Hart Crane was born in Garrettsville, Ohio. His father, Clarence, was a successful Ohio businessman who invented the Life Savers candy and held the patent, but sold it for $2,900 before the brand became popular. He made other candy and accumulated a fortune from the candy business with chocolate bars. Crane's mother and father were constantly fighting, and early in April, 1917, they divorced. Hart dropped out of high school during his junior year and left for New York City, promising his parents he would attend Columbia University later. His parents, in the middle of divorce proceedings, were upset. Crane took various copywriting jobs and jumped between friends’ apartments in Manhattan. Between 1917 and 1924 he moved back and forth between New York and Cleveland, working as an advertising copywriter and a worker in his father’s factory. From Crane's letters, it appears that New York was where he felt most at home, and much of his poetry is set there.
Throughout the early 1920s, small but well-respected literary magazines published some of Crane’s lyrics, gaining him, among the avant-garde, a respect that White Buildings (1926), his first volume, ratified and strengthened. White Buildings contains many of Crane’s best lyrics, including "For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen," and "Voyages", a powerful sequence of erotic poems. There were written while he was falling in love with Emil Opffer, a Danish merchant mariner. "Faustus and Helen" was part of a larger artistic struggle to meet modernity with something more than despair. Crane identified T. S. Eliot with that kind of despair, and while he acknowledged the greatness of The Waste Land, he also said it was "so damned dead," an impasse, and a refusal to see "certain spiritual events and possibilities." Crane’s self-appointed work would be to bring those spiritual events and possibilities to poetic life, and so create "a mystical synthesis of America."
Crane returned to New York in 1928, living with friends and taking temporary jobs, then moving back to Brooklyn, to 77 Willow Street. His lover, Opffer, invited Crane to live in his father’s home at 110 Columbia Heights in Brooklyn Heights, New York. Crane was overjoyed at the views the location afforded him. He wrote his mother and grandmother in the spring of 1924:
Just imagine looking out your window directly on the East River with nothing intervening between your view of the Statue of Liberty, way down the harbour, and the marvelous beauty of Brooklyn Bridge close above you on your right! All of the great new skyscrapers of lower Manhattan are marshaled directly across from you, and there is a constant stream of tugs, liners, sail boats, etc in procession before you on the river! It’s really a magnificent place to live. This section of Brooklyn is very old, but all the houses are in splendid condition and have not been invaded by foreigners...His ambition to synthesize America was expressed in The Bridge (1930), intended to be an uplifting counter to Eliot's's The Waste Land. The Brooklyn Bridge is both the poem’s central symbol and its poetic starting point. Crane found what a place to start his synthesis in Brooklyn. Arts patron Otto H. Kahn gave him $2,000 to begin work on the epic poem. When he wore out his welcome at the Opffers, Crane left for Paris in early 1929 but failed to leave his personal problems behind. It was during the late 1920s, while he was finishing The Bridge, that his drinking, always a problem, became notably worse.
While in Paris in February 1929, Harry Crosby, who with his wife Caresse Crosby owned the fine arts press Black Sun Press, offered Crane the use of their country retreat, Le Moulin du Soleil in Ermenonville. They hoped he could use the time to concentrate on completing The Bridge. Crane spent several weeks at their estate where he roughed out a draft of the "Cape Hatteras" section, a key part of his epic poem. In late June that year, Crane returned from the south of France to Paris. Harry noted in his journal, "Hart C. back from Marseilles where he slept with his thirty sailors and he began again to drink Cutty Sark." Crane got drunk at the Cafe Select and fought with waiters over his tab. When the Paris police were called, he fought with them and was beaten. They arrested and jailed him, fining him 800 francs. After six days in prison at La Sante, Harry Crosby paid Crane's fine and advanced him money for the passage back to the United States where he finally finished The Bridge. The work received poor reviews, but Crane’s sense of his own failure became crushing.
Crane visited Mexico in 1931–32 on a Guggenheim Fellowship and his drinking continued as he suffered from bouts of alternating depression and elation. When Peggy Cowley, wife of his friend Malcolm Cowley, agreed to a divorce, she joined Crane. As far as is known, she was his only heterosexual partner. "The Broken Tower," one of his last published poems, emerged from that affair. Crane still felt himself a failure, in part because he recommenced homosexual activity in spite of his relationship with Cowley.
While on board the steamship SS Orizaba enroute to New York, he was beaten after making sexual advances to a male crew member. Just before noon on April 27, 1932, Hart Crane jumped overboard into the Gulf of Mexico. Although he had been drinking heavily and left no suicide note, witnesses believed his intentions to be suicidal, as several reported that he exclaimed "Goodbye, everybody!" before throwing himself overboard. His body was never recovered. A marker on his father's tombstone in Garrettsville includes the inscription, "Harold Hart Crane 1899–1932 lost at sea".
As a boy, he had a sexual relationship with an older man. He associated his sexuality with his vocation as a poet. Raised in the Christian Science tradition of his mother, he never ceased to view himself as a social pariah. However, as poems such as "Repose of Rivers" make clear, he felt that this sense of alienation was necessary in order for him to attain the visionary insight that formed the basis for his poetic work.
