time, the ground for his first publications in France. At the same time, Pierre Albert-Birot collaborates with the numbers 3 to 5 of Dada, the review of Tzara.

SIC benefiting from a certain editorial success, Albert-Birot leaves his first printer Rirachovsky in November 1916 for a more expensive one: Levé. The first to benefit from it, the number 12 of SIC contains Apollinaire's calligram "Il pleut", a typographic masterpiece accomplished by Levé in one night.

In spite of his success, Pierre Albert-Birot is nevertheless subject to the mockery of the future surrealists. For example, Théodore Fraenkel, to mock at the same time SIC, Cocteau, and Albert-Birot, sends to the magazine a poem entitled "Restaurants de nuit" and signed Cocteau; in acrostic, it is possible to read "Poor Birot". Seeing only fire, Albert-Birot publishes the fake in the number 17.

Albert-Birot met Apollinaire in the spring of 1916 while Apollinaire was convalescing in the Italian hospital in Paris. The two men became "immediate" friends, according to Albert-Birot's testimony:

"Apollinaire came back after his head operation; I went to see him and we immediately hit it off. I can say that when we left that first visit we were already friends. And it never stopped, it continued, alas not very long, but finally it was absolutely impeccable until his death."

Apollinaire offers SIC his poem "L'Avenir", published in the fourth issue, and a drawing. Albert-Birot quickly asked his friend to write a play that he would stage, with the idea of a non-realistic theater as its watchword. Apollinaire proposed to subtitle it "supernaturalist drama". Albert-Birot wished to avoid a comparison with the naturalist school or the evocation of the supernatural, so they agreed on the word "sur-realist".

The play, Les Mamelles de Tirésias, was created at the Maubel Conservatory on June 24, 1917. After a prologue in which the director of the troupe proclaims "we are trying to infuse a new spirit into the theater", the play features Thérèse, who became Tiresias when her feminine attributes flew into the air. The play, which is sold out, has a taste of Dada evening: "The journalists The play ends in a tohu-bohu indescribable. Scandalized, the press rages as much against Apollinaire as against Albert-Birot.

The same year, Albert-Birot publishes his first collection, 31 poems of pocket, that Apollinaire prefaces. The latter invites the reader not to stop at the apparent simplicity of the poems which could "surprise" and compares their author to a "kind of pyrogen".

Apollinaire died the following year and the experience of Mamelles de Tirésias could not be repeated, as Geneviève Latour regrets, imagining that a prolonged collaboration between Apollinaire and Albert-Birot "would have been a source of wealth and great success for the theater.

In January 1919, Albert-Birot devoted a triple issue of SIC to the memory of Apollinaire, bringing together the funeral tributes of several artists, including Louis Aragon, André Billy, Blaise Cendrars, Jean Cocteau, Paul Dermée, Max Jacob, Pierre Reverdy, Jules Romains, André Salmon, and Tristan Tzara, along with his own oration "Ma main amie.

Unable to survive Apollinaire for long, the magazine ends with the year 1919. In May of the same year, André Breton, Philippe Soupault, and Louis Aragon founded the journal Littérature. Although at that time Albert-Birot only lost Aragon's collaboration, a year later Littérature became more radical by definitely espousing the cause of the Dada movement.

After the arrival of Tzara in Paris, Albert-Birot appears less and less in phase with the intransigent dogmatism of Dada and surrealism which will then take the front of the avant-garde scene. Pierre Albert-Birot disputing the hegemonic wills of the movement, the rupture between SIC and Dada is consummated in 1920, when Albert-Birot energetically opposes the presence of the dadaists to an exhibition-audition known as "the Golden Section" organized by Albert Gleizes, Survage and Archipenko.

Theatrical and poetic achievements of the post-war period (1919-1930)

In 1922, disappointed by his printer, Albert-Birot buys a printing equipment to print his own works: a hand press without inkwell. The poet, who became a typographer, transformed poetry, like Apollinaire with his calligrams, into plastic art. Patiently composed during one year with the help of Germaine, the collection La Lune, published in 1924, contains the most virtuoso typographic poems of the poet-typographer. It is the time of a great poetic creativity; he publishes three collections in a row: La Triloterie, La Joie des sept couleurs in which he sings the light, "his wife", and Poèmes à l'autre Moi, collection that he considers as "the most important of his poetic work".

The post-war period saw Albert-Birot's interest in the theater grow, and he wrote numerous plays and sought to have them performed. His play Matoum et Tévibar, defense of modern poetry, was created by the Futurists in Rome in 1919. He also met a fairground family, the Walton's, who created his drama Le Petit Poucet in 1923 at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. In 1929, he founded the "Théâtre du Plateau". There, with the actor Roger Roussot, he staged several plays including Matoum and Tevibar and Bluebeard, a dramatic rewriting of Charles Perrault's tale. Albert-Birot then attracts the admiration of Louis Jouvet, Gaston Baty and Charles Dullin who describes Les Femmes pliantes as a school play. Albert-Birot, who also approached Jacques Copeau and Georges Pitoëff, nevertheless failed to convince them to stage his plays, which seemed "impossible to stage". Around 1920, Dullin said he was "quite willing to stage the best that l'Homme coupé en morceaux" but the project did not succeed.

"The time of solitude" (1931-1955)

"with the thirties and past theatrical essays, begins what Albert-Birot calls his time of solitude."

- Jean Follain

Germaine Albert-Birot died in 1931, and the poet of light was forced to wear the clothes of mourning. He wrote and printed, without an author's name, thirty copies of a collection of funeral poems that he dedicated to himself: Ma morte, poème sentimental. Four "Gs", as a coat of arms, adorn each page.

According to the testimony of his friend Jean Follain (whom he met in 1933 and who became one of his rare acquaintances along with the painter Serge Férat, the novelist Roch Grey and Roger Roussot), the widowed poet withdrew to his narrow dwelling in the rue du Départ, refused the literary fraternities, and spent a good part of his time listening to the radio on headphones on an old galena machine. In the evening, he dines alone, poorly.

After a silence of five years, he publishes a booklet co-signed with Follain then continues to print alone his books, with the help of his lever machine placed in his room, giving them the only publicity of depositing them at the National Library, among which The Cycle of the poems of the year, in 1937, the elegiac collection Âmenpeine in 1938, and The black Panther, the same year.

However, it was at the same time, from 1936 on, that Jean Follain led him to gather his old friends every two weeks for dinners called Grabinoulor, named after the epic begun in 1918, and also after the eponymous character, Albert-Birot's literary double. In these Grabinoulor meals, held in a restaurant on rue des Canettes, one reads pages from the vast epic that the author never ceases to expand. In total, more than one hundred of these dinners took place between 1936 and 1950.

