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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.

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.