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Guide to the Raven Poetry Circle of Greenwich Village Collection
ca. 1933- ca. 1954
  PR 108

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400


© 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Jenny Gotwals

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on November 11, 2011
Description is in English.

Descriptive Summary

 
Title: Raven Poetry Circle of Greenwich Village Collection
Dates [inclusive]: Ca. 1933- ca. 1954
Abstract: Photographs and ephemera of the Raven Poetry Circle of Greenwich Village and their annual outdoor poetry exhibits.
Quantity: 2.0 Linear feet (3 boxes)
Location note: Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections
Call Phrase: PR 108

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Biographical Note

The Raven Poetry Circle of Greenwich Village was a loose group of literary bohemians who met from the early 1930s to the late 1940s. Beginning in May 1933, and lasting at least until 1948, the group held yearly exhibitions off Washington Square Park, in which members' poetry was tacked to a fence at Thompson Street and Washington Square South for public display and potential sale. Poems generally sold at prices ranging from a quarter up to a dollar, the latter for particularly fine work.

The nature of the Poetry Circle was ephemeral, including their yearly exhibition. Poets came and went, often taking part for only a few years. Few references or resources exist describing the members or their work. Their journal, The Raven Anthology came out at first monthly and then quarterly, from December 1933 until October 1940. It was printed on a single folio, folded into four pages, and sold for ten cents at local establishments. Despite the fact that binders were provided to those who bought more than one issue, few copies of the  Anthology survive.

Members of the Circle, or "Ravens" as they seem to have been called, came from all walks of life. Members were students, bohemians, published poets, sanitation workers, and semi-homeless neighborhood characters. While there was an air of bohemianism about the group, artistic seriousness was demanded, and dabblers in verse were not welcomed. As reported in the New York Times coverage of the event, a sign was displayed at the 1939 group exhibit warning, "Mere rhymers, wise-cracking doggereleers and other nuts are positively not welcome, and our only word to them is 'Scram!'" One of the members, Joe Gould, often made fun of the serious tone of the group and liked to compose ridiculous poems to annoy other members.

The leader of the group, one of the few Circle members involved in its entire lifespan, was Francis Lambert McCrudden (1872-1958). McCrudden self-published a few books of poetry, as did other members John Rose Gildea, Joe Gould, Anca Vrbovska, Vincent Beltrone, John Cabbage (who was otherwise employed as a city sanitation worker), and Marie Margaret Winthrop. Vrbovska continued to write poetry after she left the Circle, editing a few volumes of women's poetry later on in her life. Winthrop arranged to have her poems published in China in the early 1930s. Perhaps the most famous member of the group was Maxwell Bodenheim (1893-1954), a published poet and novelist who had come to Greenwich Village by way of Chicago. Bodenheim was a notable neighborhood character, who had passed his literary prime by the time he hooked up with the Ravens. He was known for his rakish air, and was twice involved in scandals relating to young women who sought his artistic assistance. Other poets who displayed work include Lincoln Gillespie and Evelyn Hirschberg.

The Raven Poetry Circle of Greenwich Village faded away at the end of the 1940s or beginning of the 1950s due to several overlapping factors. Many of the principal agitators died, and the changing times adversely affected the spirit of literary freedom that infused in Greenwich Village. New York University began to buy much of the real estate around Washington Square Park. Without their signature fence on which to display their poetry, the Ravens faded into obscurity.

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Scope and Content Note

The Raven Poetry Circle of Greenwich Village Photograph Collection spans the period from ca. 1933 to ca. 1954 and primarily contains photographs of the group's members and its annual open-air exhibits. The collection is divided into three series: Snapshots, Mounted Photos, and Clippings. Raven Poetry Circle members pictured in this collection include: Vincent Beltrone, Maxwell Bodenheim, John Cabbage, John Rose Gildea, Lincoln Gillespi, Joe Gould, Evelyn Hirschberg, Francis Lambert McCrudden, Anca Vrbovska, and Marie Margaret Winthrop.

Series I. Snapshots is comprised of photographs 5 x 7 inches and smaller; all but one are black and white. The series includes views of the annual Raven Poetry Circle Group Exhibition, held at Washington Square South and Thompson Street. Several of these exhibit photographs are dated, and clearly cover several different years. In a few instances, poems displayed on the wall can be seen in detail. Several individual snapshots of Raven Members are titled in the same hand with the poet's names. Many other snapshots are not inscribed or dated. Other photos, primarily the unidentified portraits, are dated on the verso, one as late as 1954. A group of snapshots of the Raven's exhibit and the Washington Arch were taken by Mae Walker in 1948. Others are inscribed to Francis McCrudden, including two views of a child, inscribed in her own hand. Snapshots are grouped into individual portraits and views of exhibitions. Portraits are organized thereunder by subject, when known.

Fifty nine snapshots were found mounted onto a large, 30 x 40 inch, poster board, as if for an exhibition. These snapshots were unmounted in 2003 by N-YHS conservation staff, and can be found in Box 2, with documentation as to the original layout of the snapshots on the board. There is no distinguishable difference between these photos and the other snapshots in this series. They show the same Raven Poetry Circle members in Washington Square. However, more people are identified in these snapshots.