However, Pierre Albert-Birot struggles to find a publisher for his epic, and is repeatedly refused by the NRF. In 1933, thanks to Jean Paulhan's recommendation, Robert Denoël published a first version of Grabinoulor, which then consisted of two books, in the collection "Loin des foules".

In 1938, Albert-Birot left the rue du Départ for the rue des Saints-Pères, and met Guillevic. He lived through the Occupation with great difficulty. He left Paris in a hurry for the Dordogne during the Exodus, and returned there at the end of June.

In 1944, Robert Denoël decided to offer Albert-Birot a thick volume of poetry. These are the Amusements naturels, published in April 1945. The death of the publisher, assassinated in December, puts an end to the collaboration of the publishing house with the poet, who declares "by assassinating him, they assassinated me". Albert-Birot tells that the copies of Amusements naturels were then immediately put to the rammer before being diffused, but the exactitude of this account is disputed. As for the planned republication of the first revised books of Grabinoulor as well as the publication of the following books, it is cancelled.

Ultimate rebirth and last years (1955-1967)

A new life began for Pierre Albert-Birot in 1955, when he met Arlette Lafont, a student at the Sorbonne, who wanted to collect his testimony on Roch Grey. She became his wife in 1962, and by her efforts, contributed to bring her husband's work out of oblivion. He dedicated to her in 1956, his collection The Blue Train written in 1953, with this word:

I will leave here a part of the best of myself". I will leave here a part of the best of myself.

The "blue train" is, in Albert-Birot's own little mythology, an allegory of death, which he has already used. The collection is composed mainly of poems in verses, meditations on time, old age and death, and yet always carried by the zany humor of its author. Thus, Pascal Pia was able to say that "Albert-Birot did not put a final point to anything. He was not inclined to break. The trials, however severe they were, did not bring him down, nor did they make him change his tone. The songs of his twilight have the same familiar turn as the poems of his early days."

In 1965, after numerous refusals, Gallimard published an expanded but incomplete Grabinoulor. The epic, to which the author put his final point in 1963 - the only point of all the work -, is published in the complete form of the Six books of Grabinoulor only in 1991 by Jean-Michel Place.

At the end of his life, although he hated traveling until then, he agreed to return to Angoulême with Arlette, in 1958 and 1965. He multiplied his travels, and met up again with acquaintances from the time of SIC or Les Canettes during stays on the Côte d'Azur: André Salmon and Raymond de Rienzi in 1963, and Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes and Géa Augsbourg in 1965. It is then some time before his death that he begins to attract media attention: he is invited to speak with Barbara Bray on the BBC in 1965, with José Pivin for a series of interviews in 1967.

Hospitalized on July 23, Pierre Albert-Birot died on July 27, 1967. On his death announcement, Arlette includes a verse from the Black Panther:

"Those who love you see you beautiful vertical all war and fire and color bite into the solar system."

The poet was buried in the Montparnasse cemetery on July 28. On his grave is engraved the last line of a poem of Silex: "Pierre is sweet to the big lying".

A prolific jack-of-all-trades, Pierre Albert-Birot has produced a vast body of work that spans the most diverse arts. To defend this attitude, he cites the example of Leonardo da Vinci. Initially a sculptor and painter, Albert-Birot made a name for himself as a poet, prose writer, and a man of the theater. He was even interested in cinema.

Painting and sculpture

Pierre Albert-Birot's activities as a painter and sculptor mostly precede his abrupt conversion to modernism in 1916. The artist himself has a severe look on this period where he was, according to his own words, at the "bad school" of Georges Achard, a "pastist".

During this first period, he was particularly interested in sculpture, preferring hard materials to distinguish himself from Achard, who preferred modeling soft materials. A certain number of his works are only commissions made for food purposes. Other works were nevertheless exhibited at the Salon des artistes français between 1900 and 1907. Even if the paintings and sculptures of the time do not show "any frankly modern orientation", it is possible to find in them some of the fundamental themes that will irrigate his poetic work to come. The artist was already haunted by the theme of solitude, as well as by the birth of the world and the myth of Adam and Eve. Reporting on an exhibition organized by the city of Angoulême in 1969, the journalist Yves Seraline retains from the figurative period "The mother and child, a canvas full of sensitivity and a series of baroque nudes, astonishing by their modeling. The drawing of the body is sometimes violent and the way in which the subject is treated, particularly the framing, is curiously enough reminiscent of a major pictorial art of the twentieth century, photography."

Albert-Birot enjoys working on monumental works:

In 1916, in contact with the futurist painter Gino Severini, and the cubist painter Serge Férat, Pierre Albert-Birot turns to cubism and abstraction, he tells with naivety this conversion:

"One evening I said to myself, why don't we paint with geometric shapes like a musician composes with notes? I made an abstract painting about the war, 'Essay on Plastic Expression,' and the next day I sold everything, cheval, tubes and brushes."

La Guerre, the fruit of long research (of which the twenty-two studies and sketches preserved by the Musée National d'Art Moderne allow us to follow the evolution) remains his main abstract work, "at the crossroads of futurism, orphic cubism and simultaneism". "According to Yves Seraline, this work marks the beginning of a trajectory towards modernity, just as it marks the end of Albert-Birot's career as a painter: "A haunting canvas with repeating geometric forms, curved lines that stand out against the background with harshness, signifying the compartmentalized and sealed world of war. For Daniel Abadie, it is "one of the only quasi-futuristic experiments attempted in French painting". Debra Kelly sees there a "matrix of creation" containing in germs the aesthetics which Albert-Birot was going to develop then in his poetry.

Even if in his Autobiography, Albert-Birot explains that he definitively abandoned painting in 1918, Marie-Louise Lentengre points out the existence of a few rare exceptions until a definitive withdrawal in 1955.

Albert-Birot's plastic works are preserved by the National Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Angoulême. The War is exhibited at the Georges-Pompidou National Center for Art and Culture during the exhibition "Cubism" (2018-2019) and two exhibitions dedicated to Pierre Albert-Birot are organized at the Museum of Angoulême, one in 1969, and another, "Pierre Albert-Birot, l'artiste au pied de la lettre" from 2013 to 2014.


Albert-Birot's poetic work, which is spread over a large bibliography and part of which is still unpublished; it is vast and takes various forms: free verse, counted and rhymed verse, verses, some of which are very experimental.