Recent queer criticism has asserted that it is particularly difficult, perhaps even inappropriate, to read many of Crane's poems – "The Broken Tower," "My Grandmother’s Love Letters," the "Voyages" series, and others – without a willingness to look for, and uncover, homosexual meanings in the text. The prominent queer theorist Tim Dean argues, for instance, that the obscurity of Crane's style owes itself partially to the necessities of being a semi-public homosexual – not quite closeted, but also, as legally and culturally necessary, not open: "The intensity responsible for Crane’s particular form of difficulty involves not only linguistic considerations but also culturally subjective concerns. This intensity produces a kind of privacy that is comprehensible in terms of the cultural construction of homosexuality and its attendant institutions of privacy."
Thomas Yingling objects to the traditional, New Critical and Eliotic readings of Crane, arguing that the "American myth criticism and formalist readings" have "depolarized and normalized our reading of American poetry, making any homosexual readings seem perverse." Even more than a personal or political problem, though, Yingling argues that such "biases" obscure much of what the poems make clear; he cites, for instance, the last lines of "My Grandmother's Love Letters" from White Buildings as a haunting description of estrangement from the norms of (heterosexual) family life:
Yet I would lead my grandmother by the handThe critic Brian Reed has contributed to a project of critical reintegration, suggesting that an overemphasis on the sexual biography of Crane's poetry can skew a broader appreciation of his overall work. In one example of Reed's approach, he published a close reading of Crane's lyric poem, "Voyages," (a love poem that Crane wrote for his lover Emil Opffer) on the Poetry Foundation website, analyzing the poem based strictly on the content of the text itself and not on outside political or cultural matters.
Through much of what she would not understand;
And so I stumble. And the rain continues on the roof
With such a sound of gently pitying laughter.
Burial: Park Cemetery, Garrettsville, Portage County, Ohio, USA, Cenotaph
The Complete Poems of Hart Crane (Centennial Edition) edited by Marc Simon
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: Liveright (May 2001)
Amazon: The Complete Poems of Hart Crane
"Crane's poetry has been a touchstone for me, and remains central to a fully imaginative understanding of American literature."—Harold Bloom
This edition features a new introduction by Harold Bloom as a centenary tribute to the visionary of White Buildings (1926) and The Bridge (1930). Hart Crane, prodigiously gifted and tragically doom-eager, was the American peer of Shelley, Rimbaud, and Lorca. Born in Garrettsville, Ohio, on July 21, 1899, Crane died at sea on April 27, 1932, an apparent suicide. A born poet, totally devoted to his art, Crane suffered his warring parents as well as long periods of a hand-to-mouth existence. He suffered also from his honesty as a homosexual poet and lover during a period in American life unsympathetic to his sexual orientation. Despite much critical misunderstanding and neglect, in his own time and in ours, Crane achieved a superb poetic style, idiosyncratic yet central to American tradition. His visionary epic, The Bridge, is the most ambitious and accomplished long poem since Walt Whitman's Song of Myself. Marc Simon's text is accepted as the most authoritative presentation of Hart Crane's work available to us. For this centennial edition, Harold Bloom, who was introduced to poetry by falling in love with Crane's work while still a child, has contributed a new introduction.
The Broken Tower: The Life of Hart Crane by Paul Mariani
Paperback: 512 pages
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (April 2000)
Amazon: The Broken Tower: The Life of Hart Crane
The first biography of Crane to appear in thirty years, The Broken Tower reads with all the drama of a psychological novel and the inexorable force of a Greek tragedy.
Few poets have lived as extraordinary and fascinating a life as Hart Crane, the American poet who made his meteoric rise in the late 1920s and then as suddenly flamed out, killing himself at the age of thirty-two and thus turning his life and poetry into the stuff of myth. Illustrations and photographs.
Broken Tower (2011) directed by James Franco
Actors: Michael Shannon, James Franco, Dave Franco
Directors: James Franco
Format: Black & White, Closed-captioned, NTSC, Widescreen
DVD Release Date: March 27, 2012
Run Time: 110 minutes
Amazon: Broken Tower (2011
The Broken Tower is a 2011 American black-and-white docudrama directed by James Franco. The film is about American poet Hart Crane, who committed suicide in April 1932 at the age of 32 by jumping off the steamship SS Orizaba. Franco appears in the starring role and edited, co-produced, and wrote the screenplay.
O My Land, My Friends: The Selected Letters of Hart Crane edited by Langdon Hammer and Brom Weber
Hardcover: 550 pages
Publisher: Four Walls Eight Windows; First Edition edition (May 30, 1997)
Amazon: O My Land, My Friends: The Selected Letters of Hart Crane
This edition features over three hundred letters, selected to best illustrate the complexity and textures of Hart Crane’s turbulent life –– from family pressures, to his creative ambition, to his homosexuality.
Hart Crane and the Homosexual Text: New Thresholds, New Anatomies by Thomas E. Yingling
Paperback: 282 pages
Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (April 4, 1990)
Amazon: Hart Crane and the Homosexual Text: New Thresholds, New Anatomies
"Canonized for being insufficiently American although he took America as his subject, chastised for obscurity by readers who would not allow or would not read homosexual meanings, Crane embodies many understandings of America, and of the predicament of the gay writer."—Voice Literary Supplement
"A brilliant critical model for understanding how textuality and sexuality can produce pervasive effects on each other in the writing of a figure like Crane."—Michael Moon, Duke University
More LGBT History at my website: www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Gay Classics
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