UnSung Poets: Maxwell Bodenheim

Maxwell Bodenheim


Maxwell Bodenheim

Birth: May 26, 1892 
Death: Feb. 6, 1954 


Blind

 

 

Blinder than oak-trees in the wind
Endlessly weaving sighs into a poem
To sight,
He sits, the light of one pale purple lantern
Seeping into his dream-hollowed face,
Like floating, transparent words
Pale with unuttered meanings.
He mends a flute and sighs as though
Its shadow leaned heavily upon his heart
And told him things his dead eyes could not grasp.

To One Dead

 

I walked upon a hill
And the wind, made solemnly drunk with your presence,
Reeled against me.
I stooped to question a flower,
And you floated between my fingers and the petals,
Tying them together.
I severed a leaf from its tree
And a water-drop in the green flagon
Cupped a hunted bit of your smile.
All things about me were steeped in your remembrance
And shivering as they tried to tell me of it

Novelist and Poet. Once considered a leading modernist author of the early 20th Century, he is credited with introducing the spirit of French Naturalism into American Literature. His novel “Replenishing Jessica” (1925), a brutally frank tale about a young woman’s sexual liberation among seedy bohemians, was the subject of a famous obscenity trial that helped loosen censorship restrictions in the United States. When the court ruled in Bodenheim’s favor, New York City Mayor Jimmy Walker concurred with the quip, “No girl has ever been seduced by a book.” Bodenheim was born in Hermanville, Mississippi, and moved to Chicago with his family in 1900. There he became the center of a literary clique that included his good friend (and later enemy) Ben Hecht. His first book of poetry, “Minna and Myself” (1918), was praised by Carl Sandburg, William Carlos Williams, and Conrad Aiken. In 1920 Bodenheim settled in Greenwich Village, New York, and lived there the rest of his life. During the Jazz Age he was called America’s “King of the Literary Bohemians” and was notorious for his drinking, feuding, and womanizing. He was said to have resembled a young Kirk Douglas or Pat Riley, and women apparently found him irresistible. In one frenetic year, 1928, two women killed themselves after he dumped them, and two more attempted suicide. (A fifth ex-girlfriend died in a subway crash, her pockets stuffed with Bodenheim’s love letters). Despite all this dissipation he was a fairly prolific writer, producing 13 novels, 10 volumes of poems, and the memoir “My Life and Loves in Greenwich Village” (1950). His other works include the poetry collections “Introducing Irony” (1922), “The Sardonic Arm” (1923), and “Against This Age” (1925), and the novels “Blackguard” (1923), “Naked on Roller Skates” (1930), and “New York Madness” (1933). Bodenheim’s reputation declined after the Great Depression and by the early 1950s he was a homeless derelict, selling poems for drinks and panhandling. During the freezing New York winters he made his much younger third wife, alcoholic former journalist Ruth Fagin, prostitute herself in exchange for shelter. This activity cost both their lives. On February 7, 1954, the couple were found murdered in a dingy, heatless room; Bodenheim had been shot twice, Fagin stabbed to death. The confessed killer, Harold Weinburg, was judged incompetent to stand trial and served six years in a mental institution. The crime made Bodenheim news one last time, after which he receded from history. Today his books are out of print and he is unjustly remembered only for his dissolute life and lurid demise. (bio by: Robert Edwards)

Burial:
Cedar Park Cemetery
Emerson
Bergen County
New Jersey, USA

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