Ford, Charles Henri

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FORD, Charles Henri


Nationality: American. Born: Hazlehurst, Mississippi, 10 February 1913. Career: Editor, Blues, Columbus, Mississippi, 1929–30; View, New York, 1940–47. Lived in Paris, 1931, 1933–34; Morocco, 1932, the United States, 1940–51, Italy, 1952–57, and since 1958 Kathmandu, Nepal. Photographer and painter: individual shows—Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 1955; Galerie Marforen, Paris, 1956; Galerie du Dragon, Paris, 1957, 1958; Cordier and Ekstrom Gallery, New York, 1965; New York Cultural Center, 1975; Carlton Gallery, New York, 1975; Iolas Gallery, 1976; Robert Samuel Gallery, New York, 1980. Address: 1 West 72nd Street, New York, New York 10023, U.S.A.

Publications

Poetry

A Pamphlet of Sonnets. Mallorca, Caravel Press, 1936.

The Garden of Disorder and Other Poems. New York, New Directions, and London, Europa, 1938.

ABC's. Prairie City, Illinois, James A. Decker, 1940.

The Overturned Lake. Cincinnati, Little Man Press, 1941.

Poems for Painters. New York, View, 1945.

The Half-Thoughts, The Distances of Pain. New York, Prospero Pamphlets, 1947.

Sleep in a Nest of Flames. New York, New Directions, 1949.

Spare Parts. New York, New View, 1966.

Silver Flower Coo. New York, Kulchur, 1968.

Flag of Ecstasy: Selected Poems, edited by Edward B. Germain. Los Angeles, Black Sparrow Press, 1972.

7 Poems. Kathmandu, Bardo Matrix, 1974.

Om Krishna: Special Effects. Cherry Valley, New York, Cherry Valley Editions, 1979.

Om Krishna 11: From the Sick Room of the Walking Eagles. Cherry Valley, New York, Cherry Valley Editions, 1981.

Secret Haiku: Om Krishna 111. New York, Red Ozier Press, 1982.

Haiku and Imprints I [II]. Kathmandu, Operation Minotaur, 2 vols., 1984–85.

Handshakes from Heaven. Paris, Handshake, 1985.

Emblems of Arachne. New York, Catchword Papers, 1986.

Out of the Labyrinth: Selected Poems. San Francisco, City Lights, 1990.

Plays

Screenplays: Poem Posters, 1966; Johnny Minotaur, 1971.

Novel

The Young and Evil, with Parker Tyler. Paris, Obelisk Press, 1933; New York, Arno Press, 1973; London, Gay Men's Press, 1989.

Other

Editor and Translator, The Mirror of Baudelaire. New York, New Directions, 1942.

Editor, A Night with Jupiter and Other Fantastic Stories. New York, Vanguard Press, 1945; London, Dobson, 1947.

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Manuscript Collections: University of Texas, Austin; Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut.

Critical Studies: Introduction by William Carlos Williams to The Garden of Disorder and Other Poems, 1938; Introduction by Edith Sitwell to Sleep in a Nest of Flames, 1949; introduction by Stephen Watson to The Young and Evil, London, Gay Men's Press, 1989.

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When he began publishing in 1929, Charles Henri Ford was unique. He was America's surrealist poet. In retrospect he was seminal. His first two books created American surrealism. The Garden of Disorder welds radio jazz and iambic pentameter, surreal conceits and the sonnet form. The Overturned Lake shows Ford as influenced by Whitman, Poe, and Mother Goose as by Breton, Reverdy, and Éluard, employing a freer line and lyric forms. It also demonstrates Ford's forte—the surrealist image. In one poem Ford transforms the day from a poem into a horse. He turns the sky into an arm, a mouth, a man, a thief, and then an enormous face. He makes the sun into a wound, a jewel, an equation, an eye, a tear. Night is a ditch. He does all of this in eight lines and with obvious ease and clarity.

The New York school centered around Frank O'Hara and John Ashbery owes something to these early surrealist lyrics. During World War II Ford encouraged young poets like Philip Lamantia in the pages of his influential surrealist magazine, View, which also was the first literary magazine to publish Allen Ginsberg. Ford himself began writing longer poems at this time, typically part dream or ghost story, part amoral allegory, filled with convulsive imagery and sexual themes. Parts of these poems are often greater than their wholes. The self-conscious mannerism implicit in many of them surfaces in Ford's next two books, Spare Parts and Silver Flower Coo, collage poems that are exercises in gratuitous eroticism. Another, far more interesting series, written but not published during this period, is Ford's prose poems and found poetry, represented in the "Drawings" section of Flag of Ecstasy.

Out of the Labyrinth: Selected Poems, published nearly twenty years later, includes selections from Om Krishna I and II, long, frequently vivid meditations with wit and loads of what have become surrealist formulas. Ford often combines surreal juxtapositions to make a kind of allegory, in this case for passions, pain, and an immortal goddess in midflight:

   Metaphysical weasel may your firstborn inherit
   The gift of escapades
   Hallowed Hermaphrodite stymied in a unique progression

This reader finds lines likes these a struggle, and the long poems of Om Krishna often seem a sequence of one- or two-liners. But they have an honesty too, and despite the surrealist inflatus the poems do not lack integrity. Further, an individual image can revolt and astonish:

   The King murdered in his castle was buried privately his
      eyes like
              piss holes in the snow.

Nevertheless, Ford's best work lies predominantly with the focused lyric form expressed most fully in his early books (poems like "Plaint" or "The Overturned Lake," for example) and with the surrealist humor of "There's No Place to Sleep in This Bed, Tanguy" or "Baby's in Jail, The Animal Day Plays Alone." In these poems Ford creates wonder, wit, and a sensuous beauty that were new to American poetry and that remain a landmark.

—Edward B. Germain