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For the Record: Voice and Orality in Guillaume Apollinaire’s “Lettre-Océan”

The poet Guillaume Apollinaire was for the record. Between 1913 and 1914, he wrote repeatedly about the impact of recording technology on lyric poetry. Like a number of fellow poets, Apollinaire believed that within one to two centuries the record would replace the book as the preferred method for the dissemination of poetic texts.[1] However, for Apollinaire, the gramophone was not merely exterior or tangential to the poetic enterprise, a stance adopted by many Symbolist poets who nevertheless continued to view technology and lyric poetry as diametrically opposed. As Apollinaire’s theoretical writings illustrate, he also viewed the gramophone as a generative metaphor which encouraged him to take a fresh look at the concept of the voice at the heart of lyric poetry since its inception.

The status of lyric voice in the era of sound recording is explored in Apollinaire’s very first calligram, the gramophone-inspired “Lettre-Océan.” The poem was published in the June 1914 issue of Les Soirées de Paris (fig. 1) on the heels of a series of articles, letters, and first-hand experiences Apollinaire had with the phonograph. However, “Lettre-Océan” has never been studied in this phonographic context. To document Apollinaire’s position vis-à-vis modern technology, scholars have been rightly turning to his lecture “L’Esprit nouveau et les poètes” (1917) but have overlooked the tantalizing representation of the lyric voice as recording in “Lettre-Océan,” published three years prior. With the shape of a gramophone record embedded into its verbal-visual fabric, the calligram is an important precedent to the lecture and a key text for understanding how sound recording informed Apollinaire’s vision of the lyric voice as a site of tension between orality and the written word.

Page with text in shapes in French
Fig. 1. Guillaume Apollinaire, “Lettre-Océan,” Les Soirées de Paris 25 (15 June 1914): 54–55. 

The record is not the only modern technology featured in the calligram. “Lettre-Océan” is an exploration of how various innovations—such as the postcard, wireless telegraphy, and the gramophone—structured modern experience and helped reveal to the modern poet new uses and potentialities of language. Much of the poem was inspired by Apollinaire’s experience of corresponding with his brother Albert, who had left to work for a bank in Mexico early in 1913. This is immediately apparent from the title. “Lettre-Océan,” “ocean letters,” which Albert likely sent his brother, doubly refers to letters sent by boat or messages arriving from ships to land via wireless telegraphy, or TSF (télégraphie sans fil). Apollinaire explores both types of correspondence in the body of the calligram. Below the title is a rectangular section organized around “REPUBLICA MEXICANA / TARJETA POSTAL” imitating the postcards Apollinaire would have received from his brother. The rays of the two circular shapes that dominate the rest of the page-space, on either side of the bolded “TSF,” have been read by scholars as telegraphic messages. They are organized around “Sur la / rive / gauche / devant / le pont / d’Iéna” (On the left bank in front of the Iéna bridge; all translations are mine unless stated otherwise) and “Haute / de / 300 / mètres” (300 meters high), two verbal evocations of the Eiffel Tower, which at the time doubled as a radio tower for the transmission of radiographic messages. Rubén Gallo aptly qualified these rays as “chaotic, fragmentary, and lawless prose” that not only describes radiotelegraphy but is also shaped by it.[2]

Just as these novel communication methods influenced written language, the phonograph contributed to changing the perception of spoken language, making it possible to record, preserve, and replay one’s voice. Many scholars of sound studies see the production of a “disembodied,” “acousmatic” voice as the defining feature of sound reproduction technologies, while Jonathan Sterne advocates for a simpler, less ideologically loaded definition of these devices as possessing a transducer, which converts sound into something else and then again into sound.[3] For Apollinaire himself, the phonograph was a new medium for writing and disseminating poetry, leading to a profound interrogation of the status of the lyric voice and orality in written, typographical poems.[4] Apollinaire represents this entirely different kind of technology on the second page of “Lettre-Océan,” where the concentric lines of text with the word “gramophones” appearing in bold resemble the grooves of a record that plays back the cacophony of Paris.  By the time Apollinaire published “Lettre-Océan,” the phonograph and the gramophone were widely popular. The phonograph—from Greek phonē, “voice” or “sound,” and graphē, “writing”—was invented in 1877 by Thomas Edison and could record and play back sound by engraving a cylinder and then retracing the grooves with a playback stylus. In the 1890s, Emile Berliner initiated the transition from cylinder to flat record, calling his otherwise similar device the gramophone (from Greek gramma, “letter”), though it was absorbed under the umbrella appellation “phonograph” for many years to come. Recording technology, “voice writing,” as it were, allowed for the preservation of a person’s voice for generations to come, as well as its diffusion without the necessity of the speaker’s presence. In “Lettre-Océan,” Apollinaire draws a productive analogy between the record and the poem. Inserted into the calligram, the disk troubles the long-standing critical interpretation of poetry as inhabited by vocal presence, recasting the poetic voice as always mediated and disembodied.[5] Apollinaire therefore proposes an alternate vision of lyric voice, one which is born out of the age-old tension in Western culture between textuality and orality, interrogated anew thanks to the phonograph.

While scholars have commented on the visuality and fragmentation of Apollinaire’s prose, little has been said about the record shape and the (o/au)ral dimension it brings to “Lettre-Océan.” In fact, the calligram  did not receive significant attention from modern scholars until the publication of two early manuscript versions of “Lettre-Océan” by Pasquale Aniel Jannini in 1971.[6] The first in-depth analysis of the calligram was presented by Daniel Delbreil, Françoise Dininman, and Alan Windsor in 1975.[7] Since then scholars including Timothy Mathews, Jean Pierre Goldenstein, Rubén Gallo, Margaret Rigaud-Drayton, and Mario Richter have shed light onto the biographical origins and potential meanings of the many fragments that make up “Lettre-Océan.”[8]

Whereas the interpenetration of visual and verbal modes has been central to most studies of “Lettre-Océan,” less attention has been devoted to how the calligram employs visuality to thematize the ambiguous concept of voice in poetry.[9] Delbreil and Dininman were the first to compare the circular form on the right page to a record, though they do not expound on the implications of such imagery.[10] They also briefly considered the question of sonority in “Lettre-Océan” in terms of onomatopoeia that links the calligram to the Futurists, arguing that the “hou ou ou” of sirens and the “zzz ou ou” of the gramophone needle in the second circle are relatively innocuous as compared to the texts of Marinetti, who was reproached as an “onomatopétomane.”[11] Next, in 1981, Pénélope Sacks published a rigorous typology of Apollinaire’s calligramatic shapes where she pushed the idea of the record further, linking it with “Simultanisme-Librettisme,” a polemical piece Apollinaire published in the same issue of Les Soirées de Paris.[12] For Sacks, the right circle recalls the form of a gramophone disk whose music is the cacophony of the city recorded by the poet during his walks.[13] However, she makes no claims about the broader significance of this technologically mediated inscription of sound.

More recently, Laurent Jenny considered Apollinaire’s calligrams as an illustration of the intrinsic visuality of free-verse poetry.[14] Jenny argues that this led to a gradual silencing of what he calls “sung” and “musical” lyricism, in favor of a visual lyricism that is tied to the silent page. While Jenny’s claim is certainly true, it must be nuanced. “Lettre-Océan,” in all its reliance on the visual and spatial dimensions of the page, is heavily preoccupied with the meaning of voice and (o/au)rality in poetry. In the year preceding the publication of the calligram on June 15, 1914, Apollinaire had been involved in two sets of events that together help to contextualize the calligrammatic record and demonstrate the extent to which the poet had been pondering the relationship between written poetry and sound recording: first, the practical experience of recording his poems for the newly founded Archives de la Parole, and second, the quarrel with fellow “poète phonographiste” Henri-Martin Barzun.

