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Michael Simms: André Breton and the Birth of Surrealism

The Poem was worried. He’d heard rumors of Rondels in other lands being infested with illogic, and there was no known cure. Their streets had become black snakes twisting and turning, their houses had become wolves with doorways full of teeth, and their skies had transformed into swirling seas of amoebas. He wasn’t quite sure what amoebas were, but whatever they may be he wanted nothing to do with them.

Besides he had plans. He was engaged to marry the beautiful Sonnet in the next county. She had skin like pale water, eyes like blue flowers, and her blonde hair was like yellow snow the dogs had peed in. No, no, he meant to say that her blonde hair was like summer wheat. Had he already caught surrealism? He put his hand to his forehead to test for fever, but he seemed healthy, just a bit tired and overworked.

He called a meeting of all his sentences, the long, the short, the periodic and the emphatic. Even the fragments were invited although they were rarely given anything to do. He explained the problem of encroaching surrealism, and how it would change everything they knew. Be careful of your metaphors, and especially keep an eye on your similes for they are easily seduced by the wild promises of the imagination. All the sentences agreed to keep their tropes in line, no snakes like streets for them. Or was it streets like snakes? Already the sentences are becoming confused by surrealism, the Poem thought. We must be on guard.

The Poem patrolled the streets of his small village, making sure the cobblestones were solid underfoot, the houses remained virtuous rectangles, not like dice at all, and certainly not like wolves, but like the warm hands of mothers. He liked to remind his sentences that his own mother had been a folk tale. He had a long pedigree that went back to the time when people sat around a fire and sang songs that imitated birds. He liked to think about his origins in animal sounds. This new age threatened them all. Its only promise was that things would be new, but new for what purpose? Change for its own sake must be stopped. Things must remain as they appear. Yes, young sentences are excited by change, but things must remain as they’ve always been, or anarchy will be loosed upon the world…. Hmmm, not a bad line that.

He ordered walls to be built around the village. The walls would be built of solid blocks of words with Anglo-Saxon derivations, no nonsense there. The blocks would be cemented together will simple syntax. However, in deference to tradition, he would allow a small amount of decoration: the parapets would be tarted up with French synonyms and over the gate a Latin quotation would glower down. Perhaps Temet nosce, know thyself? Yes, isn’t this what a village in the Land of Poesy needs, to know itself and not to have any random metaphors wandering off into the woods and getting lost? In this village, he had grown fond of saying, there is no nonsense verse. Every word goes about its business as it always has. Even the smallest conjunction knows its job and does it well.

Meanwhile, unknown to the Poem who was busy strutting around the village overseeing the defenses, there was a word hiding in the shadows, a single word no one had ever known how to talk to. She was named Giraffe for her absurdly long neck which she tried to keep hidden under scarves. People thought she was horribly ugly, but out of kindness, they always praised her doe-like eyes while never mentioning her gargantuan height or the wildly imaginative pattern on her skin which could be quite distracting. And now, for the first time in her life, Giraffe felt she had a purpose in life. She would not have to worry any more about being too tall, gawky and oddly patterned. Giraffe had a secret that no one, not even her mother Camel, had guessed. A few weeks before, deep in the sub-basement of her house, Giraffe had come across a litter of metonymies, and she’d decided to raise them as her own. And each one had the face of André Breton.   

Michael Simms is the founding editor of Vox Populi. His newest collection of poems is American Ash (Ragged Sky, 2020).

Copyright 2020 Michael Simms

André Breton by Man Ray (cropped)

13 comments on “Michael Simms: André Breton and the Birth of Surrealism

  1. Louise Hawes
    December 12, 2020

    “A litter of metonymies” –Giraffe must have stumbled on Breton’s poem to his wife! This is delicious, Michael! Thank you…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Barbara Huntington
    December 12, 2020

    I really did laugh out loud although with no one to hear it but me was it a tree falling in the forest or perhaps streets like snakes?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Peter Blair
    December 12, 2020


    Liked by 1 person

  4. russell buker
    December 12, 2020

    Love this, so difficult to maintain but you did-thanks for this

    Liked by 1 person

  5. loranneke
    December 12, 2020

    I second George!


  6. gdrew2013
    December 12, 2020

    Now that’s fun, and instructive, Michael! Every Comp teacher in the land ought to use it to teacher students, not only grammatical concepts and terminology, but the actual fun in grammar and learning it.


    Best, George


    Liked by 1 person

  7. Saleh Razzouk
    December 12, 2020

    I took for a peom.
    New and powerful.

    Liked by 1 person

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