You may remember my excitement recently when I discovered a rare volume of the poems of obscure French Symbolist poet, Telfour Tremble. And perhaps you are wondering if there is not even more to this unbelievable story. Well, you would be right: there is more, much more. But I won't leave you in suspense, or even in suspenders. Let me take you back to 1st March, a week after my post on the shadowy M. Tremble stirred the imaginary waves of this great cyber-ocean of ours.
I was relaxing at home that evening — as you do, with a cup of wine at your elbow, a copy of War And Peace on your knee and a Downton Abbey replay on the telly — when my mobile's familiar ringtone of John Adams's Shaker Loops gently tickled my tympanic membrane. I gave a start — for, indeed, I'd been half asleep — and pressed the green button. A voice at the other end announced, in an accent reminiscent of Inspector Clouseau's in the Pink Panther films, 'Good evening, Monsieur Robert. My name is Théodore Marie Tremble, grandson of Telfour Tremble, the great if obscure nineteenth-century French poet!'
Imagine my state of shocked surprise, quickly followed by a rush of rapturous and euphoric delight! To cut a long story short, we arranged to meet up in the bar of the Ibis hotel in London's Euston Road the very next weekend. And to cut an even longer story short, Théodore furnished me with many hitherto-unknown facts about his grandfather's short but colourful life, facts which had never surfaced before in the annals of French literary history.
It seems that a few years before his untimely death on 1st April 1900, Tremble had decided on a whim to cross the Channel and visit England for a few months, following in the footsteps of his legendary compatriot and fellow Symbolist Arthur Rimbaud, who'd been to London (Camden Town to be exact) with Paul Verlaine in 1872, and had later returned there, dragging his doting mother and sister with him ('drag' being the operative word, as you shall see in a moment). But here the similarity between Rimbaud and Tremble ends. Rimbaud had been ill-tempered certainly, and on a short fuse, and prone to drinking bouts and violent arguments — but, as far as we know, he'd always been dressed, albeit cheaply, albeit shabbily, as a man. It now emerges, my dear and curious readers, that Tremble arrived on these shores garbed in women's clothes. Yes, the secret is out: our poet's most clandestine desire, undocumented till now, was to be a transvestite, like some Grayson Perry of the French Romantic era.
|Chalk Farm Underground Station|
The other amazing fact about Tremble revealed to me by his grandson was that during this unconventional and free-spirited period he started to write poetry which was revolutionary in both style and subject — poems more like the 'concrete poetry' originated sixty years later by Augusto and Haroldo de Campos in Brazil. Théodore gave me copies of these poems, written in a shaky, alcoholic hand, and they are now amongst my most treasured literary possessions. In an inspired moment the other day I took the liberty of translating one of these extraordinary poetic curiosities, and I present it to you below:
Sometimes I feel like the Queen of Sheba
and sometimes like Julius Caesar
and am confused whether to rule the celestial blue
like the Sun God Apollo or to conspire
with Phoebe Artemis and Selene
in the Moon's eternal soft mysterious embrace
There is talk, too, of another volume of verse Tremble published just before he died, a book so rare that only one or two copies are known to exist; but who owns them is shrouded in mystery. Some say Danny La Rue used to possess a copy, but where it went after Danny's own death in 2009 is anyone's guess. A further rumour circulating amongst the glitterati is that Boy George may have one, but so far he's denied it. There's no doubt that these books would fetch an enormous price at auction. Apparently the title is Une Saison en Purgatoire and Tremble uses the nom de plume of Marie Antoinette Bellerose. How I set about tracking down one of these books, books which have become the Holy Grail of French literature, is, however, a story for another day . . .
In Memoriam Telfour Tremble (born 1st April 1869, died 1st April 1900)