Series II. Mounted photos are all 8 x 10 black and white prints matted in board. These photographs are all undated, but cover several different years of the exhibit. These seem to be copy prints, and may have been mounted for an exhibition of some kind. Several of the snapshots unmounted from the poster in Box 2 are the original photographs shown enlarged here. Most of these photos show Raven Poetry Circle exhibits as well as two views of members attending a poetry reading. Individual portraits are titled with the subject's name. A few photos of caricatures and drawings, of Ravens Maxwell Bodenheim and Joe Gould, are also included with the portraits. One photo of Jake Spencer, the artist of several drawings, is signed by Reuben Greenspan, the donor of the collection. The series is grouped into individual portraits and group views of exhibitions. Portraits are organized thereunder by subject.

Series III. Clippings include one newspaper photograph of the Circle's exhibit and a page from Esquire magazine with photos relating to Maxwell Bodenheim, several of which are in this collection, including one of Joe Gould. Also included is a flyer for "Winkelberg," Ben Hecht's play about Bodenheim's life. Several line drawings of workers, and a poem, "To A Crimson Lady of Fourteenth Street," by Jack Sellers, are potentially remnants from one of the Poetry Circle's exhibits.

Arrangement

[information on how the described materials have been subdivided into smaller units, e.g., series]

  1. Series I. Snapshots
  2. Series II. Mounted Photographs
  3. Series III. Clippings

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Access Points

Subject Names

  • Beltrone, Vincent
  • Bodenheim, Maxwell, 1893-1954
  • Caage, John
  • Gildea, John Rose
  • Gillespie, Abraham Lincoln, 1895-1950
  • Gould, Joe, 1889-1957
  • Hirschberg, Evelyn
  • McCrudden, Francis Lambert, 1872-1958
  • Spencer, Jake
  • Vrbovska, Anca
  • Winthrop, Marie Margaret, b. 1908

Document Type

  • Caricatures
  • Clippings
  • Photographic prints
  • Snapshots

Subject Topics

  • Book industries and trade--Exhibitions

Subject Places

  • Greenwich Village (New York, N.Y.)–Pictorial works
  • New York (N.Y.)–Social life and customs

Occupation(s)

  • Poets

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Administrative Information

Provenance

Gift of Reuben Greenspan, 1966.

Access Restrictions

Open to qualified researchers, by appointment only.

Photocopying undertaken by staff only. Limited to 30 photocopies per day per person. Suitability of the original for photocopying is at the discretion of the staff. Neither blueprints nor tracings can be copied under any circumstances. Duplication of large-format items will be done by the house photographer. See Print Room guidelines for details.

Use Restrictions

Permission to reproduce any Print Room holdings through publication must be obtained from

Rights and Reproductions
The New-York Historical Society
Two West 77th Street
New York, NY 10024

Phone: (212) 873-3400 ext. 282
Fax: (212) 579-8794

The copyright law of the United States governs the making of photocopies and protects unpublished materials as well as published materials. Unpublished materials created before January 1, 1978 cannot be quoted in publication without permission of the copyright holder.

Preferred Citation

This collection should be cited as Raven Poetry Circle of Greenwich Village Collection, PR 108, Department of Prints, Photographs, and Architectural Collections, The New-York Historical Society.

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Container List

Series I. Snapshots

Scope and Contents note

Snapshots are grouped into individual portraits and views of exhibitions. Portraits are organized thereunder by subject, when known.

PORTRAITS

Container 1     Title Date
Box: 1 Vincent Beltrone and John Cabbage

General note

See also: Box 2

undated
Box: 1 Evelyn Hirschberg
undated
Box: 1 Francis Lambert McCrudden

General note

See also: Box 2

1936, undated
Box: 1 B. Prapp
undated
Box: 1 [?] Simon
undated
Box: 1 Anca Vrbovska

General note

See also: Box 2

undated
Box: 1 Marie Margaret Winthrop

General note

See also: Box 2

undated
Box: 1 Unidentified
1940-1954, undated
Box
1
 

EXHIBIT AT WASHINGTON SQUARE SOUTH, 1948, undated

General note

See also: Box 2

Box
2
Folder
1-7
 

FROM POSTER, 1934-1948, undated

General note

See also: Box 2

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Series II. Mounted Photographs

Scope and Contents note

The series is grouped into individual portraits and group views of exhibitions. Portraits are organized thereunder by subject.

PORTRAITS

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 3 Folder : 8 Maxwell Bodenheim
undated
Box: 3 Folder : 9 John Rose Gildea
undated
Box: 3 Folder : 10 Lincoln Gillespi
undated
Box: 3 Folder : 11 Joe Gould
undated
Box: 3 Folder : 12 Francis Lambert McCrudden
undated
Box: 3 Folder : 13 Jake Spencer
undated
Box
3
Folder
14-15
 

EXHIBIT AT WASHINGTON SQUARE SOUTH, undated

Box
3
Folder
16
 

MEMBERS AT POETRY READING, Location unknown, undated

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Series III. Clippings

Scope and Contents note

Clippings include one newspaper photograph of the Circle's exhibit and a page from Esquire magazine with photos relating to Maxwell Bodenheim, several of which are in this collection, including one of Joe Gould. Also included is a flyer for "Winkelberg," Ben Hecht's play about Bodenheim's life. Several line drawings of workers, and a poem, "To A Crimson Lady of Fourteenth Street," by Jack Sellers, are potentially remnants from one of the Poetry Circle's exhibits.

Container 1 Container 2   Title Date
Box: 3 Folder : 17 Clippings
undated

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