Albert-Birot engaged in several typographical experiments, reminiscent of Apollinaire's calligrams. His first collection contains glued words such as "mugissementtournantdeferfrotté" in "Derrière la fenêtre" (1916), which he presents as his "first poem of new spirit", selected arrangements of words in the space of the page, a play on capitals and lower case. The entirety of the Joy of the seven colors (1919), his third collection, is composed in capital letters and is decorated with "poems-landscapes". The poet does not take again with his account the term of "calligramme" but speaks about "ideogram", of "poèmes idéogrammatiques" or uses various composed names like "poèmes-affiches", "poèmes-pancarte", "poème-rebus" or "poème-timbre". This "terminological fragmentation had perhaps, in the eyes of the poet, the virtue to preserve a space to explore between categories which did not want to be exhaustive". These visual poems can be figurative, as the one which opens "Flint, poems of the caves" (1945) and which figures the parietal print of a hand to the five spread fingers. In others, it is more difficult to identify clearly defined forms. For example, "Les Éclats" can represent an explosion from "short phrases radiating from a point at the bottom of the poem". Still others are more frankly abstract, such as "Ode," where "the letters and numbers, of slightly different sizes and shapes, do not attempt to constitute a complete text."

The poet also experiments the limits of the language with his polyphonic poems and his poems "to shout and to dance". At the end of 1916 and beginning of 1917, he subtitled two of these poems "poem with two voices", composed "to be read aloud, in the manner of a musical score". He also wrote "l'Avion" (1917), a poem made up entirely of onomatopoeia, and pushed the experimentation further with poems "to shout and to dance" whose onomatopoeia do not even represent the noise of a machine or a thing, like "chant 1", which he describes as "essay of pure poetry". Later, he chose to use these onomatopoeia poems in larger compositions by alternating them with traditional verse. Thus, in "Legend" (1919), the onomatopoeia of the crowd intersperses the story by "the statue" of the descent of the son of God to Earth to find a woman. The poet himself, however, denounced his "shouting and dancing" poems as an experiment-limit. The poet saw his avant-garde poetry as a stage, "his starting point," not an outcome.

These various experiments are found in the first four collections of the author 31 poems of pocket (1917), Daily poems (1919), The Joy of the seven colors (1919) Triloterie (1920) and in The Moon or the book of poems (1924). The poet, attached not to be reduced to it, continued however his plastic experiments in later works, for example with about fifty poems of the Natural amusement (1945).

Although the first books of poems of Albert-Birot are not summarized in the plastic and sound experiments which they contain, and that the Joy of the seven colors ends on a "last theme" which take back the Poems to the Other me (1924), it is with this collection that Albert-Birot "inaugurates a form appropriate to the deployment", which aims "to triumph of the finitude through the poetic imagination", in which poems "tend to explore all the being of PAB" and "want to be a poetic sum", will be followed by an abundant poetic production which prolongs this vein or diversifies it. Thus, "Albert-Birot continues his endless dialogue with his double" in a style where the "inspired tone gives way to humor" in Moi et Moi, written in 1959.

The expression of pain finds its place in Ma Morte (1931), subtitled "sentimental poem", which "attempts to express all the feelings experienced by PAB at the time of his widowhood, in their complexity, their nakedness, new Other Self of suffering", but also in Âmenpeine (1938), subtitled "30 elegiac poems".

The Cycle of the Twelve Poems of the Year (1937) proposes one poem per month, beginning with October, "somewhat in the manner of a modern book of Hours," which is reminiscent of the Daily Poems.

Other collections are more composite, like the Amusements naturels (1944). If, when he prints himself with his modest hand press, Pierre Albert-Birot is constrained, in this collection, Robert Denoël offers him 295 pages. Also Albert-Birot "wanted to please himself by publishing a kind of sum of his poetic production". The thick collection mixes translations, pastiches of medieval literature, poems of circumstances, various typographical poems. The volume also contains Silex, poems of the caves and The Poems of noon and half. These poems, consisting of rhymed and counted verses, consist of prosodic games. All the poems are seizains in which the poet imposes himself each time a meter containing two caesuras, according to a composition announced in the title. These poems take again a vein which one finds in Miniatures, " 30 jeux prosodiques " (1939).

The poet was also interested in condensed forms. Albert-Birot wrote nineteen haiku during the year 1919. Five of them were published in an anthology of the Nouvelle revue française of 1920, which played "an important influence on the history of the French haiku, feeding the vogue of the genre in the years". As for the Two Hundred and Ten Drops of Poetry (1952) and the One Hundred New Drops of Poetry (1967), they are only composed of quintils.

Arlette Albert-Birot finally identifies a "testamentary" vein represented by The Black Panther (1938), To the thirty-two winds (written in 1946), Ten poems to the sea (1953), The blue train (written in 1953), Distance and The Beautiful story (1966). "The poet projects himself into a distant future, worrying about existing there, and ignoring a present too often disappointing."

After the death of the poet, Arlette Albert-Birot found the last poem written by her husband in which the poet said he was abandoned by his "daimon", and that she sees as a farewell to poetry and therefore to life, after a life devoted to a work marked by the happiness of writing. "If I had to cover all this work with one word, it would perhaps be the word of alacrity, happiness, the happiness of writing," she says, "he finally understood that his happiness, he would find it in writing and until his last poem, which is in short a farewell to poetry, the one that calls him "Thank you anyway my good deer", that I found only after his death, there is this joy of this poetic instrument that he possesses and therefore that he wants to explore in all its possibilities; and when he bids farewell to poetry . "


The various bibliographies that propose to list Albert-Birot's works all use the general term "prose" to classify the works that are not included in the list of "poetry". The imprecision of this term reflects the difficulty for critics to situate generically these astonishing works.

Grabinoulor, is a vast project begun in 1918 and continued until the early 1960s. It was the publisher Robert Denoël who, for the 1933 edition, "taken by the magnitude of the work" proposed to subtitle the work "epic", a generic qualification that aroused an immediate and enthusiastic support from the author. Consisting of six books, themselves containing between fourteen and thirty-one chapters, the epic sees a succession of independent episodes in which the eponymous hero, without growing old, plays with the limits of space and time, visits all horizons, transports himself at leisure in the past and the present, "goes freely from the kings of history to those of legend, from the Champs-Élysées to China and the Philippine Islands, but in vain tries to discover the kingdom of the dead. The work has the particularity of not containing any punctuation. For Albert-Birot, this choice is not a simple suppression of punctuation motivated by a "desire to display a sharp and easy originality", but an attempt to "melt a language into a bar" in order to create a new means of expression as well as an old one insofar as "punctuation is a fairly recent invention". Likened to Don Quixote by Jean Paulhan, qualified as "Tarzan of the fantastic" by Georges-Emmanuel Clancier, the work (or more exactly the first two books) received in 1936 the Cazes prize of the Lipp brewery.