Apollinaire at the Archives de la Parole

Just six months before publishing “Lettre-Océan,” Apollinaire had the uncanny experience of hearing his own voice when he recorded “Le pont Mirabeau” as well as “Marie” and “Le Voyageur” for the Archives de la Parole, resulting in a double-sided 35-centimeter disk (figs. 2–3). The linguist and Sorbonne professor Ferdinand Brunot founded the sound archive in 1911 with the support of industry giant Émile Pathé to preserve and study contemporary spoken French.[15] In collaboration with Symbolist poet and director of La Phalange Jean Royère, Brunot invited more than forty poets to his Sorbonne laboratory to recite their poems before the phonograph. Apollinaire, along with his friends and poets André Billy and André Salmon, arrived there on the morning of December 24, 1913.

According to the fiche d’enregistrement that was signed by Apollinaire to accompany his record, the poet’s recording was made using a phonograph with a hollow wax cylinder: “Le Cylindre a été frappé” (The Cylinder was engraved) (fig. 4). Using a device called the pantograph, the cylinder was then used to stamp out the Pathé disc, which was labeled as stated in the abovementioned file: “Le Disque correspondant est classé série O No169” (The corresponding disc is classified Series O No169). As Apollinaire recited, the needle would have engraved the wax, a transfer of sound into physical matter, which impressed André Salmon enough to exclaim: “Oh! L’envol de la cire sous la griffe, poussière de la parole!” (“Oh! The flight of wax under the claw, dust of speech")[16]

Beyond the wonderment of seeing the seeming ephemerality of sound converted into a visible mark, the poets were struck by the sound of their own voices. Apollinaire would later describe his experience as follows: “Après l’enregistrement, on fit redire mes poèmes à l’appareil et je ne reconnus nullement ma voix.”[17] The moment of surprise was also described by André Salmon on December 25 in a Gil Blas article chronicling their visit and tellingly titled: “Les Archives de la Parole: Plus de livres . . . des disques!” (No more books...disks!):

Il [Apollinaire] dit enfin: Marie, puis il s’écoute, non sans stupeur. Ses amis le retrouvent, mais il ne se reconnait pas! . . . Après Guillaume Apollinaire, nous connûmes cette émotion, ce trouble, en entendant chanter notre double. La Poésie va-t-elle, grâce à M. Brunot, connaître des jours nouveaux? Le temps est peut-être proche qu’on ne vendra plus des livres, mais des disques.[18] (Salmon, “Les Archives de la Parole,” 1)

Guillaume Apollinaire and Archives de la Parole, Le Pont Mirabeau, Marie, Pathé disc 90t, 35cm.
Fig. 2. Guillaume Apollinaire and Archives de la Parole, Le Pont Mirabeau, Marie, Pathé disc 90t, 35cm. (detail), Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département de l’Audiovisuel, AP-62, 1913.
Recording document for Le Pont Mirabeau, Marie with Guillaume Apollinaire’s signature
Fig. 3. Recording document for Le Pont Mirabeau, Marie with Guillaume Apollinaire’s signature, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département de l’Audiovisuel, AP-62, 24 Decemeber 1913.
Two men with gramophone
Fig. 4. Ferdinand Brunot with an acoustic horn and a Pathé technician, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département de l’Audiovisuel, circa 1911–1914.

Like Apollinaire, Salmon is unsettled by the unrecognizable voice coming from the phonograph, significatively rhyming “trouble” with “double.” Extracted from the speaking subject, the recorded voice becomes something exterior and foreign to the poet. Despite its uncanny quality, this oral doppelganger was envisioned by poets as a replacement for written texts and a revolution of the literary scene.[19] Salmon goes on to sketch his vision of the literary culture of the near future: “Les dames qui règnent sur des salons littéraires n’inviteront plus les poètes, puisqu’elles possèderont leurs disques!” (Salmon, “Les Archives de la Parole,” 1; The ladies who reign over literary salons will no longer invite poets, since they will possess their records!) The record would replace not only paper but also the poet’s presence. Salmon’s view was shared by many of his contemporaries, including Apollinaire.[20] In a letter written a few months before his visit to Brunot’s laboratory, Apollinaire noted: “Il est vrai que depuis un an j’ai souvent parlé du disque poétique, ajoutant que c’était la forme par laquelle je voudrais publier mes poèmes” (Apollinaire, Œuvres complètes II, 1701).[21] Although Apollinaire believed that within one or two centuries the phonograph would replace the book, he never published his poems via records. However, the recordings he and others made for the Archives de la Parole were curated and played at a unique matinée poétique, giving Apollinaire the opportunity to reflect further on the concept of the disque poétique.

The phonographic recital, recently chronicled by Pascal Cordereix in the Revue de la BnF, took place at the Sorbonne on May 27, 1914 (Cordereix, “Chronique d’une matinée poétique,” 114–25). The twelve poets who were selected sat among the audience of one hundred while six phonographs played the Pathé records containing the poems they had recited for the archive (fig. 5).[22] In a brief article titled “Aux Archives de la Parole,” and published in the same issue of Les Soirées de Paris as “Lettre-Océan,” Apollinaire describes the event in terms that blur the boundaries between speaking and writing, the book and the record: “C’est Jean Royère qui présentait ces prèmieres pages de livres auditifs, dont c’était la première édition et la première audition” (Apollinaire, Œuvres complètes II, 1493).[23] As Cordereix has argued, Apollinaire’s use of the term “livre auditif” and the proximity of “edition” and “audition” relay a sense of interpenetration of sound recording and text (Cordereix, 15-16)For the poet, the record isn’t merely an alternative vehicle for disseminating poems, but an extension of the bounds of poetry, a new mode of expression.  In a longer version of the article, which appeared in Le Mercure de France on July 1, Apollinaire focused exclusively on sound, commenting on the incomprehensibly muffled recitations of some and celebrating those who chose to sing their texts (Apollinaire, “La vie anecdotique,” 193). His analysis, which makes virtually no mention of content, demonstrates the extent to which the voice is mediated and reception of the poem transformed by the recording apparatus, once more signifying that the recording of text is not a simple transition of materiality, from the book to the disk. Rather, the phonograph was for Apollinaire a catalyst of poetic renewal, a tool for interrogating the core precepts of poetry: voice and (o/au)rality.

Pathéphone belonging to Ferdinand Brunot and used for the matinée poétique
Fig. 5. Pathéphone belonging to Ferdinand Brunot and used for the matinée poétique, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département de l’Audiovisuel, Collection Charles Cros no 379, circa 1911.

This pattern of a new technology leading to a critical re-evaluation of an old one, in this case printed poetry, is familiar to media historians. Apollinaire’s experience at the Archives de la Parole and the matinée poétique that followed brought him face-to-face with the technological frontiers of poetry and the questions it engendered about textuality. “Lettre-Océan,” published on the heels of “Aux Archives,” pushed further Apollinaire’s inter-medial exploration. Shifting from the realm of the record to that of the book, Apollinaire crafted within the calligram a different kind of disque poétique, one where the record and orality are translated into text on the page. The calligram thus became the site of a more rigorous effort to explore poetry as a site of tension between writing and sound.

