This guest post on Clamenç Llansana (Louis Boone) is taken from the introduction of Kit Schluter’s translation of Goliard Songs, which is available as a free pdf at Anomalous Press.
Certain artists specialize in the art of being overlooked.
In using the word overlooked, I am not thinking of artists who have fallen into obscurity after death, having enjoyed the satisfaction of minor prominence during their lives, or even those who seek recognition only to see it deferred during their lifetimes, but those of whom the general public remains entirely unaware, whose work is known only by family members and, at its furthest reaches, a very select coterie of friends.
Widely known examples of this strange lot are difficult to conjure, for these names do not belong to the public domain, but instead to the introverted storybooks of families and communities bound by esoteric practices, the research of obscurantists and eccentrics, and the caprices of folklore. Certain names do, however, come to mind: Henry Darger, John Barton Wolgamot, Emily Dickinson, among others.
In the cases of the sort of artists I’m interested in looking into here, it’s not a question of not knowing the right people, or not having a lucky break, or not being in the right place at the right time. Rather, the sort of public recognition that graces those artists on the tip of their generation’s tongue means nothing to these artists of whom I’m thinking, who are satisfed by the very possibility that, at some point in time, however remote, a curious soul may stumble upon the work they left behind in a crate of family photographs, their old journals and binders of loose-leaf manuscripts, as she digs through the bric-a-bracs her family has accumulated and left behind, passed along to future generations and close friends.
Or maybe even that doesn’t matter to them. Maybe, to say it simply, they just don’t give a damn about any of that. Maybe making work seems to them as inevitable as the act of shedding seems to a golden retriever in the summer, and its reception is inconsequential. It’s always a possibility.
In my family tree, there exists one Fredric Edward Schluter I (b. 1900, Huntington, IL) who, before giving up his early pursuits in sketching— ostensibly to pursue a life more assured of material security—produced at Fort Bragg a modest body of work, mostly plume and ink sketches, between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three. Of this work there remains only a single self-portrait and three still lives of hardcover books, bottles, candles, desks, and sad-looking women. And yet, however little is left of this Schluter’s output, the few works he left behind have secured a central place in my imagination ; at this point, to say they have allowed me to become who I am today would indeed be no hyperbole. When the day came that I too wanted to try my hand at drawing, for example, I copied the cross-hatching of his sketches. When, as an elementary schooler, I wanted to learn to smile like a gangster to impress a friend who had been swept away by the myth of Al Capone, I studied the wry, upturned lip in his self-portrait. Later, too, his sketches of liquor bottles, candles, and open books seemed to steer my aesthetic taste toward the perverse genre of Vanitas, the memento mori, the only mode of artwork I, to this day, love unconditionally. Looking back, this experience of possessing these works of beauty that no museum would house for the sole reason of their lack of cultural capital—of my family’s having this œuvre all to ourselves in a sense—allowed these drawings to course through my very blood, and encouraged me to savor that overripe fruit that had grown of one of the shadier branches of our family tree.
In one sense, then, it strikes me that having access to these sketches (the self-portrait, most importantly) led me not only to want to leave behind artifacts that would be found by someone in the remoteness of a future I could never even dream up, but also to desire having more of this sort of secret artistic figures in my life. So, in another sense, I have the artist behind those sketches to thank for the curiosity that led me, years after his death, to find the poetry of Clamenç Llansana (né Louis Boone).
Born in 1951 in the pastoral city of Figeac, France, located roughly 100 miles North of Toulouse, the poet known as Clamenç Llansana was son of a Canadian father (Éric Boone b. Québec City) and Texan social worker (Clemence Tompson b. Dallas), who met through unlikely circumstances in Boston in the 1940s, of which I will spare you the details, and relocated to the rural city of France at some point in the 1950s under even less likely circumstances, the details of which I will also spare you, out of respect for the family’s privacy.
In his adolescence, Llansana still went by his given name, Louis Boone, but wrote under two pen-names, between which he varied depending on the language of the composition: French or Occitan. If composing in Occitan, he aligned himself with the medieval and scholastic lineage the language has to offer, and worked under the name Clamenç Llansana, which was, he said himself, the conscious merging of an Occitan first name with a Catalan surname. If in French, he imagined himself as following the leads of Lautréamont, Arthur Rimbaud, and Henri Michaux’s prose works, and wrote under the admittedly strange Marcel l’Aveugle, or in English, “Marcel the Blind.”
Thus his work vacillates between French, the language of his schooling, and Occitan, the dying language of his local community, spoken now by select communities: the elderly, the eccentrics, and certain Leftist political radicals in the Midi-Pyrenées. Interestingly enough, even though his parents were both English-speaking and he too speaks English fluently to this day, none of the extant writings in Boone’s archive (a milk crate’s worth of poetry, photographs, and drawings) are in English. By the age of twenty or so, the poet had left his given name behind, to make way for the name he goes by to this day, Clamenç Llansana.
Although his output was impressive, this chapbook, Goliard Songs [ed. note: available at Anomalous Press], is, according to the author, the only book he ever published. Released by a micro press in Villefranche de Rouergue named Éditions Igor in 1978, the book has all but entirely disappeared from conversation and circulation. Looking into this publishing venture while working as a public school language teacher in that small city during the 2011-12 school year, I found it has no other publications, and as no local poets had heard of the project, I began to suspect it was merely a one-off vanity project created by Llansana for the making of this book. Llansana himself confirmed these suspicions, not with words at first, but with a wry grin, when we had the chance to meet in the café below his current apartment in the nearby Rodez, France in March of 2012. That same day, when I asked Llansana if we could expect any more work from him in the future, he said he had given up poetry at some point in his late twenties, with no intention of returning. He then retrieved from his modest archive a prose poem in French, “Le Jour de l’armistic (Armistice Day),” which he asked me to translate as a complement to the Goliard Songs—a task I carried out happily. The copy of this book, which Llansana photocopied for me, is the only copy he has been able to locate until now. The nine others printed and distributed in bookstores in the greater Toulouse area must be out there somewhere. Should you know of another, please do find a way to be in touch.
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