August 4, 2011

Claude Gauvreau

Claude Gauvreau [Canada]

Claude Gauvreau was born in Montréal on August 19, 1925. As a young man he attended the Collège Ste-Marie, focusing on classical studies, followed by his studies of philosophy at the Université de Montréal, where he graduated with a B.A.

Gauvreau made his literary début at the early age of thirteen, writing and producing the play Ma vacation.

Later, through his brother Pierre, who attended l'École des beaux-arts, he became friendly with the painter Paul-Émile Borduas, who introduced him to modernist movements such as Dadaism, Surrealism, and Automatism, and through whom he met most of the major figures in the Montreal art community. He co-signed Borduas's famous manifesto, Refus global (Total Refusal), and wrote on the theoretical aspects of Automatism for the general public.

During this period Gauvreau wrote poetry that would not be published until much later in his life. The poems, ‘Entrailles’ were finally heard in the 1956 play Sur fil métamorphose. Étal mixte, composed in 1950, was published in 1968. Only Brochuges, which he worked on during the summer of 1954, was published early, in 1957. The poems of these volumes break word order, and dismember syntactical structures as language moves into phonic sounds, screams, and howls.

In 1947 Gauvreau wrote his first adult play, Bien-être, performed with another work at the Montreal Repertory Theatre. The actress in that play as Muriel Guilbault, with whom Gauvreau fell deeply in love. La jeune fille et la lune and Les grappes lucides followed in 1959, both at l'École des beaux-arts.

The suicide of Guilbault unhinged Gauvreau, and over the next eight years Gauvreau was institutionalized ten times, continuing to write radio plays and working on a novel, Beauté baroque (1952), about the life of Guilbault.

In 1956, Gauvreau wrote La charge de l'orignal épormyable, a work many believe is his dramatic masterwork. The play was not performed until 1970 at the Theatre du Gesu in Montréal. Others might argue for Les Oranges son vertes, a play performed at Théâtre du Nouveau Monde in 1972.

The year before, on July 7, 1971, Gauvreau fell to his death from the roof of his apartment, which some claimed was a suicide; the coroner ruled the death accidental.

Gauvreau's works, involving a deconstruction of language far before the deconstructionists began their writings, were deemed by some directors as impossible to perform, but today all of his work stands as a testament to his experimentation.


Sur fil metamorphose (Montréal: Erta, 1956); Brochuges (Montréal: Editions Feu-Antonin, 1957); Etal mixte (Montréal: Editions d'Orphee, 1968 / published as Etal mixte et autres poemes, 1948-1970 (Montréal: Hexagone, 1993); Oeuvres creatices completes (Montréal: Parti Pris, 1977)


Entrails, ed. by Ray Ellenwood (Toronto: Coach House Press, 1981)

For a reading from 1970 by Gauvreau in French, click below:

For a reading in French of Gauvreau's work by Nathalie Lessard, click here:

The Oval Mayonnaise and the Back of the Medieval Choir

Yum Yum Yum Yum Yum Yum Yum Yum Yum Yum Yum
Yum Yum Yum Yum Yum Yum Yum Yum Yum Yum Yum
Tiou—tiutiu—Panpan la falette
Agaïante ipluche
Mutton-chops masturbating on the two cheeks of the English lord
Lord lard
My clarent qeen and my clette clavete
Above and beyond the down of the market
Above and yeond the livestock of the golden-hayed dawn
My canonical chippyon straightened out hard as a bugle-band
At Potsdam the lark
What will scandalize everyone does not scandalize me
And some hay stacks
And some square bricks
The most substanific marrow
Agazzi Afraguiz as monte-to
The green pendulum There is nothing but Lèzomo


—Translated from the French by Ray Ellenwood

The Priest's Dice-Box

The Green Die: [misplaced by his master in the pantcuff of the stagemanager of a burlesque theatre]

The perfect of the folding screen escapes the soda of humiliating flavours. A rip, Sebastien, that's what it is.

What is this golden perfume, paragraph or wing or turret of flounder, that circles like a bicycle without handlebars or an alcoholic without braces? Braces or garter, it goes without saying. Blue braces with canary stocking. The garter's stocking, it goes without saying. Or the handle of a slender knife stuffed with ostrich plumes, cormorant ashes, moiré of albatross. I will walk in the tepidity of the chestnut, I mean the sidewalk of July, the dawn of sprightly grimaces, head on the lace pillow, between the mobile tight and the harlequin's pompon. cybilline and ashymass, I will watch the cigarette butts and the days of dresses fall amid salandasque sprinklings. Intimate clarity and phosphorescent crispness. I will decoutinate the bag, gathering up the priesthood of the shamrock and the golden key of the handsomecharness in the languid aroma of umbels.

I shall walk alert and figurative on the concrete flower beds, a sidewalk explorer, anguished forager of the daily street.

Halt of Stop or tin for preserves. The ingredient coffee box forcefully twisted outside the garbage can of wallflowers. Charming garbagecan, ethereal garbagecan, garbagecan with wings like a lily of the valley, garbagecan stretched out lengthwise, contracted in the arabasquist. I walk beside a garbagecan holding its hand, a garbagecan so transparent. I worry my friend with his fraternal enigma. I grip on and I clutch, you hang on too, the moon with head razor, I hold on and I walk, brushing the dews of light with a rainy stole, silence, mutated orison, silence creaks in the garbagecan where the chemist created vacuum.

Nothingness is wearing his new shoes, the oiled soles crack, the pulleys creak.

While scree stuffs the candid nightmares.

They, the nightmares, the candid ones, the chubbies, are happy with a rubber foot pretending to pestle in a plump chocolate cookie.

No, certainly not, the melodramas feed on a more compact tension when they greedily deglutition.

Stackers of tension, look, with lard perches and violencing brass fingers.

Soiled chimerical shockingly brass.

The garbagecan drifts and the cigarettes emigrate in a wind of blue blood. The stable aristocrat cuts out a silhouette of marble or of biscuit mixed into the stone on the kimono-climated decor which ejaculates taciturn black and sexual lemon. The atmospheric pink dust powders the pallid flesh which shakes rhythmically like metaphysical fat, rips with its senile teeth at the green taffeta furrow and the fleecy coat-of-arms. The humouristic and brainless rope mows down the oblique oily breath, Without a cry from Akdebar. But the Emperor Joudi rips apart the candelabra's appeasement like a pregnant sow.

Pig-headedly violaceous, and another teutonic song about existences in contraband. In solemn contraband. In contraband harnessed, hung to age and haggled over. And highly spiced with acutual. Egréoudouanel of the princely train with diamonds set in whipped cream, in sorbet with pitted cherries. The calm of the tartar barges, of the bridled interjections. Eye of almond, whisper of the city, here are the strung-out eyes, the eyes elonted in mint, here are the eyes soldered with marshmallow to the prosperity of rods, here is the frosted gleam sworn to mascara. The murmur of winds from the open sea, of animal wells.


And when the workers holiday spreads for a wide, I will sing, I will sing, I will sing.

Relaxation and fluorous brick.


—Translated from the French by Ray Ellenwood

English language translation copyright ©1981 by Ray Ellenwood. Reprinted from Entrails (Toronto: Coach House Press, 1981)

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