“Simultanisme-Librettisme” and the Phonograph Polemic

When it was printed in the June 1914 issue of Les Soirées de Paris, “Lettre-Océan” was preceded by a polemical text entitled “Simultanisme-Librettisme,” Apollinaire’s contribution to a poetic querelle that constitutes the background against which the calligram was published. The polemic allowed Apollinaire to set out his ideas regarding poetry and the phonograph and may be seen as a theoretical pendant to his practical experience at the Archives de la Parole. This quarrel pitted Apollinaire against Henri-Martin Barzun, a member of the group Abbaye de Créteil and the self-proclaimed inventor of simultanéisme in poetry.[24] It grew out of a conflict regarding the paternity and definition of simultaneous poetry, sparked by Barzun’s obfuscation at the qualification of Cendrar’s and Delaunay’s La Prose du Transsibérien (1913) as “le premier livre simultané” (“the first simultaneous book”) (Battier, “La querelle des poètes phonographistes,” 171).

A significant part of the discussion revolved around the use of the phonograph for the creation of simultaneous poetry. In his 1912 book L’Ere du drame, Barzun prophesied an era when poetry would be resurrected because disseminated via phonograph whereas the book “ne sera plus qu’un document, qu’un aide-mémoire, qu’un témoignage” (170; The book will be nothing but a document, a memory aid, a testimony.). The phonograph would be used to create simultaneous poetry through polyphony.While Apollinaire agreed that an illustrious future awaited such “poètes phonographistes,” (phonographic poets) he argued in “Simultanisme-Librettisme” that Barzun had not been able to achieve the same degree of simultaneity on the page (Apollinaire, Œuvres complètes II, 982).[25] Moreover, Apollinaire developed in this text the opposing notion of poet-as-phonograph, which, this article argues, he put into practice in “Lettre-Océan.”

Apollinaire stresses the importance of the phonograph within the quarrel rather early in “Simultanisme-Librettisme”: “Le voilà plein de ressentiment contre moi à cause de ce que j’ai écrit ici-meme du phonographe.”[26] Apollinaire then goes on to posit that the phonograph was not only a useful tool in the kind of polyphonic theater practiced by Barzun, but that it also constituted a fertile conceptual model for poetic composition:

Le simultanisme poétique de M. Barzun ne peut s’exprimer qu’au moyen de plusieurs voix combinées. C’est du théâtre. Dans le livre à un lecteur ces voix ne peuvent être que successives, donc si M. Barzun veut une poésie effectivement simultanée, il faut qu’il fasse appel à plusieurs récitants ou qu’il se serve du phonographe . . . Mais M. Barzun, d'autre part, peut-il croire que cette transformation théâtrale du lyrisme soit la seule forme par laquelle s'exprimera la simultanéité lyrique? Il sait bien que non, puisque cette forme laisse au livre un caractère nettement successif. On a donné ici des poèmes où cette simultanéité existait dans l'esprit et dans la lettre même puisqu'il est impossible de les lire sans concevoir immédiatement la simultanéité de ce qu'ils expriment, poèmes-conversation où le poète au centre de la vie enregistre en quelque sorte le lyrisme ambiant. (“Simultanisme-Librettisme,” 323)[27]

Apollinaire criticizes Barzun for producing poetry that goes no further towards achieving simultaneity than stage directions, although the phonograph or multiple performers may be called on to achieve simultaneity as polyphony. He then highlights his own innovative poetic experimentation in contrast to that of Barzun, the indexical ici (here) likely referring to “Lettre-Océan,” printed on the later pages of the same issue. For Apollinaire, the phonograph does not simply supplement printed poetry as a prosthesis that enables simultaneity. Instead, it is fully integrated into the creative process by the poet who “records ambient lyricism.” Though it would be simplistic to imagine the entirety of “Lettre-Océan” as a record symbolically engraved by such a process, the circular shape on the right, made up of urban street sounds arranged like the grooves of a record, illustrates this willed mechanization of poetry. And just as the phonograph required by Barzun is internalized by Apollinaire as part of poetic production, so are the orality and performance essential for achieving simultaneity for the former embedded in the text of the latter thanks to the image of the record “turned” by a clockwise reading. The winding lines of text suggest the grooves of the disc, the words standing in for the physical trace of sound made by the recording stylus that so amazed André Salmon. When read within the context of the record disc, the letters do not only spell out the words as signs but also appear as material traces that carry sound within them, asking readers to perform the role of playback in their minds. For Apollinaire, then, the page on which “Lettre-Océan” is printed becomes simultaneously textual, visual, and (o/au)ral, without recourse to polyphonic performance.

Indeed, entangled within this debate about the phonograph and simultaneity is a deeper question about the role of the page and textuality in modern poetry. When Apollinaire chastises Barzun, he twice insists on the latter’s inability to achieve simultaneity within the bounds of the page. The book, he indirectly implies, is the ultimate frontier for the poet who wishes to achieve simultaneity. Although the phonograph or performative declamation characteristic of the Futurists and Barzun may be used to create simultaneous poetry, Apollinaire implies that the real accomplishment lies in overcoming the “caractère nettement succesif(markedly successive character) of Futurist performance and of the book.[28] To reach this goal, he continues in “Simultanisme-Librettisme,” the poet must model the page after the musical score and the poster, as it was done in La Prose du Transsibérien, “où des contrastes de couleurs habituaient l'œil à lire d'un seul regard l'ensemble d'un poème, comme un chef d'orchestre lit d'un seul coup les notes superposées dans la partition, comme on voit d'un seul coup les éléments plastiques et imprimés d'une affiche” (where color contrasts accustomed the eye to reading the entirety of a poem at once, as a conductor who reads the superimposed notes of a score with one glance, as one sees in one glance the plastic and printed elements of a poster) (Apollinaire, “Simultanisme-Librettisme,” 322–23). Apollinaire then proceeds to quote Barzun, who like him compares the simultaneous poem to sheet music, as well as to a painted canvas. In this polemic text about a poem’s relative accomplishment of simultaneity, a fundamental agreement therefore emerges: sheet music, along with visual media like the painted canvas and the poster, serves as a two-pronged ideal of the simultaneous text. Like them, a simultaneous text must have the ability to penetrate the reader’s eye and ear all at once, “d’un seul coup.” To accomplish this, it is implied, a poet must draw inspiration from visual art and music.

The calligrams’ relationship to the visual arts is well documented by scholars, to include the work of Daniel Delbreil, Françoise Dininman, and Alan Windsor. Apollinaire himself pointed to this link on multiple occasions. In “Simultanisme-Librettisme,” for instance, he unites the Cubists, Delaunay, and the typographical experiments of the Futurists as well as his own poetry under the umbrella of simultaneity. Moreover, to underscore the link between the calligrams and visual arts, Apollinaire famously planned to publish some of the calligrams in 1914 under the title “Et moi aussi je suis peintre”—“I too am a painter.” More specifically, the relationship between “Lettre-Océan” and the art of Delaunay, the Cubists, and the Futurists has been studied by scholars including Margaret Davies and Françoise Dininman (“Apollinaire, la peinture et l’image;” “Lettre-Océan”). However, “Lettre-Océan” stands apart from the majority of Apollinaire’s calligrams in that it also thematizes how sound and voice might be encoded in printed text. After all, the poet is not only a painter but also a recording device positioned “in the center of life,” a concept that may be traced back to Apollinaire’s earlier experimentation with poèmes-conversations (conversation poems) (e.g. “Lundi rue Christine”). The right circular form is Apollinaire’s achievement of the ideal proposed by the musical score: the text is arranged to be expressive both visually and (o/au)rally, in an image of the record that engages our sense of hearing. This technologically mediated appeal to the reader’s ear creates tension not only with the visual layout of the calligram—which would be destroyed by a recitation aloud—but also with the traditional conception of the lyric voice.

