The Raven Poetry Circle

from an April 2014 post at the New York Historical Society:

In honor of National Poetry Month, I felt inspired to celebrate one of the more obscure literary contributions of the early twentieth century, true pioneers of the D.I.Y. movement. Formed in 1932 by retired New York Telephone Company employee, Francis Lambert McCrudden, the Raven Poetry Circle was unveiled at an outdoor event near Washington Square Park in May of 1933. Members of this unique collection of writers were known as “Ravens” and included bohemians, published poets, students, city employees, various characters from the neighborhood and even a feline mascot named Phyllis. Mcrudden held monthly poetry readings in his storefront apartment and devised a plan to sell poetry in an open market atmosphere. The New York Times referred to it as “the world’s first sidewalk poetry mart”.

The Ravens, whose namesake and symbol stem from the classic poem by Edgar Allan Poe, held annual exhibitions in which participants tacked original copies of their poetry to a tall green wall on Thompson Street, next to a tennis court. Attendees were encouraged to purchase the poetry that hung like artwork on display for all to enjoy. Prices ranged from a nickel for the work of a lesser-known writer up to several dollars for a piece penned by one of the more popular Ravens. At a time when New York City streets were crawling with pushcarts filled with apples and knishes, the Ravens were pure peddlers of poetry. Initially published monthly, then quarterly, The Raven Anthology journal was produced from December 1933 to October 1940.

raven0021

Everyone, including writers, felt the financial and emotional effects of the Great Depression. By 1935, royalty rates had dropped by 50%, newspaper closings had climbed to 48% and best sellers were few and far between. The Ravens were operating in a devastated economy and living in a fractured city. Charter member of the group, Anca Vrbovska, said McCrudden “kept the flag of poetry flying in our community”. He was a quiet, hard-working, scholarly man who valued a writer’s sincere expression of sentiments. Mcrudden could not tolerate “mere rhymers, wise- cracking doggereleers and other nuts” and such individuals were not welcome into the Ravens.

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