The story Rémy Floche, employé can be more easily compared to the genre of the novel. In contrast to Grabinoulor, which Albert-Birot presented as "a kind of perfection of man", the eponymous hero Rémy Floche is a simple and passive office worker, evolving in a fiction that is "similar to the realist or neo-naturalist novel Albert-Birot wanted to express the earthiness of existence". Remy wants to marry his employer's daughter to get rich, but falls in love with an actress in the middle of the story. Seeking not to give up either the fortune of the former or the love of the latter, he imagines being able to marry while freely loving the actress, and transposes this idea into a play that he writes and submits to her.

Albert-Birot wrote a sequel to Rémi Floche, entitled Splendeurs, unpublished, but whose manuscript could be read by a few rare readers, like Michel Nicoletti who reports on it in an article.


Pierre Albert-Birot has contributed to the evolution of contemporary theater as a playwright, director and theorist.

From 1916, he produces an important theoretical reflection on the dramaturgy, the play and the setting in scene, around principles "fiercely anti-realist". He writes several notes on the theater in SIC, until he ends up with a manifesto for a "nunic theater". He pronounces himself there against the naturalist and incarnated play, by affirming that "the actor who plays true is not the artist that we want". He also defends the mixture of the tonalities, the synthesis of the arts, and draws a conception of the theater as total art:

"No contrast, no diversity, no unexpected, acrobatics, songs, antics, tragedy, comedy, buffoonery, cinematic projections, pantomimes, the nunic theater must be a great simultaneous whole, containing all the means and all the emotions capable of communicating an intense and intoxicating life to the spectators."

At the same time, he wished to deconstruct and rethink the scenic space, imagining "a circus in which the public would occupy the center while on a rotating peripheral platform the majority of the show would take place, still connected to the public by actors scattered throughout its enclosure. This idea was taken up by Apollinaire who, according to Geneviève Morin, borrowed it directly from Albert-Birot in the prologue to Les Mamelles de Tirésias. In addition, Albert-Birot, defends at first the abolition of the distinction between the scenic space and the one devoted to the public, before finally reaffirming, in 1923, the necessity of a clearest separation, in order to "mean that what happens behind the ramp is of a truth other than the daily truth". Finally, he declared himself against the existence of any scenery, which should be replaced by a light creation.

Albert-Birot particularly dwelt on the role of the direction of the actor, in collaboration with his wife, always according to anti-naturalist principles, demanding "a cardboard actor who does not smell and who walks badly", to the point of sometimes preferring the use of puppets to actors. As a lover of Guignol, he maintained relations with the puppeteers Paul Jeanne, Robert Desarthis and Gaston Cony, animator at the Buttes-Chaumont of the "Guignol de la Guerre", whom he encouraged to put Guignol back "in its place in the dramatic art".

As a director, Albert-Birot partially put these principles into practice as early as 1917, when Apollinaire entrusted him with the creation of Les Mamelles de Tirésias. This was done in uncertain conditions because of the war context. The budget was reduced, the set made of paper. The breasts of Thérèse flying away were to be represented by balloons inflated with helium, the gas being reserved for the army, one is satisfied with balls of pressed fabric.

Pierre Albert-Birot finally shows himself to be a prolific playwright. Not writing for the armchair, he strives to perform his plays. In 1928, he created a short-lived theater, "la Pipe en sucre", in the studio of the painter Jean Janin. Then in 1929, he founded the "Théâtre du Plateau" troupe, with Roger Roussot, actor and puppeteer.

This is followed by the three "comic dramas" written between 1920 and 1921, anticipation fictions staging a catastrophic future in a burlesque way.

The pieces that Albert-Birot then wrote, which he sometimes called "study pieces", were often experiments, exploring various paths, going beyond or contradicting the principles of the 1916 manifesto.

Between May and June 1929, Albert-Birot had some of his previous plays (Matoum et Tévibar, Banlieue) performed at the Théâtre du Plateau, and others created for the occasion (Barbe-bleue, Loulia). In 1937, Matoum en Matoumoisie was performed by Roger Roussot's Trapèze, in the form of a puppet show created by Serge Férat.

From 1969, Arlette Albert-Birot, undertakes to gather the numerous pieces and studies, among which many unpublished, with the editor René Rougerie.


Between 1916 and 1921, Albert-Birot was interested in cinema and was tempted by cinematographic expression.

As early as 1916, Guillaume Apollinaire had encouraged artists to follow this path, in two interviews given to Nord-Sud. In this context, Albert-Birot wrote a short article that he followed with a "first study of cinematographic drama" entitled 2+1=2. With this article, according to Michel Décaudin, Albert-Birot joins the line of these artists "sensitive to the infinite possibilities of the technique" for whom "the cinema was an unprecedented occasion to give to see the creations of the fantasy and the poetic imagination".

In 1920, Pierre Albert-Birot, invited by Picabia, meets film directors and publishes Cinema, dramas, poems in space, a collection of some texts written for the screen, including 2+1=2, "accompanied by notes relating to the approaches attempted on their subject. The remarks which accompany this publication testify to a certain bitterness of the poet, who resigns himself to make print these scenarios for lack of having been able to make them realize: "These poems in the space laid down on paper", he says, "it is a little as a plane dragged by a carriage." According to Alain Virmaux, this publication follows the failure of talks with people of cinema, whose repeated requests of projects more easy technically to realize would explain the successive drafting of the six "poems in the space". Albert-Birot will affirm later to have "quite frightened the director of the house Gaumont" with these projects.

Pierre Albert-Birot's cinematographic projects are characterized by a concern for experimentation, the refusal of realism and mimicry, and even by the disappearance of the narrative in favor of a visual composition, of "engendering forms and colors.

Francis Picabia praised Albert-Birot's "extremely curious cinematographic inventions". As for the director Pierre Chenal, he cites his reading of Pierre Albert-Birot's film poems as having played a decisive role in his desire to become a director, alongside Blaise Cendrars' "Film de la Fin du monde" and "Delluc's books.

Cross-cutting aspects

As vast and diverse as it is, Pierre Albert-Birot affirms the unity of his work from his first book of poems which ends with the words "This book is not

"A whole part of Pierre Albert-Birot's life is settled in solitude", reminds Jean Follain. This solitude was partly suffered and painful, to the point that it "came sometimes to destroy in him this poetic state which was his only resource against it". The poet concludes his first collection with the expression vae soli, "woe to the solitary", without knowing to which point he would be isolated following the death of Apollinaire. Later, he declares to Georges Pitoeff junior: "Oh very lonely, very lonely, excessively and much too much besides because I suffered the backlash in my literary career."

However, it is also according to the expression of Follain, a "populated solitude". "This solitude becomes essential to him. He enlarges it to the largest measure", he writes. In other words, it is in a solitude which "was initially meditation, and even delectation", that Albert-Birot found himself and built his work, in a solitude if not chosen, at least assumed and exploited as poetic theme. The solitude brings him to "the transposition of the usual acts of the existence". To populate his solitude, the poet "in his only body, finds a society", humanizes the objects that he surrounds.