The Record in “Lettre-Océan”

In addition to possessing a visual resemblance to the record, the right circle in “Lettre-Océan” also evokes its mechanics and functionality.[29] Four concentric circles, each with a heading, wind around the center following a clockwise reading direction, just like the rotating disk. Moreover, “gramophones,” along with “les chaussures neuves du poète,” “autobus,” and “sirènes” (gramophones, the poet’s new shoes, bus[es], and sirens), is one of the headings labeling the onomatopoeic text, which may be understood as a linguistic recording of sound. These headings are arranged vertically and cut across the circular form like the tone arm of the gramophone. They compose a soundscape of Paris, centered on the Eiffel Tower whose verticality (“Haute de 300 mètres”) is akin to the gramophone needle positioned over the record. The result is an aerial perspective of the city intertwined with that of the record, blending the visual and the (o/au)ral to give a simultaneous impression of Paris as sight and sound, a sensorial and geographic enormity that has been captured and synthesized by the poet with the help of this multidimensional calligrammatic shape.

Read as a record, the large circular form challenges traditional modes of poetic reception and illuminates the (o/au)ral dimension of the calligram, essential for understanding Apollinaire’s evolving conception of lyricism yet overlooked by the prevalent readings of “Lettre-Océan” as a preeminently visual poem. First, Apollinaire’s vision of the poet as recording device and of the poem as record at once reveals and disrupts the mechanisms that shape our reading conventions. Apollinaire’s record makes for a vertiginous reading experience. Skimming its onomatopoeic text involves a degree of automatism that likens reading to the playback function of the gramophone. The eye is led along the circular lines of text, decoding the sounds that were encoded there in language, by the poet who has willfully mechanized himself, “record[ing] ambient lyricism.” Aside from a mimesis of sound, the text does not immediately emit a secondary meaning for interpretation, causing reading to feel mindless and mechanical, thereby seeming to deny the reader the deeply personal or transcendent experiences traditionally associated with lyric poetry. If the creative process is conceived like a recording, then the reader is likened to the gramophone needle gliding along the grooves of a record like the gaze along the typographical circles. The record shape therefore exposes the mechanisms that underpin reading. However, it simultaneously disrupts these automatisms, frustrating the readers’ search for a beginning and end of a horizontal and consecutive reading. The typographical disc makes readers aware of the reading habits that they must then release to gain access to the visual poem. It therefore not only demonstrates that recording technology is intimately linked to the processes of writing and reading but also that it carries potential for rethinking literary conventions.

Posing an immediate challenge to our reading habits at its surface, the record in “Lettre-Océan” also breaks the mold of the traditional perception of musicality in lyric poetry. The term “lyric” was from its inception associated with “a music that could no longer be heard”: it was first used in the Alexandrian period to label the texts taken from Greek songs for preservation at the library.[30] Although the lyric was theorized differently throughout the centuries, it maintained at its core this ideal of song and orality, with literary critics continuing to this day to rely on metaphors of voice to analyze poetry. In “Lettre-Océan,” Apollinaire uses the typographical record to bring this oral metaphor to the fore and give it material presence. The word-disk sheds light on the poetic voice as a locus of tension between orality and literacy that underpins western culture and employs recording technology to disrupt poetry’s illusion of speaking presence.

Indeed, Apollinaire’s typographical record serves to interrogate one of the core ideals of poetry, that of orality and vocal presence. To begin, the entire calligram, and the record shape in particular, appeals to the ear, playing against the usual readings of the calligram as a preeminently visual poem where musicality is silenced in favor of a visual lyricism. The onomatopoeic text of the verbal disque poétique—the “cré cré” of the poet’s shoes, the “z-z-ou” of the just-launched gramophone record, the “ro-ting-ting” of the buses and the “hou-ou” of the sirens—seems to engrave sound into the silent page. Other sections of the poem similarly deploy various fonts and directionalities to convey Apollinaire’s effort to push printed words beyond their textuality and towards the realm of orality. Echoing the typographical record, the smaller circle on the left may be interpreted as a series of wireless telegraphic (TSF) messages arriving at or departing from the Eiffel Tower. Together, the two circles, which Timothy Mathews has called the two “eyes” of the calligram, also offer the reader a glimpse of two distinct technological methods for encoding sound: as ephemeral broadcasts on the left and as a permanent record on the right (“Guillaume Apollinaire, ‘Lettre-Océan,’” 38). Apollinaire situates poetry somewhere between the two. For him, poetry does not carry in it a monolithic, easily definable lyric voice as if it were a phonographic recording of the poet’s actual voice coming from the poet’s singular, embodied je, as was the case at the matinée poétique. Considering that Apollinaire never published purely phonographic poems, it is possible that, for him, the record fell short of the printed page by giving the false impression of communicating more fully the lyric voice within the actual voice of the poet reciting his verses.  In other words, while the gramophone was for him a useful figure for innovating lyricism, its mechanism was not synonymous with his poetics. Neither was TSF. Whereas radio telegraphy was extremely useful for innovating poetic language and for conveying the communicative, ephemeral aesthetic of Apollinaire’s poème-conversation, it is not sufficiently lyric, a criticism Apollinaire had directed at the Futurists’ use of “words in freedom.” Rather, “Lettre-Océan” sustains the tension that exists between TSF and the record by exploring how the permanence of text might convey the ephemerality of the lyric voice, an (o/au)rality that is present but nevertheless impossible to capture and stabilize, even using the record. It is this exploration of the ability of the written word to transmit a sensation of sound that informs the entire calligram.

“Lettre-Océan,” as the title suggests, is concerned with long-distance, written correspondence. It is anchored in Apollinaire’s experience of communicating with his brother in Mexico, with large swaths of the calligram directly inspired by the letters and telegrams the poet sent to and received from Albert. The three lines in the top-left section of the calligram tell of Albert’s departure and are notable for conveying the familiar impression of hearing the voice of a loved enclosed within the text of a letter:

J’étais au bord du Rhin quand tu partis pour le Mexique

Ta voix me parvient malgré l’énorme distance

Gens de mauvaise mine sur le quai à la Vera Cruz[31]

It is highly unlikely that Albert’s voice could have reached his brother in Paris. The first transatlantic telephone call was not made until 1927, and the brief heyday of sonorines—recordings made on thick paper with a device called the phonopostal and sent as postcards—had come to an end in France around 1907.[32] Albert’s voice could therefore reach Apollinaire only as written language, either as words on a letter or postcard or as a message encoded and sent via Hertzian waves to be transcribed in Paris. The correspondence was therefore inherently silent. However, by writing “ta voix,” Apollinaire suggests that voice is carried within language. While the first two verses (“J’étais au bord du Rhin quand tu partis pour le Mexique / Ta voix me parvient malgré l’énorme distance”) are written from Apollinaire’s perspective, the last one (“Gens de mauvaise mine sur le quai à la Vera Cruz”) seems to present that of Albert and may be said to embody “ta voix” of the second verse. Following the logic of the two textual circles that evoke the Eiffel Tower and make the page into an aerial landscape, the three lines conjure a typographical map: Apollinaire, on the shores of the Rhine in the first verse, corresponds with his brother, who sees “bad-looking people” on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico in the third verse. The second verse, “Ta voix me parvient malgré l’énorme distance” acts as a word-bridge between the two continents, filling the white space between the two (shore)lines and thus enacting the “voice” crossing over the expanse of the ocean. Written language is therefore pictured as a material vehicle for the voice, recording and carrying it across space.

