Q&A with Willard Bohn

By | February 13, 2018

Willard Bohn answered a few questions for us about Reading Apollinaire’s Calligrammes.

How would you describe your book in one sentence?

This book reviews all of the previous scholarship for nineteen poems in Calligrammes, provides a detailed analysis, and, in many cases, proposes a new interpretation.

What drew you to writing about this subject?

I am an Apollinaire specialist and have been studying his poetry for a great many years. Commonly considered to be the father of modern French poetry, Apollinaire is one of the greatest poets in any language.

How long have you been researching it? How did you come to study it?

In a sense, I have been researching the book for as long as I have been studying Apollinaire. Approximately ten years ago, following the completion of a book on Alcools (his first major collection of poetry). I decided to focus my attention on Calligrammes, which has not received as much critical attention.

What does your book focus on that hasn’t been explored elsewhere?

Since Alcools has received the bulk of Apollinaire criticism over the years, I set out to investigate his second major collection of poetry and to show that it is just as important. Despite certain obvious similarities, the two books are actually quite different. Whereas the first illustrates Apollinaire’s debt to the Symbolist movement and his dedication to the modernist project, the second is devoted to his experimental poetry and to his war poetry . Each volume is a brilliant tour de force in its own right.

What initially drew you to Literary Studies?

I have always had a powerful attraction to literature, especially to poetry, because of the remarkable manner in which it expresses and describes human experience. Although French is my primary area of study, I am interested in modern literature in general and regularly work in half a dozen different languages.

Which Bloomsbury Lit Studies books have you read? Which are your favorites, and why?

My principal experience with Bloomsbury books has been with Surrealist Poetry: An Anthology, which I wrote and published in 2017. The fact that it includes poetry written in three different languages–French, Spanish, and Catalan—makes it unusually wide-ranging and provides the reader with a unique experience that is available nowhere else.


Willard Bohn is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of French and Comparative Literature at Illinois State University, USA. He is the author or editor of sixteen books, including Surrealist Poetry: An Anthology (Bloomsbury, 2017), The Avant-Garde Imperative (2013); Marvelous Encounters: Surrealist Responses to Film, Art, Poetry and Architecture (2005), Italian Futurist Poetry (2005), The Dada Market: An Anthology of Poetry (1993), and The Aesthetics of Visual Poetry, 1914-1928 (1993). He has also published 130 articles in journals such as Romantic Review, Comparative Literature, French Studies, Comparative Literature Studies, The Art Bulletin, MLN, Hispanic Review, the Revue de Littérature Comparée, and Comparative Critical Studies. His latest book, Reading Apollinaire’s Calligrammes, is now available from Bloomsbury.

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