The Letters of Hart Crane, 1916-1932
The life of Hart Crane was a bacchic orgy; he knew no other way to live or compose his poems. As Quevedo wrote: “He rode post to perdition.” Though I realize that humdrum everyday existence cannot be a gloss upon the poem, it might be of niggish interest to the reader to have some intelligence of Crane as a person. I knew him, and there were some similarities in our lives which, though no more than gossip, tease the blood and the veins.
Hart Crane was born July 21, 1899, and I on July 22, 1900. When he was a soda fountain clerk in his father’s fancy ice cream parlor and tea room in Cleveland, Ohio, I was then an inmate of an orphanage in the same city. For a short space of time Hart Crane was a navvy in a munitions plant in Cleveland, and so was I. In 1928 he went to Paris where we met. Crane had already published White Buildings, of which I had never heard, and he asked me, though God knows why, to read the ms. of The Bridge. Though I had studied pre-Socratic philosophy and middle English in the graduate school at Columbia, I knew little about the Boulevard Montparnasse seers of the USA vulgate. I was exceedingly anxious to be a part of the covey of roaring, spastic exiles who contributed to Transition and This Quarter, little expatriate magazines. Hart Crane and I already had encountered Robert McAlmon, Kay Boyle, Eugene Jolas, one of the editors of Transition, and Harry Crosby, a disciple of Lautréamont, author of Maldoror, and the high priest of surrealist satanism.
I was prepared to offer Crane all the genuflections necessary to quell his doubts. We became friendly and he introduced me to McCown, the artist, with whom he lived in a left bank atelier. Both had read my first novel, Bottom Dogs (for which D. H. Lawrence, one of Crane’s deities, had written the Introduction), and Constant Huntington, director of G. P. Putnam’s in London, had given me a contract for the book. Huntington asked me to look up somebody in Paris who would design the wrapper for the volume and Hart Crane had suggested that McCown should do it.
When McCown gave me the drawing for the dust-jacket, I conveyed it to Mr. Huntington who, after receiving it, sent me an acerb reply, saying that he knew that I had written a dirty, picaresque Americanese, but he had never imagined I had believed it was lewd. Eugene MacCown had drawn a map of the United States emphasizing a phallical Florida which I had noticed with a nebulous and naive uneasiness. Of course, I had heard about pathics, but had not the scantiest suspicion that Hart Crane was homosexual. Crane was a stocky, virile male with a jovean square face, mizzling, foggy eyes, gun-metal, gray hair, and a smouldering, amorous mouth.
Though Crane and I knew many Americans in Paris both of us were …
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Hart Crane March 31, 1966