The calligram is studded with other examples of sonorous language that make the presence of voice—Apollinaire’s, his brother’s, or that of the anonymous crowd—more palpable by interweaving the spoken, “overheard” quality of the poème-conversation with visual representations of recording technology and typographical effects. In other words, (o/au)rality is achieved on the level of content and of visual form. First, the snippets of street sounds in the two circles, like “Vive la République” (Long live the Republic) and “allons circulez Mes[sieurs]” (go ahead, move on, gentlemen) clearly represent the spoken register. Moreover, the brothers’ correspondence is given a degree of orality in the bolded “Bonjour Mon Frère Albert à Mexico” in the upper right, juxtaposing the greeting “bonjour,” which suggests proximity (in contrast to the more conventionally epistolary “cher”), with distant “Mexico.” The bolded font visually creates the impression of projection, as if Apollinaire were shouting the words to his brother across the ocean. This contrast of linguistically implied closeness and actual distance coupled with expressive typography points to how the written word has the power to communicate voice “malgré l’énorme distance.” Another “bonjour” appears in the lower-left section of the calligram. Along with the words “anomo/anora,” which Apollinaire described as gendered greetings in a working manuscript, it recreates the shape of a phonograph horn that absorbs or emits the words “tu ne connaîtras jamais bien les Mayas” (you will never know the Mayas well) (Goldenstein, “Anomo / Anora,” 92–94). The address to an unknown tu, perhaps the reader, enhances the oral quality of this already rhythmic, musical line.

Finally, content and form are joined in the record shape to suggest sound in a highly evocative way: the image primes and guides a concentric, “gramophonic” reading that intensifies the sensation of sound already imbedded in the onomatopoeic text. The clockwise reading conditioned by the lines of Apollinaire’s text creates the impression of a turning record, especially as one reads the “zzzoouuuaoo” originating from “gramophones,” imitating the sound made by the device before launching into the song lyric “de vos jardin fleuris.” On the one hand, the visual shape of the record as well as the text within encourage the reader to imagine a gramophone record playing in their mind, creating a tantalizing impression of song that, as a technologically mediated and disembodied sound, goes beyond traditional conceptions of musicality in lyric poetry. On the other hand, the very same visual shape that structures such an experience does not lend itself to being sounded out. The record shape therefore embodies an inherent tension between visuality and orality, wherein the image inspires a sonority in the mind that can never completely cross into the realm of orality.

The calligram’s overall resistance to being vocalized while evoking sonority is also symptomatic of a deeper tension of textuality and orality fundamental to Apollinaire’s conception of the lyric voice. The typographical record in “Lettre-Océan” does not only gesture to the new technology as a mode of composition and dissemination, but it also serves as a representation of and metaphor for the poetic voice, complementing Apollinaire’s vision of the poet recording ambient lyricism in “Simultanisme-Librettisme.” The disc, like the lyric voice, always reaches beyond its textuality towards the (o/au)ral while at the same time resisting vocalization. For Apollinaire, this tension defines the poetic voice, a balancing act that was likely challenged by the prospect of all future poetry being disseminated via the record. While it celebrates the technology that allows poets to record and disseminate their work, “Lettre-Océan” is a visual poem that is not amenable to being recorded. Instead, it proposes a different kind of disque poétique, one that dialogues with its recorded counterpart while resisting it. In line with what scholars have described as poetry’s gradual turn from the oral to the visual paradigm inaugurated by Mallarmé, the calligram exhibits Apollinaire’s ambivalence about a future when the phonograph potentially succeeds the book and declamation replaces writing.[33] Yet it also demonstrates the plurality of Apollinaire’s poetics, his enthusiasm about poets’ newfound access to multiple modes of expression and avenues for reception thanks to technological innovation. 

Beyond giving material form to the poetic tension of text and sound, the calligrammatic disc also unmasks an obvious feature of the voice, namely the illusion of the poet’s speaking presence that underpins lyric poetry. The lyric voice depicted in the guise of a gramophone disc appears disembodied (the poet is not actually present), asynchronous (the utterance was made and recorded in the past), and mediated (the utterance does not reach us in its original form, relayed by the mechanical “zzz-ou” of the gramophone). Voice recording therefore helps to strip away some of the illusions espoused by poetry while maintaining its core link to musicality and (o/au)rality. Imagine as readers may that the poet is directly speaking to them through the text; the record in “Lettre-Océan” suggests that we will always encounter in poetry a mediated, disembodied, asynchronous voice. Moreover, it proposes the possibility of a mechanized voice, expanding the traditional definition of musicality in lyric poetry by placing technology at the core of a genre insistent on tracing its origins in the lost music of the ancients.   

The typographical record acclimates the poet to the transformed concept of sound in modern times and adapts the lyricl voice to express this altered reality. For Apollinaire, who had repeatedly advocated for the maintenance of a close link between art and life, poets had to take stock of the new reality brought by the phonograph. He felt that the Futurists, whose words-in-freedom he admired and used as inspiration for “Lettre-Océan,” had faltered in this respect. “People do not speak with mots en liberté” he wrote in “Nos Amis les Futuristes” in February 1914, describing the invention as “didactiques et antilyriques” (didactic and anti-lyrical).[34] Rather, he continued, “pour renouveler l’inspiration, . . . je crois que le poète devra s’en rapporter à la nature, à la vie. S’il se bornait même, sans souci didactique, à noter le mystère qu’il voit et qu’il entend, il s’habituerait à la vie même comme l’ont fait au XIXe siècle les romanciers qui ont ainsi porté très haut leur art” (Apollinaire, Œuvres complètes II, 971).[35] Published on the heels of Apollinaire’s surreal experience of hearing his own voice projected from the phonograph horn as he sat in the audience, “Lettre-Océan” may in part be seen as an effort to acclimate his poetry, and therefore himself, to modern life.

Apollinaire’s responses to his experiences at the Archives de la Parole clearly capture his surprise as well as a recognition that the perception of sound has changed. Gramophones, as the typographical record in “Lettre-Océan” conveys, became an integral part of the urban soundscape, playing music alongside the blaring sirens and bus bells. Moreover, the future promised records that would soon project the voices of poets to the general public. To relay this changing reality in poetry, Apollinaire seems to suggest in “Lettre-Océan,” the lyric voice likewise had to evolve. The word-record as well as the visually radiating snippets of street sounds in “Lettre-Océan” are evidence of this push to experiment with poetic voice in order to maintain poetry’s links with rapidly advancing modern life. Just as the poet may act as a recording device, the record enters the realm of poetic voice, allowing the poet to capture and reflect upon the changes the phonograph has brought to the urban soundscape and to the literary scene. Apollinaire’s response is therefore radically different from that of poets in the tradition of William Wordsworth, like T. S. Eliot and other high modernists who, while setting out to simulate “the changing face of common intercourse”,” preferred to draw on a “natural” language unmediated by technology.[36] Apollinaire, instead, viewed technology as an integral part of “la nature,” “la vie” and therefore something to be addressed by the poet through an expansion of the realm of poetic voice.