Very early on, the artist liked to recluse himself in "dens", as he called them. He tells in his Autobiography how, as a teenager in Bordeaux, he set up a "workroom" next to his bedroom, where he made his first attempts as a painter, which he describes as his "first den". "I have had one all my life," he adds. Around 1910, he was not satisfied with his large studio as a sculptor and rented a room specifically for reading and writing.

If the literary isolation leads the poet to self-publish, then to print his books himself. This isolation also allows him a total freedom of creator: "All that I considered as interesting things in typography, I realized them because I was myself the boss... then I made all that I wanted." Thus, since the poet is the sole creator of his book, of the content as well as of the container, "each book is an opportunity to research typography, layout, format, which correspond to the spirit of the poems." The formal characteristics of these books of poems are no longer decided by editorial constraints, but thought out in the service of the poem, or even as part of the poem, as Joëlle Jean formulates it: "One can wonder if PAB's relationship to typography does not obey more an internal necessity to the work rather than an external one."

The solitude of the artist is also "reduced by the doubles that it arouses", among which Follain identifies Âmenpeine, elegiac double of Albert-Birot, refusing the life, and finally dismissed at the end of the eponymous collection. "Few writers have declared themselves as totally in solidarity with their characters," writes Marie-Louise Lentengre. For the latter, Remy Floche, the main character of the eponymous novel, is "the too human double, deprived of all creative vigor" of Albert-Birot, what he would have been condemned to be without poetry. Above all, in Grabinoulor, "the autobiographical marks, numerous, establish between Grabinoulor and his creator a circular and indissoluble solidarity", but contrary to Remy Floche, it is "a divine double, the daimon".

The playful dimension of Albert-Birot's works is frequently cited. "It follows for him that language is a natural part of play and celebration. Didn't he title one of his collections Les Amusements naturels?"

This playful dimension constitutes first of all a way to break with the seriousness by the comicality and to deliver himself to experiments by simple amusement, as the artist assumes it in an article: "I find my joy in the poetic creation and I find my joy in the creations of my hands. All this is play, I like to play, I maintain the kid", or as he explains it to his second wife in a letter: "There is also the tontaine uncle. There I would like you to bite into this game side, into this smile that sometimes comes to lighten the poem that has stood for so long in the low notes I have always kept a place for the dear adolescent, and if I have no desire to play marbles I still have fun from time to time with words and even with typographical games In any case I hope that I will never become one of these old gentlemen barded with seriousness dreadfully boring as death.

But Joëlle Jean sees in this poetics of the game, a dimension finally much more serious. For her, the poetry of Albert-Birot puts in scene a tension between the I playing with the time, in absolute and immortal subject, demiurgic poet who compares himself to Moses, and the I toy of hours. "The goal of the Game for PAB", she writes, "will be to constitute himself in ABSOLUTE SUBJECT to create a space of which he will be the master and where he will be able to impose his will as rule in order to transform in pleasure and in (re)creative triumph what was humiliation and suffering to him."

The creation of the world is a "major theme in the work of PAB, which runs from La Joie des sept couleurs to La Belle histoire", and which can be found in the artist's early paintings. "You are the only one to dare this sublime attempt," wrote Max Jacob to Albert-Birot about the Memoirs of Adam, "to put the first man under the sky. And it so happens that you are the only one who can attempt this effort because of your profound ingenuity, for there had to be this wonderful gift."

Thus, the "simplicity" of Albert-Birot, spotted by Apollinaire, is a way for the poet to take a new look at the world, as Jean Follain explains. "Pierre Albert-Birot inscribes on his blank page the natural astonishment of being caught in the elementary", he writes, quoting two verses drawn from the 31 poems of pockets: "And why is there earth, air and

Max Pons also praised the "simple and direct style" of Pierre Albert-Birot, "which is so natural for him to deal with first and last things", quoting the last line of "Tout finit par un sonnet": "Quant à la mort je sais ça me regarde".

"In all the work are found visions, emanations, solar radiations", points out Follain, adding that "prose and poetry at Albert-Birot, have the appearance more luminous than colored". For Follain this presence of the sun is so important in the work of his elder that it is not confined to the celebration of joy but that one finds it even the poems of mourning of Morte. This solar dimension of the work, recalled by Arlette Albert-Birot, is also studied by Astrid Bouygues in a study on "earthly foods and solar foods in the poetry of Pierre Albert-Birot".

Independent spirit, Albert-Birot claims to be "the disciple of nobody". Irritated that he was presented as a disciple of Apollinaire, he asserts fiercely: "I can drive, or walk side by side, walk behind never." He also promotes a radical aesthetic of originality: "Art begins where imitation ends," he wrote as early as 1916. In her biography Pierre Albert-Birot ou l'Invention de soi, Marie-Louise Lentengre presents him in part as a self-taught poet having invented himself, in solitude, by "the courage of a patient and daring introspection". The biographer also shows how the poet portrays himself in his poetry as Adam, the first man in the world, deploying a gaze "that invents the world as his eyes, set on each new and never seen thing, seizes it in the freshness and simplicity of its existence. Albert-Birot is also reluctant to cite masters or inspirers.

Nevertheless, the poet rejects the principle of the Dadaist tabula rasa and defends a modernity registered in the tradition. "The Ancients have made masterpieces, we know them," he writes in an editorial, "they are the great forefathers, who order us to be young." In 1953, the poet cites the readings that were his at the beginning of the war: classical Greek literature, French literature of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and for painting, "the primitives of all schools, we knew little of the negro and prehistoric arts," while affirming his willingness to detach himself from all these inspirers: "Yes, I enjoyed the company of these great ones," he writes, "but I felt that it was indisputably not necessary to re-do."

Finally, the artistic trajectory of Albert-Birot was influenced by his contemporaries, in particular by the various avant-gardes, among which he sought to position himself in an eclectic spirit, but from which he also sought to manifest his detachment, in particular with respect to Surrealism.

Influence of the "Ancients

Albert-Birot is endowed with a great classical culture, marked in particular by a "great passion for Aeschylus". He has translated Parmenides, fragments of the Iliad, and for the stage, fragments of Agamemnon.

The poet also expressed his taste for the Romanesque literature, "this formidable language of the tenth to sixteenth". He is in particular a "great reader of Rabelais". Grabinoulor was very often compared to Gargantua and Pantagruel. Albert-Birot protested several times against this comparison, but cites in a 1917 article Rabelais and his "Dive Bouteille" as an author of ideograms (in the sense of calligrams). Arlette Albert-Birot also reports that Montaigne was his "dearest writer", having inspired him in the writing of Grabinoulor for his humanism, in the sense of a will to "sweep the history of all peoples, including those of mythologies, from the origin of time to the end of time" and in the sense that "man is always first". Louis-Ferdinand Céline noted in 1933, the kinship between Montaigne and Grabinoulor, writing to Denoël: "I feel Montaigne in these pages. Finally, Nathalie Nabert studied the importance of literature and language of the Middle Ages, in the whole of Albert-Birot's work, and in particular, in his readaptations of medieval stories published in Amusements naturels, where he preserves and updates typical features of Old French, in syntax, morphology as well as lexicon.

