In the absence of a witness, the coroner’s inquest concluded, a few days after the death on July 7, 1971, that the exact circumstances of Claude Gauvreau’s death remain unclear. On July 15 of that year, coroner Jacques Fournier indicated in his report that the man died of multiple trauma caused by a fall: “Multiple fractures. Flooding of the bronchi and trachea with blood. Violent death, impossible to determine the circumstances. “

Poet, novelist, playwright, polemicist, the energetic lieutenant of Paul-Émile Borduas that was Claude Gauvreau had a fatal fall. In a quiet early afternoon, he fell from the roof of one of the buildings along rue Saint-Denis in Montreal. He was practicing lifting dumbbells there, as he used to do.

No witness. A passerby across the street thought he saw a mass falling. That’s it that’s all. Gauvreau was 45 years old.

What happened that day? Did Gauvreau slip off the roof after a misstep? Did this loner throw himself down instead? His friend Gaston Miron believed it was likely that he could quite simply have lost his balance, perhaps because of his medication.

Jean-Pierre Ronfard, like other directors, took a close interest in Gauvreau’s immense work. He was with him the day before. He was expressing a hypothesis which abounds in Miron’s sense. “He was made dizzy, amplified by the medical addict situation he was in…” But he adds this: “It is very possible that, in the fog of his mind, he simply thought he was a bird. »Suicide then? Possible. But nothing confirms it. And the conjectures remain forever open.

The important thing, anyway, lies elsewhere.

From the radiance of death

The man looked like a soldier and a dancer at the same time, writes Jacques Ferron. The latter had, thanks to his sister Marcelle, signatory of Global refusal, access to him.

A dashing and expansive personality, Gauvreau had always appeared very reserved about his failing health, noted Dr. Ferron. “On his internments, Claude remained singularly discreet, eluding them as if it had been a question of a vice that one wishes to hide and not to display gloriously as I would have liked”, noting following one of those episodes that he had quite quickly “regained its splendor”. And what superb! The man, to be sure, was on fire.

“My death will have no more use, no more influence than my survival,” he wrote one day to Borduas. He is often right. This time, Gauvreau is wrong. Obviously, he did not measure the posthumous reception of his work, without doubting the quality of his commitment to literature.

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To commemorate his sudden disappearance, the Nouvelles Éditions de Feu-Antonin produced, in only fifty copies, Tomb of Claude Gauvreau, a work signed by Thierry Dimanche. This very beautiful text, placed under the auspices of the no less confidential Society of Friends of Claude Gauvreau, deserves to be known. A current edition will be available in the winter.

In this book, Thierry Dimanche speaks using a is loaned to a Claude Gauvreau who floats in weightlessness. This Gauvreau, that of the narrator, says: “Today I no longer have vertigo, I am vertigo, body bent in an interminable fall, and I embody this dream that paranoia is shattered in reality and its potentialities. “

“For fifty years,” says this Gauvreau of composition, “I have fallen from a roof and the ground is approaching me. We almost make contact. While waiting for this tragic embrace of the ground, the work of Gauvreau, reread, adapted, mounted on stage, never ceases to touch us as one of the great monuments of the cultural life of this half-country.

On the back cover of this Tomb of Claude Gauvreau, the critic Robert Lévesque writes that this work “dares to propose a dazzling posthumous autobiography of the poet of Bowels “. “Condemned to run from one roof to another in the Montreal night like a vigilante without a cause, Claude Gauvreau is not dead, he continues his flight taken from the roof of 4070 rue Saint-Denis on July 7, 1971; this escape that gave birth to him made him prisoner of a sadistic trampoline… His death is not over. He is running. He jumps. “

It continues to be rediscovered, from one generation to the next. But was Gauvreau, even when he was ill, such a “justice without a cause”? All his work shows the contrary. First, in his commitment, in the tradition of the Automatists and the Surrealists. It shows itself kneaded in part by anarchist thought. For those who might doubt his formidable lucidity about the world around him, at least by virtue of the positions he makes his own, his correspondence with André Breton, this pole of the surrealist movement, should be enough to undeceive them. Reading his Writings on art, of its Letters to Paul-Émile Borduas and his correspondence with Jean-Claude Dussault will do the rest.

Against a current

“Public approval,” said André Breton, “is to be avoided above all. Gauvreau understood well the words of this man who was one of his most ardent references. It is enough to see him articulate with a decided air his verses of light in front of the mocking public which whistles him during the Night of the poetry of 1970. He does not budge.

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Gauvreau’s work is of course socially and historically determined. In a letter he wrote to André Breton on January 7, 1961, Gauvreau explained that he was “an anti-clerical and anti-Catholic militant” who could not be “loyally suspected of weakness towards orthodox dogmatism”, the harm of which he was able to “measure. of action ”. “This position obliges me,” he continues, “to have a very strong repugnance towards any form of dogmatism. In this regard, it can already be considered original in the company that wore it. Most often, he goes it alone. He is wary of coteries. “Like any automatist or any surrealist, I had to scrap both the right and the left,” he explains to Breton.

In the 1950s, Gauvreau attacked those he called the “Bluish Torquemada”, in other words the Duplessis inquisitors. These characters who got the better of Borduas, to the point of encouraging him to take the paths of exile, he also qualified as “bluish fascists”. Gauvreau’s work leads us elsewhere. Is it a utopia that he gives birth on paper to counter the evil spirits of his time? In any case, he appears such an artist in the richest sense of the term. Here is a writer. And a singular intellectual. He read it all. He is informed of everything. And he writes, unparalleled in the society of his time.

“Claude Gauvreau never doubted his genius,” writes Jacques Ferron, who often met him, including in Saint-Jean-de-Dieu, known today as the University Institute for Mental Health of Montreal. At that time, Gauvreau was reduced to walking with heavy steps, crushed by the electroshocks still widely used. Despite everything, continues Ferron, Gauvreau lived only for himself, not even realizing that he had to make a living, even if he did not enjoy any fortune. Since then, ours has been to be able to count on the richness of his work. This Tomb of Claude Gauvreauhelps remind us in a beautiful way.

Tomb of Claude Gauvreau

Thierry Dimanche, New Editions of Feu-Antonin, Sudbury, 2021, 108 pages

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