The text within the record likewise espouses the need to maintain the link between poetry and life, calling for a new poetics in step with contemporary reality. The outermost circle represents the modern poet in action. Labeled with “the new shoes of the poet,” it continues Apollinaire’s experimentation with the integrity of the poetic “je,” already present in poems like “Zone” (1913). It is significant that the record, a metaphor for the lyric voice, does not actually project “the voice” of the poetic subject, but rather the sound of his shoes—“cré cré”—as he walks in the city. The “je” is therefore concealed below two successive layers, first by the poet’s creaking shoes, and secondly by the recording, which signals that the poet is not actually present. However, this experimentation does not obliterate the poetic subject but rather shows it from a different angle, in the process of creating. This first circle corresponds to the kind of poetic act Apollinaire described in “Simultanisme-Librettisme”: “The poet in the center of life who in a way records ambient lyricism.” While toying with the “je,” the calligram nevertheless depicts the poet masterfully circumscribing the cacophony of the city to create the typographical recoding pictured on the page.

Furthermore, Margaret Rigaud-Drayton and, later, Mario Richter both pointed out that walking through the noisy capital (cré cré) is equated to the act of creation, “créer” (“Word and Image,” 136–37; “Lettre-Océan,” 130–31). Later, in “L’Esprit nouveau et les Poètes,” Apollinaire will say that “poésie et création ne sont qu’une même chose.”[37] This first circle therefore self-consciously uses onomatopoeia to represent for the reader the act of cré-ation, at once de-sublimating and renewing the poetic act. Of course, the comparison of walking to writing is not an entirely new trope. As Richter points out, the equation of walking with poetic creation was a central theme of Rimbaud’s work, and Apollinaire had also referred to the sound of footsteps as lyric in “Cortège” and “Les Collines” (“Lettre-Océan,” 131). However, as Richter emphasizes, the squeaking sound of new shoes, along with the mechanical humming of the gramophone, the bells of the bus, and the howling of the sirens, is disagreeable and an affront to good taste. For Apollinaire, this is the necessary quality of creation: “art must be outside of taste” (133). In this circle, Apollinaire calls to the poet to step into new shoes and embrace the disagreeable sound they might make as they embark on the creative journey.

The next circle, announced with the heading “gramophones,” is for Richter the poet’s rejection of old poetry, expressed in a decasyllabic line of a nineteenth-century song. While Apollinaire walks out into the city, embracing modernity, proponents of traditional poetry seek toshelter it : the lyric “de vos jardins fleuris fermez les portes”[38] implies closure, a stance that Apollinaire ridicules in the calligram by having the verse emerge ironically from the mechanical “zzzoouou” of the just-launched record, betraying the ubiquitous use of technology by the literary world. The verse’s significance in the song Apollinaire selected confirms Richter’s reading. The line comes from “Chanson Napolitaine,” composed by the nineteenth-century songwriter Gustave Naudaud. The song’s subject addresses a brunette who broke his heart, telling her to “close the doors of her gardens” since he has found a blonde who treats him with affection. The line narrates the transition from one lover to another, transposed by Apollinaire to stand for poetic transformation. The flowering gardens abandoned by the poet refer to a traditional conception of poetry, the age-old comparison of poems with flowers, which is at the origin of the term “anthology,” from the Greek ánthos for “flower” and légō for “I collect.” Apollinaire’s first calligram defines itself against such a traditional, naturalist conception of poetry. Its aesthetic is technological as opposed to the organic. “Lettre-Océan” is a modern hybrid: it resembles a poster pasted on a city wall, its language is telegrammatic, its disembodied voice seems to emerge from the horn of the gramophone. The calligram is a new kind of text, nourished by the modernity of the metropolis, the antithesis of the secluded, gated garden that conveys Symbolist isolation.

The next two circles continue the rhetoric of renewal and transformation. A bell sound announces the quasi-automatic uttering of the bus driver, who calls out a “changement de section” (route change). For Richter, this is the changing of an epoch, and the passenger-poet must either renew his ticket to embark on a new route or exit the bus. Finally, the sirens exemplify the transformative power of modernity on language, which poets would be amiss to ignore: the seductive and fatal song of Homer’s mythical monsters metamorphoses into the blaring warning call of the mechanic device. The transformation in semantics is accompanied by a clear shift in modes of poetic expression, where the ideal of the Homeric song is simultaneously evoked and resisted by the typographical circle that represents it. Odysseus’ epic sea voyage is replaced by a trek through the ocean that is modern Paris, dominated by the Eiffel Tower, where the heroic poet seeks to become the bard of a new reality.

The Gramophone and Poetic Renewal 

It is no coincidence that Apollinaire chose to embed this call for a new poetics within the shape of the gramophone record. The poet envisioned technology as a furnace for artistic renewal. In an article titled "La Loi de Renaissance" published in 1912, Apollinaire claims that the arts must change in order to keep their essence, which he calls “le sublime” (the sublime), intact.[39] This “law of renaissance,” Apollinaire writes, resembles the fable of the phoenix: the fantastical bird is taken as a symbol of “the sublime,” consumed by the flames of “l’art populaire qui est à la fois le produit de la décadence des arts et aussi le foyer qui les échauffe et les vivifie” (popular art which is at once the result of the decadence of the arts and also the hearth which awakens and invigorates them) (35–36). Apollinaire identifies “the popular arts” with the camera, the cinematograph, and the gramophone. While these technologies are a threat to purely mimetic art forms, Apollinaire reassures the reader that the sublime is not in danger. For him, technology carries a double benefit. First, it is advantageous from a practical standpoint in that it perfects mimesis; second, it replaces art that is merely concerned with reproduction and no longer carries the kernel of the sublime, encouraging artists to continue to strive for it through innovation and experimentation. Read in light of this doctrine, the record in “Lettre-Océan” is perfectly suited to project a call for poetic renewal. It represents the “easy works of industry” that obviate the need for musical performance, yet it is also the element that brings about artistic renewal.

Representing in its form and content an expansion of lyric voice and musicality, the typographical record in “Lettre-Océan” enacts, avant la lettre, the prophetic message Apollinaire would deliver in his oft-cited 1917 lecture, “L’Esprit nouveau et les Poètes.” Although the calligram and the lecture are separated by Apollinaire’s experience of World War I, the lecture crystallizes the ideas Apollinaire was exploring in “Lettre-Océan.”[40] In “L’Esprit nouveau,” Apollinaire presents himself as a prophet who announces the coming of “the new spirit,” which, he says, had been forming and gaining traction for some time, but which has only now become conscious of itself.[41] Apollinaire locates the emergence of this self-consciousness in formal experimentation: free verse was the first step, one that eventually led to the birth of visual lyricism, epitomized in Apollinaire’s oeuvre by “Lettre-Océan” and the calligrams that followed.

