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Meeting Tristan Tzara
Compiled by Dana Cook, a Toronto collector of literary encounters.

. . . a miscellany of first encounters and initial impressions.

Not so wicked

Tzara came to the house, I imagine Picabia brought him but I am not quite certain. I have always found it very difficult to understand the stories of his violence and his wickedness, at least I found it difficult then because Tzara when he came to the house sat beside me at the tea table and talked to me like a pleasant and not very exciting cousin.

(Gertrude Stein, Paris, 1919)

Nursing bleeding trauma

...The Dadaists were rampant and virulent in those postwar years. Dada's leader was a Roumanian Jew Tristan Tzara, long a resident of Paris. Tzara was a very good poet, whose forte was to be suave in destruction, urbane in outrage. Short, slender, dark, with great intelligent eyes, and a mouth forever flickering into paradox, Tzara made one think of a well-bred Jewish bourgeois boy nursing some bleeding trauma, some shattering psychosis...some one of the family of Leopold and Loeb, the boy murderers of Chicago. Tzara, of course, was in touch with Marinetti, the Italian Futurist. Less sensitive, less pure, Marinetti worshipped the secondary traits of the machine: clatter, speed, and force. Tzara, more the poet, accepted the machine's laceration of human flesh and nerve but voiced the human anguish.

(Waldo Frank, Paris, early 1920s)

Quite a wag

...Tzara was a pale, dark-eyed, grey-haired little man, who wore a monocle; his very intelligent and animated face might have resembled that of Leon Trotsky or James Joyce, if each had shaved off his beard.

I had read how Tzara and Dadism, first appearing in combination in Zürich in 1916, had come and conquered Paris four years later, and since then had carried on a scandalous sort of propaganda aimed at overthrowing all our conventional notions of things....


The little monocled Tzara was quite a wag, and often equal to some outrageous boutade, either improvised or carefully rehearsed, as is often the case with men of wit....

(Matthew Josephson, Paris, early 1920s)

Chartered accountant

...We joined Tristan Tzara in a glary café somewhere near the Tour St. Jacques. He was surrounded by some mighty odd fish. I've forgotten their names but it was a prime collection of zanies. Everybody was racking his brains to think up something abracadabrating to do. Suddenly Tzara, a sallow Rumanian who looked like a chartered accountant, rose and cried "Follow me." The Dadas jumped to their feet leaving half their saucers unpaid for. Don [a friend] and I, as so often happens to trusting Americans in the hands of the European literati, found ourselves settling their score with the waiters.

It turned into a game of follow the leader. Tzara, trailed by the rest in a solemnfaced cue, marched about the streets executing a number of idiotic maneuvers. They had a little chant: Dada, Dada. Any other place we would have been arrested but the French in those days were tolerant of anything which would pass as a manifestation artistique....

(John Dos Passos, Paris, 1925)


...she [Kay Cowan] took me to see Tristan Tzara and his wife. Except for his monocle he looked more like a doctor than a Surrealist poet. He had a great collection of African masks and artifacts, the like of which I had never seen even in a museum.

(Paul Bowles, Paris, 1929)


Yesterday I had been to tea at Tristan Tzara's, who is charming; his young wife even more charming.

(André Gide, Corsica, 1930)


Tzara still wandered around the Café de Flore and Deux Magots--a small white-haired ghost searching for someone he never seemed to find. We were introduced on three occasions, but he pretended not to know me. [Allen] Ginsberg fared no better. As we sat together at a terrace table Allen called, "Tzara! Yoo hoo, Tzara! Hello! It's Ginsberg!" We were rudely ignored.

(Harold Norse, Paris, 1959)


The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas
, by Gertrude Stein (Vintage, 1933).

, by Waldo Frank (University of Massachusetts Press, 1973).

Life Among the Surrealists
, by Matthew Josephson (Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1962).

The Best Times: An Informal Memoir
, by John Dos Passos (New American Library, 1966).

Without Stopping
, by Paul Bowles (Hamish Hamilton, 1972).

The Journals of André Gide: Volume III, 1928-1939
(Knopf, 1949).

Memoirs of a Bastard Angel: A Fifty-Year Literary and Erotic Odyssey
, by Harold Norse (Morrow, 1989).


Dana Cook is a Toronto collector of Literary Encounters. His compilations have appeared in The Hemingway Review, dharmaBEAT (a Jack Kerouac newszine) and James Joyce Literary Supplement, among other publications. A related product of his mining of autobiographies and memoirs is StarFirsts (accounts of celebrities losing virginity), a regular feature for nerve.com, the literary smut webzine.

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