Arthur Cravan–poet, traveller, boxer, charlatan and possible forger published the proto-Dadaist magazine ‘Maintenant’ in Paris beteween 1912 and 1915. The 5 issues are now very scarce and can command over a thousand dollars each. The market for them is probably slim and collectors of this material tend not to have deep purses but the mystery of his life and death is still pretty potent..
.He was in the news in 2007 when someone turned up at the New York ABAA book fair with a bunch of Oscar Wilde manuscripts of intense value (if they had been right.) They were pronounced forgeries, and Cravan (or Fabian Lloyd as he was born) was mentioned as the possible source and maker of the fakes. Cravan was actually the son of Wilde’s brother in law and was born in Lausanne in 1887. He grew to 6 foot 6 inches and weighed 18 stone. At one point he became the boxing champion of Europe and even fought the World Champion Jack Johnson (poster above) in a rigged fight in Barcelona to get enough money to travel to New York to avoid the military call-up. A relentless world traveller, he wrote “I have twenty countries in my memory and trail in my soul the colors of one hundred cities.” He also wrote in Maintenant that “Every great artist has the sense of provocation” –the key to his style.
I was reminded of Cravan recently on hearing of the death of another poet and boxer Vernon Scannell. How many other boxers wrote poetry? Muhammad Ali made a pretty good fist of it (as it were) Roy Campbell was something of a bruiser, T.E. Hulme fought Wyndham Lewis in Soho Square, Marlowe died in a pub brawl – possibly there are more. With Cravan all you can collect are the five issues of Maintenant and two or three boxing posters, the one to the left can be bought in ‘limited edition’ facsimile for £200. The originals have got to be well into four figures sterling.
Cravan paraded himself as “the poet with the shortest haircut in the world.” One is reminded of the book dealer and writer Driffield, an almost daily visitor to Trumpers and himself a larger than life character and a bit of a bruiser to boot. The most memorable thing about Cravan was his total disappearance in 1918. Cravan had established a boxing school in Mexico City and married the highly rated poet Mina Loy. He and Loy planned a short sojourn in Buenos Aires, but only had enough money for her passage, Cravan decided to navigate himself with a friend in a small fishing boat; he and Loy would rendezvous later in Valparaíso. Nobody ever saw Cravan again. Loy bore their daughter, Fabienne, in April 1919. Two issues of Maintenant are archived on the web at Iowa (see below.) Interestingly they show all the original ads including a creamery, a bonbonniere, a Mercedes dealer and an evening with Cravan himself (see below.) The contents are best described by a great Cravan enthusiast Andy Merryfield of The Brooklyn Rail site:
‘Still, Cravan’s spirit is best evoked by Cravan himself, in the pages of Maintenant, his pesky journal, the centerpiece of the publisher Champ Libre’s handsome Arthur Cravan Oeuvres: Poèmes, Articles, Lettres. (The now-defunct Champ Libre was the brainchild of millionaire French producer and agent, Gérard Lébovici, who, in 1984, was gunned down in an avenue Foch parking lot in a murder never solved.) Only five issues of Maintenant appeared between 1912 and 1915; Cravan was editor-in-chief and sole contributor, often penning diatribes under pseudonyms like W. Cooper, Robert Miradique and Edouard Archinard. Soirées of poetry and boxing instruction were advertised on its cover; inside, we find not only Cravan’s manic poetry, which sizzles on the page, but also hilarious frontals against establishment figures–like André Gide—and hallucinogenic dialogues between Cravan and his late “uncle” Oscar Wilde. “I looked at him in his entirety,” said Cravan in “Oscar Wilde is living!” “He was fine. In his armchair he had the air of an elephant; his backside crushed the seat where it was narrowest; in front of those enormous arms and legs I tried, with admiration, to imagine the divine sentiments that inhabited these same limbs… ‘Come on! Have a bloody drink!’ I exclaimed with an American boxer’s accent.” “You are a terrible boy,” quips an indignant Wilde to Cravan, “my God, have you lost all your dignity!”
Cravan’s stanzas are similarly exuberant and raving: “I would like to be in Vienna and in Calcutta,” he wrote in “Hie!” “catching every train and every ship,/ fornicating with every woman and devouring every dish./ Socialite, chemist, whore, drunk, musician, worker, painter, acrobat, actor;/ Old, young, swindler, hoodlum, angel and reveler;/ millionaire, bourgeois, cactus, giraffe or crow;/ Coward, hero, negro, monkey, Don Juan, pimp, lord,/ peasant, hunter, industrialist,/ Fauna and flora:/ I am all things, all men and all animals!” And in “Words,” he warned that “You need to dream your life with great care,/ Instead of living it merely as a party.” Then, “Weary of searching for the day, you will taste the night.” “I have lived in an epoch,” Cravan said in “Arthur,” “where I could have the drunkenness to think that nobody else was my equal./ An idea!”
Other Cravan enthusiasts include Andre Breton, Marcel Duchamp, Greil Marcus and Guy Debord.
VALUE? With ads for cafes and car dealers one suspects that the run of Maintenant was not tiny and it is likely that the always broke Cravan hawked them about forcing sales by his sheer physical bulk. However I have never seen one, and the late great book runner Martin Stone in 25 years of patrolling the boulevards and quais of Paris has only seen two issues. A run turned up a few years ago at Benjamin’s auctions in the Netherlands and made circa $10000 but another set made $50000 at a Paris auction about 1997. From the look of the copies held at Iowa University they were printed on cheap paper and won’t have survived in limpid state. Kind of thing one might find with a bunch of dull, yellowing French journals–and what a find!
TRIVIA. A biographical graphic novel on the life of Arthur Cravan has been published by Dark Horse Comics. Written by the publisher, Mike Richardson, and illustrated by Rick Geary, “Cravan” puts forth the idea that Cravan and the enigmatic author of ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’ B. Traven might be one and the same. Traven, Cravan easy mistake to make. Haven’t read it but reckon that it would be easier to prove that the Duke of Earl was Shakespeare. (from our old defunct site Bookride with a few changes)