One of the very sporadic “characters” in my book is the now forgotten poet Orrick Johns. In fact-checking my own work (yeah, jeez), I came across this very strange and, I thought, cool poem that he wrote in 1915. It appeared in a little magazine called Others which was edited by poet Alfred Kreymborg. To the poem momentarily. First this picture of Alfred Kreymborg taken by Edward Weston in 1920, which I only include because I like it:
Alfred Kreymborg, by the way, wrote an interesting memoir called Troubadour, if you’re at all interested in modernist poets & artists, published in 1925. I like Kreymborg; he’s unpretentious when writing about his artist friends. He refers to himself in third person, by the way. It’s unfortunately hard to find, and doesn’t seem to have a free digitized version floating around yet. I bought mine used.
But I meant to talk about Orrick Johns, since I’m posting his poem. I unfortunately don’t have much to say about him. He was friends with Sara Teasdale and Zoe Akins; they grew up together in St. Louis, and all moved to New York about the same time. He was somewhat scandalous for winning a major poetry prize out from under Edna St. Vincent Millay’s fine poem
Renascence, which everyone believed she should have won, but didn’t because Orrick had the poverty & depression vote & had more friends. Sadly, even Orrick Johns didn’t think he deserved the $500 prize. But according to Sara Teasdale, he was a mopey sort anyway, in part because he lost a leg as a child when he was hit by a streetcar. Max Bodenheim wrote a poem about him, and Kenneth Rexroth mentions him “hopping into the surf on his one leg” in his moving poem Thou Shalt Not Kill. Orrick Johns, like so many from this era, was a suicide.
Here’s what Bodenheim wrote about him in To Orrick Johns:
O tangled and half-strangled child, you shrink
For ever from yourself, and wear a pose
Of nimble and impenetrable pride.
Yet sometimes, wavering on the sudden brink
Of jaded bitterness, you drop your clothes
And weave a prayer into your naked stride.
And here is Orrick Johns’ poem Olives, a cut and paste from the journal Others.