However, Apollinaire writes that formal experimentation is but one way of achieving new modes of expression; the linchpin of l’esprit nouveau is actually technology. Apollinaire encourages poets to take over technological modes of production, repeatedly citing the gramophone. In this new poetry, the machine, as Effie Rentzou writes, is fantasized as “the great equalizer, but also as a tool that secures superiority for those who possess the know-how” (“Partout et Nulle Part,” 564). This appropriation of the machine as a key element of a new poetics is precisely what lies at the heart of “Lettre-Océan.” Describing the composition of his first calligram as the act of recording (enregistrement), Apollinaire already imagines the poet as a mechanized being, someone whose lyric voice and creative powers are supplemented and augmented by the figurative integration of the phonograph. Like the calligram, the lecture is also preoccupied with (o/au)rality, which, along with the image, is imagined to replace the written word:

[On] peut prévoir le jour où le phonographe et le cinéma étant devenus les seules formes d'impression en usage, les poètes auront une liberté inconnue jusqu'à présent. Qu'on ne s'étonne point si, avec les seuls moyens dont ils disposent encore, ils s'efforcent de se préparer à cet art nouveau (plus vaste que l'art simple des paroles) où, chefs d'un orchestre d'une étendue inouïe, ils auront à leur disposition: le monde entier, ses rumeurs et ses apparences, la pensée et le langage humain, le chant, la danse, tous les arts et tous les artifices, plus de mirages encore que ceux que pouvait faire surgir Morgane sur le mont Gibel, pour composer le livre vu et entendu de l'avenir. (“L’Esprit nouveau et les Poètes,” 386–7, emphasis added).[42]

“Lettre-Océan” may be proleptically understood as this very attempt to prepare for a new art, dominated by image and sound, using “the simple art of words.” With the record shape, Apollinaire pushes the static, silent page into the future poetic realms of the cinema and the gramophone: we imagine the record turned by our gaze as we read, a moving image that also creates the impression of sonority. In “Lettre-Océan,” the poet is already a master of mirage. He is also a greater-than-life conductor, composing with all the elements of an urban environment. These are masterfully arranged within the grooves of the textual record, symbolic of the poet’s anticipated hold on modern technology. However, while the lecture optimistically foretells the “seen and heard book” of the future, the calligram is rooted in the page. It betrays an ambivalence about the projected obsolescence of the written word in poetry, an ambivalence that is no longer apparent on the optimistic and exuberant surface of “L’Esprit nouveau.” Yet even as it tightens its grip on the page, “Lettre-Océan” turns to recording technology to interrogate the core tension between textuality and (o/au)rality underpinning the lyric voice, thereby expanding the bounds of poetry.

In conclusion, “Lettre-Océan” is characterized by in-betweenness. The calligram is not only positioned between Mexico and France, but also between literacy and newfound orality brought by the phonograph, at the sensory threshold of text, image, and sound that Apollinaire sees as the future of lyric poetry. Its sensorial fluidity testifies to the malleability and expressivity of language, that “simple art of words” capable of conjuring up mirages at the hands of the poet. Whether the written word is to remain the preferred wand of the poet is one implicit question put forth by “Lettre-Océan”; how it may be adapted to the new realities lived by poets is another, more profound underlying concern. Inspired by his experiences and debates surrounding the recording apparatus, Apollinaire’s first calligram employs technology as a springboard for a new conception of poetic voice. The typographical record of “Lettre-Océan” is a site of experimentation that distills the core questions set to poets by the phonograph, spotlighting the tension between orality and the written word that came to characterize Apollinaire’s conception of the lyric voice.



[1] “[Le livre] est à son déclin. Avant un ou deux siècles il mourra. Il aura son successeur, son seul successeur possible dans le disque du phonographe et le film cinématographique.” Guillaume Apollinaire, interview by Gaston Picard, “Le Pays, Interviews M. Guillaume Apollinaire et la Nouvelle Ecole Littéraire, ” Le Pays (June 24, 1917), reprinted in Guillaume Apollinaire, Œuvres en prose complètes II, ed. Pierre Caizergues et Michel Décaudin (Paris: Gallimard, 1977–1993), 988–91.

[2] Rubén Gallo, Mexican Modernity: The Avant-Garde and the Technological Revolution (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2010), 140.

[3] See Jonathan Sterne, The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), 22; 31-86., page numbers?.

[4] For a study of the shift from orality to literacy, see Eric Alfred Havelock, The Muse Learns to Write: Reflections on Orality and Literacy from Antiquity to the Present (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986). See also Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (London: Methuen, 1982).

[5] For a succinct discussion of poetic voice, see E. Richards, “Voice,” in The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, ed. Roland Greene, Stephen Cushman, and Clare Cavanagh, Fourth Edition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012), 1525–27.

[6] Pasquale Aniel Jannini, La Fortuna di Apollinaire in Italia (Milano: Istituto editoriale cisalpino, 1959).

[7] Daniel Delbreil, Françoise Dininman, and Alan Windsor, “Lettre-Océan,” Que Vlo-Ve? 1, no. 21–22 (July–Oct. 1979): 1–38,

[8] Timothy Mathews, “‘Simultanéité’, reading. ‘Lettre-Océan,’” in Reading Apollinaire: Theories of Poetic Language (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1987), 165–77; Jean Pierre Goldenstein, “Anomo / Anora: Tu connaîtras un peu mieux les Mayas,” Que Vlo-Ve? 4, no. 11 (July–Sept. 2000): 77–100, see note 6 for URL; Rubén Gallo, “Radio,” in Mexican Modernity: The Avant-Garde and the Technological Revolution (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2005), 132–141; Timothy Mathews, “Guillaume Apollinaire, ‘Lettre-Océan,’” in Twentieth-Century French Poetry: A Critical Anthology, ed. Hugues Azérad and Peter Collier (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 34–43; Margaret Rigaud-Drayton, “Word and Image in Apollinaire’s ‘Lettre-Océan,’” in Text and Image in Modern European Culture, ed. Natasha Grigorian, Thomas Baldwin, and Margaret Rigaud-Drayton (West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 2012), 133–42; Mario Richter, “Lettre-Océan,” Apollinaire: Le renouvellement de l’écriture poétique du XXe siècle (Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2014), 95–140.

[9] For focused discussion of the relationship between Apollinaire’s calligrams and painting see Margaret Davies, “Apollinaire, la peinture et l’image,” Que Vlo-Ve? 1, no. 21–22 (July–Oct. 1979): 1–20, see note 6 for URL. See also Willard Bohn, “L’Imagination plastique des calligrammes,” Que Vlo-Ve? 1, no. 29–30 (July–Oct. 1981): 1–23, see note 6 for URL. See also Delbreil, Dininman, and Windsor, “Lettre-Océan.”

[10] Delbreil, Dininman, and Windsor, “Lettre-Océan,” 29.

[11] Delbreil, Dininman, and Windsor, “Lettre-Océan,” 26.

[12] Pénélope Sacks, “La Mise en page du calligramme,” Que Vlo-Ve? 1, no. 29–30 (July–Oct. 1981): 1–17, see note 6 for URL.

[13] Sacks, “La Mise en page,” 5.

[14] Laurent Jenny, “Lyrisme musical et lyrisme visuel dans les Calligrammes,” in Le chant et l'écrit lyrique, ed. Antonio Rodriguez and André Wyss (Bern: Peter Lang, 2009), 96–107.

[15] For more information on the Archives de la Parole, see Pascal Cordereix, “Ferdinand Brunot et les Archives de la parole: le phonographe, la mort, la mémoire,” Revue de la BnF 48, no. 3 (2014): 5–11,

[16] André Salmon, “Les Archives de la Parole: Plus de livres . . . des disques!,” Gil Blas (Dec. 25, 1913): 1. "La parole" in French can be taken to mean both "the word" and "speech." Here, Salmon is most likely referring to the speech act as he watched the needle record Apollinaire reciting. However, "la parole" may also refer to the word, bringing the phonograph's moving needle in proximity to the act of writing.

