‘I grew up amongst various shades of grey and brown – the North Sea, yard walls, rain and shit’, wrote the Belgian poet Louis Quimpeaux about his own childhood in Ostend. The son of a council official and a housemaid, he became one of the lesser figures of the Parisian avant-garde during the Belle Époque and 1920s, drifting around its edges before vanishing, only to appear once more in the public record, posthumously, in 1936, in a way suggestive of some unliterary hinterland.   

              Described by Aimée Blanchard in her short memoir of Montparnasse as ‘the truest man I ever met’, and appearing in John Glasco’s memoir in the briefest of glimpses as the amputee cubist poet Robert Raison (‘a short muscular man with a face as round and as white as a potato cut in two’), he came to Paris aged seventeen after being thrown out of technical college for some unspecified breach of rules. In Paris he took a job in a government office and befriended the poet Max Jacob, meeting Picasso and Reverdy. His poems appeared in Nord-Sud amongst other journals, and his first collection, Telegraph Poles, was published 1913. He was politically active and wrote for L’Anarchie. In 1911 he was arrested on suspicion of sheltering the Bonnot gang, but cleared. After the outbreak of the war, he was conscripted. He was badly wounded in 1916. Invalided out, in 1918 he published his second collection of poetry, Le Départ (also the title of the journal that he edited which ran for three years). He was arrested for the second time following the assassination attempt on Clemenceau, and again cleared. His poems have a peculiar, introspective, almost spiritual integrity. Married to a seamstress, he moved to Clermont-Ferrand in 1926, where he worked as a schoolteacher. No further literary work appeared although he wrote occasional prose, gathered and published after his death. In 1936 the Depression brought his return to Paris, where he became involved in what was described teasingly by one newspaper as ‘an anarchist plot to bring down the French state’ and by Aimée Blanchard as ‘a failed crime’. No-one was prosecuted and it is not clear, even now, what the plot was. His body was discovered in October 1936 on a Parisian doorstep. He had been shot dead. The prose pieces – somewhere between meditations, prose poems and notes – were collected by Mathilde Des Champs Neufs in 1967 under the title Rose Window, along with brief biographical details.

The Outskirts

At some point the city gives up and goes away

though you couldn’t say precisely where or why.

Perhaps it’s at the bridge over the motorway

though it’s not really, it’s more in the mood

of the buildings, half-hidden behind trees, disused,

and sheets of newspaper cartwheeling to mishap

in the long grass by second-hand dealerships

at this border where people are only moving through,

never from or to. Unless they live here, of course,

which in a way we do, although there isn’t a human

soul in sight, only, in this field a piebald horse

tied by a wet rope to the heart of dawn

all the way through to night and the night’s damp,

illuminated faintly, last time you looked, by a streetlamp.