Alongside the activities he undertakes at the heart of the Liègeois Alma Mater, Gérald Purnelle deploys the academic rigour demanded by his editorial work, centred on Belgian poetry written in French. It is in this context that he edited the work of the Liège poet, Jacques Izoard (of which the third and final volume was published in March 2012, by ‘Editions de la Différence’) and in which he oversees, together with the poets Karel Logist and Yves Namur, the ‘Ha!’ publishers series, dedicated to republishing Belgian poets who have written in French. It has just published The Complete Poems of Robert Guiette.
The guiding principle is one of heritage, and aims at drawing attention to lost poets, who have remained unknown to the educated general public or who have been largely forgotten. The publishers’ series ‘Passé Présent’ at Jacques Antoine and ‘Espace Nord’ at Labor had in their time pursued a similar objective, but the novelists predominated within them at the expense of the lyre players. A lack which Le Taillis Pré and its series ‘Ha!’ is aiming to compensate for, to the greater benefit of the Walloon-Brussels Federation, whose inhabitants have everything to gain – culturally speaking – from the knowledge of a rich literary past likely to nourish their identity. The (re)discovery of the work of Robert Guiette (1), in which resonate the echoes of Symbolism and in which the sonorities of surrealism quiver to some extent, illustrates marvellously the importance and the richness of such an endeavour.
We all know the Roman god Janus, represented with two faces looking in the opposite direction, considered to be the guardian of the ‘gates’ which were dedicated to him, gates which were closed in peacetime and remained open during periods of war. The image of this figure from the age-old pantheon applies particularly well to Robert Guiette. Not because he had Jekyll and Hyde faces, but rather – with a somewhat Voltairean physiognomy – because of a double activity carried out permanently in parallel: a professorial career as an eminent Medievalist on the one hand, and on the other a literary poetic production sustained for over fifty years.
He was born on July 1895 in Anvers into a cultivated family, with half Flemish half French origins. Within it the arts were honoured, and painting above all. Contrary to his father and his brother, who handled a paintbrush with talent, it was towards the pen that his tastes firmly set themselves. It was this which, after secondary studies at the ‘Institut Notre-Dame’ of his home town and higher education at the Brussels 'Institut Saint-Louis,’ led him to Romance philology at the Catholic University of Louvain. Bolstered by his degree, which he obtained in 1921, he decided to round out his education in Paris. Up until 1923 he sat in on courses at the Sorbonne, the Collège de France and the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes. Having returned to Belgium he wrote up his thesis, defended at his Louvain Alma Mater, which thus awarded him a Doctorate in Philosophy and Letters in 1928.
(1) Poésies complètes de Robert Guiette, Châtelineau, Le Taillis Pré, collection « Ha! »