THE THIEF OF TALANT
Originally published in French in 1917 but ignored (though subsequently a collector’s item after the end of WWI), The Thief of Talant would not see a new edition until 1967, after the author’s death. To this day it remains a particularly enigmatic book in the poet’s œuvre. Challenged by his friend, poet and art critic Max Jacob, to write a novel, Pierre Reverdy produced this strangely titled experiment: a fragmented assemblage of loneliness, paranoia, and depersonalization drawn from his own experience of Paris in the early twentieth century, the sometimes antagonistic atmosphere of the avant-garde, and his own troubled relationship with the generous but frequently suspicious Max Jacob, who like many of his literary and artistic friends, detected the threat of his literary treasures getting plagiarized among everyone he knew.
Toward the end of his life, Reverdy confirmed that the alienated and anxious “thief” of this novel in verse was a portrait of himself (“Talant” conveys both the dual echo in French of “talent” and the small town of “Talan” near Dijon, thereby evoking a potential plagiarizer from the countryside, finding his way in the Paris of the years 1910–1917), and “Abel the Magus” a semi-satirical portrait of Max Jacob.
The Thief of Talant was and remains a radical experiment in verse and narrative, but it is also a hauntingly beautiful and moving evocation of the loss (and recovery) of self, and an encrypted guidebook to the “heroic” years of Cubism and that movement’s literary and artistic protagonists.
Pierre Reverdy (1889–1960) was a reclusive, yet integral component of the Parisian avant-garde in the early twentieth century: a friend to painters such as Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, and Juan Gris, and to fellow poets such as Guillaume Apollinaire and Max Jacob, Reverdy quickly came to represent a faction known as the “Cubist poets.” He was to have an influence as a poet and as the editor of the landmark WWI literary journal, Nord–Sud, and on other avant-garde movements, particularly Surrealism, whose leader, André Breton, revered Reverdy (in whose work he claimed “the modern mystery is briefly concentrated”). In 1926, Reverdy withdrew from the literary life of Paris for a life of seclusion in the village of Solesmes in the northwest of France.