May 22, 2010
Let Arthur Cravan (Fabian Avenarius Lloyd, 1887–1918?) tell you who he was: “Poet and boxer.” “Poet and taxi driver in Berlin.” “The nephew of Oscar Wilde.” “The poet with the shortest haircut in the world.” Born and raised in Switzerland, Cravan after age 17 wandered the world, employing a variety of real, borrowed, and forged documents, periodically being expelled from one country or another. The longest interval (1909-1914 or so) was spent in Paris, where he brought out five issues of Maintenant (“Now”), a little magazine made up of poems, gossip, and violently polemical art criticism, all of which he wrote himself under various names, and which he sold in the street from a produce barrow. His boxing career came to its ignominious climax in Barcelona in 1916, when he was speedily dispatched by Jack Johnson, himself an exile fleeing a Mann Act prosecution. The bout did earn Cravan enough to book passage to New York, where in lieu of giving a widely advertised lecture on art he stripped to his briefs onstage. He then drifted to Mexico City, where he took up a post as Professor of Boxing at a physical-culture institute — he seems to have lectured on Egyptian art in that setting. He had in the meantime met the English poet Mina Loy, who joined him in Mexico, where they were married in February 1918. They made plans to go to Argentina — she was to leave by passenger ship, he on a small sailboat. He was last seen setting out from Salina Cruz, on the Pacific. He presumably drowned, although rumors of sightings continued for decades, and many people thought the novelist B. Traven was actually him. Cravan was an original, a mystery, a pioneer of self-invention, a simultaneously blunt and delicate lyricist, a probable manic-depressive, a rock star.
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