La triloterie : poèmes composés en 1918

Pierre Albert-Birot (1876 - 1967)
Léopold Survage (1879 - 1968)

Surrealism was invented on one day, and the term for it was invented on another. The word 'surréalisme' was coined by Apollinaire, who couldn't make up his mind whether he should choose 'surréalisme' or 'surnaturalisme'. One of his friends, Pierre Albert-Birot, had originally come up with a different name for it: 'ultraréalisme', but when Albert-Birot forced a decision for the title page of Apollinaire's Les mamelles de Tirésias, it read: 'drame surréaliste'. Albert-Birot was an artist and poet who was active as one of the smaller publishers after World War I, and whose magazine welcomed the young and innovative literature that was shunned by the established publishers. La Sirène and Au Sans Pariel are the best known of these smaller publishers. Albert-Birot was responsible for several magazines, like the magazine Sic (which ran from 1916 to 1919), Du (only 4 issues in 1926), and various others. They were partially printed on a private press (Sic was not), making Albert-Birot one of the few private presses in pre-World War II France.

Visual form

Sic was also the name of the publisher and later also of Pierre and Germaine Albert-Birot's printing business. He found the visual form of his poetry so important that he displayed great interest in typesetting and printing. The name was soon associated with the futurist, Dadaist and later the surrealist movements, even if Sic was considered a dissident that was able to survive quite well beside the very first revolutionary magazines like Tristan Tzara's Dada and Francis Picabia's 391, although it was short-lived, as magazines tend to be. Originally a cubist, Albert-Birot was never to become a full Dadaist or Surrealist. But magazines such as the one he published would ensure that the Swiss invention of Dadaism would sweep through Paris.

The editions issuedby his publishing business were usually small, as a result of which an innovative book like Accordez-moi une audience… by Léonard Pieux, with colour woodcutsby Léopold Survage, is now less famous than it deserves to be. Albert-Birot hung paintings by Survage in his own home. The illustrator Survage produced a wood cutfor another issue of Sic, La triloterie, which was printed in black-and-white. Survage, who was actually named either Sturzwage or Sturzwasgh, was a Finnish-born artist who had discovered modern art through the art academy of Moscow and had moved to France in 1905, where Matisse was among his teachers. He painted murals there for the World Exhibition of 1937. The woodcut in La triloterie was typical of Cubism, in which figures are viewed and pictured from several perspectives at once.

Illustration by F. Torowai between page [30] and 31

Woodcut with statue

It is almost customary- in such a modernist book- for author and illustrator to follow a different discipline to the one they were schooled for: Survage was going to be an architect, and Albert-Birot was trained to be a sculptor. Survage's woodcut had previouslyappeared in the magazine Sic, issue 53/54 of December 1919, alongside teh text by Albert-Birot that opened the 1920 booklet: La légende. The statue that addresses the population through a megaphone is central to this- curiously and emphatically not rectangular- wood engraving, in which it seems to resemble a bird's beak. An ecstatic crowd can be seen dancing around the statue, emitting cries like 'rrrrrrrron' and 'ou ou ou ou' (one can imagine the Albert-Birot couple composing the typesetting by hand with pleasure, digging up even more lead letters 'o' and 'u' from the typecase). This poem was in fact a short play that Albert-Birot preferred to perform with dancing actors.

The other illustration (in colour) is attributed in the book to a certain F.T. These initials stand for F. Torowai, the pseudonym of author-publisher Albert-Birot himself. The image is that of a red flower printed on Chinese paper from the second poem in the collection, 'Les invectives contre l'automne'. The booklet- smaller than 16 by 12 centimetres- is honestly not even printed competently, but its small edition does make it something special: this is number 87 of only 124 copies, printed on Arches paper. It ends with 27 marginal poems by Omar Khayyam ('En marge des Rubaiyat d'Omar Khayyam'). Its curious explanation reads: 'someone came and interrupted us before we were finished'. The last poem's typography - with a half-line of extra space above the type- demonstrates that technically accomplished printing work isn't easy on a small budget. In this period, Sic had books printed by local printer Rirachowsky, a Russian native who only owned a single printing press and charged a highly favourable rate. Perfection was not included in the price.

Bibliographical description

La triloterie : poèmes composés en 1918 / Pierre Albert-Birot ; une grav. de Léopold Survage et un dess. en coul. de F.T. - Paris : Sic, 1920. - 60 p. : ill. ; 16 cm
Impr. spéciale de Sic (Rirachowsky)
124 copies
This copy:
Nummer 78 van de 122 op Arches à la forme
Bénézit 13-366 ; Monod 124
Koopm C 3734


  • Paul van Capelleveen, Sophie Ham, Jordy Joubij, Voices and visions. The Koopman Collection and the Art of the French Book. The Hague, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, National Library of the Netherlands; Zwolle, Waanders, 2009
  • Paul van Capelleveen, Sophie Ham, Jordy Joubij, Voix et visions. La Collection Koopman et l'Art du Livre français. La Haye, Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Bibliothèque nationale des Pays-Bas; Zwolle, Waanders, 2009
  • Debra Kelly, Pierre Albert-Birot: A poetics in movement, a poetics of movement. Madison, Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 1997
  • Marie-Louise Lentengre, Pierre Albert-Birot: L'invention de soi. Paris, Place, 1993
  • Sic. Paris, Place, 1980
  • Pierre Albert-Birot: Laboratoire de modernité. Paris, Place, 1997
  • W. J. Strachan, The artist and the book in France: The 20th century livre d'artiste. London, Owen, 1969