[17] Guillaume Apollinaire, “La vie anecdotique,” Mercure de France, vol. 110 (July 1, 1914): 193. “After the recording, they had the device retell my poems and I did not recognize my voice at all.”

[18] “He [Apollinaire] finally recites: Marie, then he listens to himself, not without astonishment. His friends recognize him, but he does not recognize himself! . . . After Guillaume Apollinaire, we experienced this emotion, this distress, as we heard our double sing. Will Poetry, thanks to Mr. Brunot, see new days? The time is perhaps close when we will no longer sell books, but records.”

[19] For a study on the cultural history of the audio book, see Matthew Rubery, The Untold Story of the Talking Book (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016).

[20] “Sa réaction est à l’égal de celle de Paul Fort et de la plupart des poètes enregistrés: l’enthousiasme domine.” Pascal Cordereix, “Chronique d’une matinée poétique. Guillaume Apollinaire aux Archives de la Parole,” Revue de la BnF 55, no. 2 (2017): 121,

[21] Originally published in Paris-Midi (July 5, 1913). “It is true that for a year I have often spoken of the poetic disk, adding that it was in this form that I would like to publish my poems.”

[22] Toucas-Masillon, “Des poètes parlent . . . mais c’est dans le phonographe,” L’Homme libre (May 28, 1914), page number?.Cited by Pascal Cordereix, 121-122, 125 (note 36).

[23] Originally published in Les Soirées de Paris (June 15, 1914): 306, signed with initials J. C. “It was Jean Royère who presented these first pages of auditive books, of which it was the first edition and the first audition.”

[24] Marc Battier, “La querelle des poètes phonographistes: Apollinaire et Barzun,” Littérature et musique dans la France contemporaine: actes du colloque des 20–22 mars 1999 en Sorbonne, ed. Jean-Louis Backès, Claude Coste, and Danièle Pistone (Strasbourg: Presses universitaires de Strasbourg, 2001), 167–78.

[25] This is a term Apollinaire used in another article published in the context of the quarrel, “A propos de la poésie nouvelle,” Paris-Journal (June 29, 1914), reprinted in Apollinaire, Œuvres complètes II, 982.

[26] Guillaume Apollinaire, “Simultanisme-Librettisme,” Les Soirées de Paris 25 (July 15, 1914): 322. Reprinted in Apollinaire, Œuvres complètes II, 974–79. “Here he is, full of resentment against me because of what I wrote right here about the phonograph.”

[27] “Mr. Barzun’s poetic simultanisme cannot be expressed but by way of multiple, combined voices. It is theater. In the book for a reader these voices cannot be anything but successive, so if Mr. Barzun wants a really simultaneous poetry, it is necessary that he call upon multiple reciters or that he use the phonograph . . . But Mr. Barzun, on the other hand, can he believe that this theatrical transformation of lyricism be the only form by which lyrical simultaneity will express itself? He well knows that the answer is no, since this form leaves to the book a markedly successive character. Here, we offered poems where this simultaneity existed in the spirit and in the letter itself since it is impossible to read them without perceiving at once the simultaneity of what they express, conversation poems where the poet, at the center of life, in a way records ambient lyricism.”

[28] For a discussion of Apollinaire in relation to Futurist performance, see Richter, Apollinaire: Le renouvellement de l’écriture poétique du XXe siècle 22–23. These page numbers don’t correspond with the page range listed in note 7. This is because it’s a different section of the book, apologies for quoting “Lettre Océan” specifically.

[29] The circular shape on the second page has indeed been persuasively interpreted in a variety of ways—as radio waves emitted from the Eiffel Tower, rippling mental processes, the face of a clock or sundial, a cosmic symbol evoking the sun, an aerial cityscape, a gramophone record—with most scholars alluding to its visual polysemy.

[30] V. Jackson, “Lyric,” in Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, 826–34.

[31] “I was on the shore of the Rhine when you left for Mexico / Your voice reaches me despite the enormous distance / Bad-looking people on the quay in Vera Cruz.”

[32] I am grateful to Thomas Levin for showing me his collection of sonorines and describing their cultural and historical context. For additional information on the sonorine and the phonopostal—a device used to make and play back the recording—see Peppe Cavallari, “Le Phonopostale et les sonorines: un échec riche d’idées,” Cahier Louis-Lumière 10 (Dec. 2016): 77–86, Although the phonopostal seems to have come and gone in 1905–1907, André Salmon mentioned in his article published in Gil Blas that “la Russie connaît déjà la carte-postale phonographique” (Russia is already familiar with the phonographic postcard). “Les Archives de la Parole,” 1. 

[33] For an interpretation of this move, see Laurent Jenny, La fin de l’intériorité (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 2002). For how this applies to Surrealism, see Effie Rentzou, “Can surrealism sing? Nikos Gatsos and song-writing,” Music, Language and Identity in Greece: Defining a National Art Music in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, ed. Polina Tambakaki, Panos Vlagopoulos, Katerina Levidou, and Roderick Beaton (London: Routledge, 2019), 248–61.

[34] Guillaume Apollinaire, “Nos amis les Futuristes,” Les Soirées de Paris (Feb 1914), reprinted in Apollinaire, Œuvres complètes II, 971.

[35] “To renew inspiration, . . . I think that the poet will have to look to nature, to life. If he just limited himself, without a view to be didactic, to noting the mystery which he sees and which he hears, he would accustom himself to life just as the novelists in the nineteenth century who in this way really elevated their art.”

[36] See Marjorie Perloff, “The Changing Face of Common Intercourse,” Radical Artifice: Writing Poetry in the Age of Media (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 29. Perloff quotes T.S. Eliot, “The Music of Poetry,” 1942.  

[37] Guillaume Apollinaire, “L’Esprit nouveau et les Poètes," Mercure de France 491 (Dec. 1, 1918): 392,;2. “It’s that poetry and creation are nothing but the same thing.”

[38] “Close the doors of your flowering gardens.”

[39] “La Loi de renaissance,” La Démocratie sociale (July 7, 1912), reprinted in Apollinaire et La démocratie sociale, ed. Pierre Caizergues (Paris: Lettres modernes, 1969), 35.

[40] For a discussion of the significance of the lecture in Apollinaire’s oeuvre and within the avant-garde, see Effie Rentzou, “‘Partout et Nulle Part’: Apollinaire’s Body after the War,” Criticism 57 no. 4 (2015): 557–79. For commentary on the link between technology and poetry in Apollinaire’s lecture, see Carrie Noland, “Introduction,” in Poetry at Stake: Lyric Aesthetics and the Challenge of Technology (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), 3–15.

[41] Apollinaire, “L’Esprit nouveau et les poètes,” 385–6.

[42] “One can predict the day when, the photograph and the cinema having become the only form of publication in use, the poet will have a freedom heretofore unknown. One should not be astonished if, with only the means they have now at their disposal, they set themselves to preparing this new art (vaster than the plain art of words) in which, like conductors of an orchestra of unbelievable scope, they will have at their disposition the entire world, its noises and its appearances, the thought and language of man, song, dance, all the arts and all the artifices, still more mirages than Morgane could summon up on the hill of Gibel, with which to compose the visible and unfolded [sic] book of the future.” Translation by Roger Shattuck, Selected Writings of Guillaume Apollinaire (New York: New Directions, 1950): 227–37. Note: The original text reads entendu whereas the translator seems to have misread it as the verb étendre (to unfold). The correct translation is therefore “The visible and heard book of the future.”