Philosophical inspirations

Albert-Birot became friends with Alfred Espinas, whose courses he attended at the Sorbonne. "The exaltation of the will, the vitalism, the optimism which bursts in the first fascicles of SIC and crosses all the work of Albert-Birot, are not a borrowing to the futurist doctrine but a personal interpretation of the thought of Espinas ", notes Marie-Louise Lentengre. In 1945, the poet decides to place in epigraph of Grabinoulor a sentence extracted from the spiritual Energy of Bergson:

"Now I do believe that our entire inner life is something like a single sentence begun at the first awakening of consciousness, a sentence strewn with commas, but nowhere cut off by periods."

Now, for Marie-Louise Lentengre, these words "define as closely as possible the singularity of the poetic process, haunted by the concern to go back to this "first awakening of consciousness", and to recapture the simultaneous outpouring of the world and the being through the stammerings, the cries and the gestures by which began to build this "unique sentence", whose unfolding will espouse in the imagination of the poet the deep and unbroken rhythm of his own life. "


During the Great War, Albert-Birot claims to be a "nunist" - from the Greek νῦν, "now". By this term, he seeks to elaborate a synthesis of the avant-gardes of the time: "we are cubists, futurists, unanimists and simultaneousists, +...istes, +...istes, in a word nunists", he writes in November 1916 in an editorial of SIC. He writes the "dialogues nuniques" which propose to "elaborate a persuasive synthesis of the principles on which are founded the modernist poetics".

Then, in contact with the promoters of the various movements of avant-garde which they wish to join together, Albert-Birot will nourish his creation of these various influences. Thus Marianne Simon-Oikawa interprets differently the metaphor of the pyrogen employed by Apollinaire to describe his elder:

"A pyrogen, a very common object in cafés in the past, is a pot containing matches and covered with a rubbing cloth. Just as a pyrogen does not exist without a match, but in return allows it to glow, Albert-Birot often needed an external element (a word, a shape, a speaker) to spark his own creation."

In the futurists, Albert-Birot finds, while exceeding them, the departure of his ideas of restructuring of the scenic space in the theater. But Albert-Birot, by "a compositional will which structures or hierarchizes the values" moves away, according to Giovanni Lista, of "the vitalist and aggressive aesthetics of the futurism". The cubists influence especially the last plastic works (prints and paintings) realized by the artist before privileging the theater and the poetry. Albert-Birot's "two-voice" poems may have been inspired by the simultaneous poetry of Henri-Martin Barzun and Jules Romains, by Apollinaire's "Les Fenêtres", or by the Futurists' "mots en liberté". Albert-Birot was also, at the same time, interested in the research of the Russian futurists, and met Ilia Zdanevitch in 1921.

For Robert Abirached, "he was closest to the futurists, but a futurism without any arrogance, without any fascism".

In spite of the complex relations that he maintains with him, Albert-Birot testifies of a big admiration for Pierre Reverdy. Thus, he reports on the Lucarne ovale with these words in SIC No. 15: "The reading of this book plunges you into a bath of living poetry, it seems to me that all those who read it must find themselves suddenly invaded by a piquant desire to be a poet." In La Joie des sept couleurs, Albert-Birot dialogues with verses from Reverdy's early collections, Poèmes en proses (1915), Quelques poèmes, La Lucarne ovale (1916) and Les Ardoises du toit (1918). These collections inspired him so much that, notes Andrew Rothwell, "it is partly in relation to them that his own great poem the Joy of the seven colors is developed. Often, Albert-Birot quotes his colleague to better "correct". For example, he answers "His head sheltered fearfully under the lampshade" (Reverdy) by "After all the sun is a lampshade

"The sun could not pass any more, Grabinoulor either then he remembered these verses There is perhaps some pain in formation in the day which comes Baste we all have some And I have some myself in the attic of my soul But one does not live in the attic ".

Dada and surrealism

Albert-Birot is often associated with the Dada movement. The Dadaists considered him as one of their own. His name appears in the list of "Presidents" of the Dada movement, in the "Bulletin Dada" of 1920. His name is also given, the same year, in a Dadaist list opposing the free commune of Montmartre, although, according to the testimony of Jean Follain, the concerned one had "never given the least assent to such an inscription". The Hachette dictionary still presents him in 2006 as "a French dada poet". Certainly, Albert-Birot published Tzara in his review and shares with him the taste of the primitive arts and the "art negro". Certainly, his poetic experiments were brought closer to those of Ball and Schwitters and Hausmann. However, Albert-Birot "formally declares never to have participated in the destructive of Dada". In 1953, he presents his choice of the title sic ("yes") for his review, as that of a bias opposed to the negativism dadaïste: "took immediately position on the positive, constructive plan", he writes, "I absolutely did not intend that my review was an enterprise of demolition, the war was there which took charge of destroying."

His relations with the surrealists are even more tense. Although he participated in popularizing their name, in the sense that Apollinaire gave it, Albert-Birot was several times keen to mark his distance with the movement led by André Breton. In 1965, Gallimard presents, in a banner, Grabinoulor as "a classic of surrealism", which provokes the astonishment of Albert-Birot who has never been part of the group, nor signed any manifesto and never participated in any of the events. In 1966, he declares to a journalist of the literary Figaro that he was not "attracted by the arcane and the fantastic of the surrealism, by its Freudian visions".

However, Albert-Birot publishes in the only number of its review Paris, in November 1924, a text of Roch Grey, in which this one seeks to defend and redefine a "surrealism" in the sense where Guillaume Apollinaire understood it. "Surrealism: excess of realism, that means more than the copy of the nature", she writes, before adding: "When Guillaume Apollinaire added to the title of Mamelles de Tirésias surrealist drama, he considered this word as an adjective specifying the consequences of his effort which sought to overcome the true reality, by a factitious reality, more bitter in its density." Dominique Baudouin explains that one can consider Albert-Birot as surrealist in this sense: according to him, "whereas the surrealists want to force the frames of the ordinary reality, to break the illusion of the reality to substitute the subconscious and the marvellous to it, Albert-Birot does not accept to set up in doctrine the appeal to the only hidden forces. This conscious poet seeks to specify the meaning of his own surrealism in a balance of the real and the infinite, which is established only by the happy mediation of the language." Robert Abirached reports that Albert-Birot "hated" the surrealists, while adding that "he was however very close to them", even if "all the part of the surrealism, côtoyant the shades, côtoyant the depths, being interested in the magic, the Freudism, the Unconscious, the politics, the political fight that the surrealists made, all that not only was foreign to him but made him horror."

