Bestiary:

or the Parade of Orpheus

An early and influential champion of cubism, the friend of Braque, Picasso, Dufy, Rousseau and Marie Laurencin (who became his mistress), Apollinaire was a seminal figure in the revolutionary art style known as “Surrealism,” a term that he coined some seven years before Breton formally founded the movement.

In this charming book, published in 1910 and embellished with the graphically sophisticated and totally appropriate woodcuts of Dufy, we find the poet at his most accessible. His quatrains, printed in Dante italic and felicitously translated by Pepe Karmel, present a voice that ranges from the colloquial to the impassioned, a brisk combination of lyric imagery and bawdy humor (not surprising for a poet who, after a pious adolescence, supported himself by writing pornography). This is a small bijou of a livre de peintre, a lovely and lively ensemble of accessible poetry and striking woodcut art.

Guillaume Apollinaire was born Wilhelm Albert Włodzimierz Apolinary Kostrowicki in Rome to a Polish family. He adopted the name by which he is now known in his late teens, when he moved to Paris and joined the artistic communities then thriving in Montmartre and Montparnasse. There, he befriended, and was later painted by, artists including Jean Metzinger, Amedeo Modigliani, and Pablo Picasso. In addition to poetry, Apollinaire worked as a journalist and art critic for Le Matin, Intransigeant, and Paris Journal. As an art critic, he often expressed controversial opinions that went beyond his support of Cubism and Surrealism, including a half-serious plea for the Louvre to be burnt down.

Raoul Dufy was perhaps the most stylish of the Fauvists, a group of French artists led by Matisse and Derain. Dufy was born in Normandy and worked at a coffee-importing company in his teens to put himself through evening classes at the municipal art school. He later won a scholarship to the Paris Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where he developed his bright, dynamic, refreshingly optimistic style. He soon developed a reputation as a successful and disciplined commercial artists, and his art appeared everywhere from public murals and tapestries to ceramic designs and book illustrations.

Pepe Karmel is a graduate of Harvard College and New York University. An accomplished translator of poetry from the French, he was the first to translate Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano. In addition to his translations, he has published extensively on art history with an emphasis on Cubism and currently teaches this subject at New York University.