Pierre Reverdy is one of the most central and influential writers in the tradition of twentieth century avant-garde poetry. Already well established in terms of both his work and his theoretical stance by the mid-1910’s, Reverdy exerted considerable influence over the Dada and Surrealist movements, with which he was both officially and informally affiliated.
Reverdy’s firm conviction was in a nonmimetic, nontraditional form of artistic expression. The art he championed and practiced would create a reality of its own rather than mirror a preexisting reality. In this way, the language of poetry would be cut loose from restraining conventions of meter, syntax, and punctuation in order to be able to explore the emotion generated by the poetic image.
In connection with the avant-garde artists of cubism, Dada, and Surrealism, Reverdy’s formulations helped to break down the traditional models of artistic creation that then held firm sway in France. Reverdy’s firm conviction was that artistic creation precedes aesthetic theory. All the concrete means at an artist’s disposal constitute his aesthetic formation.
Along with Apollinaire, his slightly older contemporary, Reverdy became a central figure and example for a whole generation of French poets generally grouped under the Surrealist heading. His having been translated into English by a range of American poets from Kenneth Rexroth to John Ashbery shows the importance of his work to the modern and contemporary American tradition as well.