Notoriety and criticism

Pierre Albert-Birot and his work have long been marginalized, kept away from a surrealism from which he himself sought to distinguish himself. However, after being noticed by Apollinaire and other poets of his generation, Albert-Birot gradually received the recognition of younger peers, before later experiencing that of academics.

Albert-Birot initially struggled to emerge from the shadow of Apollinaire, a victim of having been "sealed in the same grave as his friend" by his younger siblings, in the words of Joëlle Jean. She adds that the oblivion in which the poet was plunged after 1919 by the generation of the surrealists is more due to ignorance than to malice, insofar as no one could foresee that at the age of forty-three, the poet had barely sketched a work that he was going to pursue until he was ninety-one years old and of which he had not yet given the masterpieces. Albert-Birot himself emphasizes the importance that Apollinaire's recognition had for him, as well as the damage that his disappearance caused him. "From the first contact," he writes, "he was trusting and friendly, and ready to help me with all his weight (and he had weight, in both directions)," before adding, "How many things we could have done together if he had lived, for I know that we would have understood each other more and more, at the time of his end I was just opening up."

In his preface to the 31 poems of pocket, Apollinaire praises "the formal or lyrical poetic novelties" of the poetry of Albert-Birot, his "modern spirit". Certainly, he agrees that his poetry is "so full of such a simplicity that at first, surprises unpleasantly", but makes of this simplicity an audacity, that of a poet "who is not afraid that one calls him a "primary"". He adds humorously, "The same could have been said of Charlemagne." It is in this same preface that Apollinaire compares Albert-Birot to a pyrogen. Michel Sanouillet affirms that Apollinaire "did not refrain from affectionately mocking the efforts of his young friend" (while seeming to ignore that Albert-Birot is three years older than Apollinaire), and sees in the comparison to the pyrogen a form of "Machiavellianism".

However, Apollinaire defends Albert-Birot, for example, when the critic Roger Allard, also an aviator at the time, mocks the poem "l'Avion" with the formula "my mechanic does better with his engine than this birotechnique", Apollinaire replies: "When a modern poet notes in several voices the roar of an airplane, it is necessary to see there above all the desire of the poet to accustom his mind to reality. His passion for truth pushes him to take almost scientific notes which, if he wants to present them as poems, have the disadvantage of being, so to speak, earwigs to which reality will always be superior. On the contrary, if he wants, for example, to amplify the art of dance and to try a choreography whose baladins would not be limited to entrechats, but would push cries coming from the harmony of an imitative novelty, it is there a research which does not have anything absurd, whose popular sources are found among all the people where the war dances, for example, are almost always decorated with wild cries.

Albert-Birot has attracted the attention of those interested in the history of Dada and Surrealism and recognize the essential role it played in the discovery of the Dadaists and the circulation of their texts, without taking into account either the poet's efforts to distinguish himself from these two movements or the developments of the artist's career after the Great War. In 1965, the historian of the art Michel Sanouillet mocks "the poverties" and "the touching puerility" of the review of Albert-Birot, in an account leaning essentially on the testimony of the surrealists.

Indeed, Pierre Albert-Birot was the object of contempt and mockery of most surrealists. Louis Aragon wrote in his notebooks: "Thus, Mr. Perrichon, having set himself to become a poet, became an important man in the Republic and took the name of Pierre Albert-Birot. Philippe Soupault described him in 1971, as "a singular character" wrongly persuaded to be a great poet. The contempt borders on hatred for André Breton who writes to Tzara: "There is a category of people that I cannot see: they are those that in memory of Jarry, I call in the intimacy of "palotins". Such are Cocteau, Birot, Dermée.

Albert-Birot received however very early marks of esteem from his peers. Radiguet, qualified Matoum and Tevibar of "delicious" and "spiritual" piece. Francis Picabia defends Albert-Birot and Dermée, to better attack Breton in 1924. Jorge Luis Borges translates "the Legend" and presents it as "novissima lirica francesca" in 1920.

Above all, Max Jacob paid him several heartfelt tributes. In an article of 1933, he praises "the language as clear as heartbreaking" of Ma morte, the "happiness of the communion with the life" and the "rhythmic pantheism" of the Joy of the seven colors, and salutes in the Poems to the Other me "the curiosity of the beyond, of the secrets of the universe". He also sees Albert-Birot as the inventor of a new genre with his "meticulous descriptions of objects and people that go as far as hallucination" in the Catalogue de l'Antiquaire. Finally, he evokes with lyricism the epic Grabinoulor :

"Grabinoulor is a beautiful verb... Rabelais! Voltaire's Tales! Swift!... (...) I declare myself incapable of unscrewing the walls of a work which mixes the bicycle with the moon, the tenants of the buildings with the laws of the universal gravitation, the small stories of love and the cooking of the passions stranded in the basket of the stove with the injustice of the terrestrial justice. "

Ten years later, at the time of the publication of Mémoires d'Adam, Max Jacob still hailed Albert-Birot as the "only epic poet of our time".

It is then another generation of poets and writers who will express their admiration, and work to make known the work of Albert-Birot: first and foremost Jean Follain, who befriended the poet in 1933, pulled him out of his solitude by encouraging him to organize the "Grabinoulor dinners" and devoted a monograph to him in the famous collection Poètes d'aujourd'hui, published a few months before his death.

In 1938, Joë Bousquet congratulates Albert-Birot for Âmenpeine in a letter, where he writes: "You are not far from being all the poetry." At the same time, Guillevic, gets closer to Albert-Birot through Follain, and praises his "limpid" poetry that he opposes to that of the surrealists.

In the 1950s, Alain Bosquet insisted that Albert-Birot's poems be published in the collections "Poems of the Year" by Pierre Seghers, in 1955, 1958 and 1959. Max Pons defends him through his review " Cahiers de la Barbacane ", where he also receives the consideration of Pierre Béarn and Pascal Pia. Georges-Emmanuel Clancier admires in Grabinoulor a luxuriance of the "imagination and the verbal invention" which "never takes away from the poetry as from the humor its weight of tenderness". André Lebois, who prefaces several of the poet's works, celebrates the vastity of his work: "There is a poem by PAB," he writes, "for every hour of the day and night."

