Dancing and Flirting

Mark Ford

Born, out of wedlock, in Rome in 1880 to a high-spirited, convent-educated but unconventional young aristocrat of Russian, Polish and Italian descent, the poet Apollinaire was given no fewer than five prénoms by his mother: his full name, in its French version, was Guillaume-Albert-Wladimir-Alexandre-Apollinaire de Kostrowitzky. During his schooldays in Monaco he was known as Cointreau-Whisky, and his poetry includes characters with equally peculiar monikers – Rotsoge, Madame Salmajour, Monsieur Panado, Herr Traum, Frau Sorge, Lul de Faltenin, L’Hermès Ernest, Noubosse. The exuberance of Apollinaire’s life and writings (perhaps best summed up by the title of his pornographic novel, Les Onze Mille Verges, ‘The 11,000 Penises’), his compulsion to overflow boundaries and genres, to multiply, Cubist-style, narratives and images and perspectives and ideas, can seem uncannily prefigured by the excessive number of names bestowed on him at birth, like a series of bets, by the rambling, gambling Angelica de Kostrowitzky.

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