Pierre Reverdy Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Pierre Reverdy worked extensively in other forms besides poetry. He wrote two novels and many stories and published collections of prose poems. Most of these are in a Surrealist vein, mixing experimentation in language with personal and unconscious reflection. As an editor of an avant-garde review, Reverdy also contributed important theoretical statements on cubism and avant-garde literary practice. Later in his career, he published several volumes of reminiscences, including sensitive reevaluations of the work of his near contemporaries, including Guillaume Apollinaire.


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

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.


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Reverdy is a complex and fascinating figure in the history of French poetry in the first half of the twentieth century. He was a committed avant-garde artist in the years directly preceding, during, and following World War I; his outpouring of poetry and aesthetic statements made him one of the most significant precursors to the movements of Dada and Surrealism. Though his formal affiliation with the Surrealist movement was of brief duration, his example of using the poetic image to communicate emotion is central to everything for which Surrealism stood. The extreme respect shown to his work by other poets and artists confirms his importance as a creative innovator. Reverdy, in turn, paid respectful homage to his poet and artist contemporaries a stance that shows his ongoing intellectual commitment to the importance of art and literature in human terms, despite his personal isolation and quietism toward the end of his life. The poems from the end of his career that bear the weight of a continued meditation on death are a moving commentary on that from which language emerges and into which it returns: silence.


(Literary Essentials: Great Poems of the World)

Greene, Robert W. The Poetic Theory of Pierre Reverdy. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1967. An analysis of Reverdy’s work in poetic theory.

Rizzuto, Anthony. Style and Theme in Reverdy’s “Les Ardoises du toit.” Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1971. Rizzuto’s critical study of one of Reverdy’s poetic works. Includes bibliographic references.

Rothwell, Andrew. Textual Spaces: The Poetry of Pierre Reverdy. Atlanta, Ga.: Rodopi, 1989. A critical analysis of Reverdy’s works. Includes bibliographic references.

Schroeder, Jean. Pierre Reverdy. Boston: Twayne, 1981. An introductory biography and critical study of selected works by Reverdy. Includes an index and bibliographic references.