In the spring of 1965, Michel Nicoletti met Pierre Albert-Birot. From this meeting, he acquires the certainty that he must write and publish his poetry. The latter brings Albert-Birot closer to jazz and Desnos: "Why not say the emotion, the wonder, the enthusiasm, the pleasure of the eyes and ears when Desnos dreams for us, when Pierre Albert-Birot takes us in his Grabinoulor, when it takes off... when it's a music... a jazz... when the only powers of the Word give each one its own cinema?

In 2012, poet Valerie Rouzeau refers to Grabinoulor when discussing ways to dismiss the expression of gloomy feelings.

In 1954, Gaston Bachelard wrote to the poet after having read One Hundred and Ten Drops of Poetry. He praises "the sharp spirit and the lazy reverie" of the poems of the collection, and praises their extreme condensation. "When it is necessary in five lines to touch the heart one must say to oneself: hard problem. Your "drops" make this miracle. Your drops are immense poems", he writes. He also compares these poems to "thorough" and "salutary" chemical reagents. According to Marie-Louise Lentengre, the Poetics of the reverie, published by the philosopher in 1960, owes a part of its reflection to the reading of Poems to the Other Self and Memories of Adam. Bachelard and Albert-Birot maintain a correspondence until 1959, with friendly character, but also through which the philosopher praises the talents of a poet able to "give better than a philosopher conscience to the body, good conscience to the body". "At home", he writes again, "in the middle of winter, the body keeps a summer atmosphere, a light of wonderful summer. To think that there are philosophers who write about being without knowing the light of the poets! You have given me a thousand thoughts. Write without stopping, dear Poet. You widen the paths."

"Everything ends in the Sorbonne" said André Lebois, himself a poet and university professor, in 1964. It is finally at the University that the qualities of Albert-Birot's work will be recognized, in particular thanks to the efforts of his last wife, Arlette Albert-Birot, whom he met while she was a student at the Sorbonne.

In 1988 David Balhatchet defended a thesis at Oxford University on Grabinoulor. Debra Kellly defended in July 1992 at the University of London a thesis entitled The Works of Pierre Albert-Birot, A poetic in movement, a poetics of movement, published in 1997. An international colloquium was organized in Cerisy-la-Salle in 1995 by Madeleine Renouard. A second one was organized in 2017 at the IMEC by Carole Aurouet and Mariane Simon-Oikawa.

A precursor

"Born a hundred years too early" according to Chana Orloff, Pierre Albert-Birot has often been perceived as a discreet precursor, anticipating the later innovations of better known artists such as James Joyce.

Robert Sabatier grants a large place to the poet in his History of the French poetry, seeing in him an experimenter out of peer ahead of the most fierce avant-gardes. He affirms: "any new experiment, Pierre Albert-Birot has already tried it with more than half a century of advance".

In the 1970s, the poet Henri Chopin brings Albert-Birot - in particular, "Legend", Larountala, and his poems "to shout and dance", which make abundant use of onomatopoeia and language games - the works of German dadaists Hugo Ball, Kurt Schwitters, and Raoul Hausmann. They are, for him, the precursors of the "sound poetry" elaborated by François Dufrêne and himself. Chopin even gives "the Legend" a place of "exception" which exceeds the status of simple precursor: "The place of all [the other precursors of the sound poetry]", he writes, "is that of a great presentiment, with the exception of "the Legend", published in 1919, and which is the summit of the phonetic poetry which died with the Lettrism." At the same time, Chopin mocks Isidore Isou and the Lettrists, refusing to see them as innovators:

"If he had been present, he would never have wasted his time redoing what had been done for 30 years, the vocal Lettrism, that Albert-Birot, Haussmann, Ball, Schwitters had already produced. first wrote to Pierre Albert-Birot, to associate him with the Lettrist enterprise. refuses and Isou (is it revenge or frustration?) dismisses Albert-Birot from his qualities of precursor.

Chopin also sees Albert-Birot, for his typographical poems, as a precursor of the "concrete poetry": "What leaves the concrete poetry", he specifies, "it is that it claims Mallarmé and sometimes Pierre Albert-Birot. For the first, I am not sure that it is a real precursor, but for the second, certain. Concrete poetry is graphic, Pierre's graphies (unlike calligrams) were. That's why it's tasty to receive catalogs, like a receipt from Canada, where it says: young concrete poets, with Pierre's name."


  1. Pierre Albert-Birot
  2. Pierre Albert-Birot
  3. Lentengre et Follain parlent de « Maurice Birot », de même que Pierre dans son autobiographie, l'acte de décès de Pierre Albert-Birot mentionne contradictoirement « François Arthur Birot »
  4. Albert-Birot écrit Chalonnes avec un -s dans son autobiographie mais l'orthographe authentique est Chalonne.
  5. Jean Follain se plaît à raconter qu'Albert-Birot espionne les jeunes danseuses nues, dans une chambre attenante à la sienne, par une fissure du mur. Dans son Autobiographie, Albert-Birot indique plus simplement que la chambre des danseuses avaient un vis-à-vis avec la sienne, et qu'il les regardait par la fenêtre.
  6. Il s'en trouve de visibles autour du Champ-de-Mars et à Neuilly-sur-Seine[f 3], notamment au 11 rue Sédillot à Paris[l 4].
  7. ^ « Je trouve ma joie dans la création poétique et je trouve ma joie dans les créations de mes mains. [...] Tout cela, c’est du jeu, j’aime jouer, j’entretiens le gosse. » Pierre Albert-Birot, La Quinzaine de Pierre Albert-Birot, n° 1, Paris, 1926.
  8. ^ Francis Picabia, ″Opinions et portraits″, 391, n° 19, October 1924, p. 2-3.
  9. ^ «Vous donnez mieux qu'un philosophe conscience au corps, bonne conscience au corps. Chez vous, en plein hiver, le corps garde une ambiance estivale, une lumière de merveilleux été.» — « Dire qu'il y a des philosophes qui écrivent sur l'être sans connaître la lumière des poètes ! Vous m'avez donné mille pensées. [...] Écrivez sans arrêt, cher Poète. Vous élargissez les chemins. » (You give the body better consciousness than a philosopher, good conscience to the body. With you, even in the middle of winter, the body retains a summery atmosphere, a light of wonderful summer." [...] "To think that there are philosophers who write about being without knowing the light of poets! You have given me a thousand thoughts. ... Keep writing, dear Poet. You are widening the paths.) Gaston Bachelard, Letter of March 8, 1954, Alternances. (Gaston Bachelard, P. Béarn, Jean Cassou, Louis de Gonzague Frick, Max Jacob, Louise-Marion, C. Orloff, André Salmon, M. Seuphor, Léopold Survage, Alternances, no. 44, Caen, March 25, 1959)
  10. documenta 8 Katalog: Band 1: Aufsätze; Band 2: Katalog Seite 326; Band 3: Künstlerbuch; Kassel 1987, ISBN 3-925272-13-5.

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