the pugilist poet

Arthur Cravan (born Fabian Avenarius Lloyd on May 22, 1887) was known as a pugilist, a poet and a larger-than-life character.

image found here

“Cravan was born and educated in Lausanne, Switzerland, then at an English military academy from which he was expelled after spanking a teacher

image found here

He set out to promote himself as an eccentric and an art critic, though his interest was showing off a striking personal style rather than discussing art. To a degree, Cravan was a charlatan as well as a genius. He staged spectacles and stunts with himself at the centre, pulling down his pants in public and once acting on the front of a line of carts where he paraded his skills as a boxer and singer.

After the First World War began, Cravan left Paris to avoid being drafted into military service. On a stopover in the Canary Islands a boxing match was arranged between Cravan and the reigning world champion, Jack Johnson, to raise money for Cravan’s passage to the United States. Posters for the match touted him as “European champion.” Johnson, who didn’t know who he was, knocked Cravan out solidly, noting in his autobiography that Cravan must have been out of training.

Jack Johnson found here

His style involved continuous re-invention of his public persona, and outrageous statements and boasts. As the nephew of Oscar Wilde (his father’s sister, Constance Mary Lloyd, was married to Wilde) he even produced hoaxes—documents and poems—and then signed them “Oscar Wilde”. In 1913 he published an article claiming that his uncle was still alive and had visited him in Paris. The New York Times published the rumor, even though Cravan and Wilde never met.

On the page and in person, Cravan paraded himself as “the poet with the shortest haircut in the world.”  Penniless most of the time, he drank in dive sports bars in the Bronx and slept rough in Central Park. Marcel Duchamp invited Cravan to a conference at Grand Central Palace. His lecture caused a sensation: drunk and undressing, he cussed out an audience who called the cops, shocking the Greenwich Village avant-garde.

Marcel Duchamp found here

It was in New York that he fell in love with the poet Mina Loy. They moved to Mexico together and married in 1918. The couple planned a trip to Argentina but did not have enough money for both of them to book passage on the same vessel. Loy took the trip on a regular ship and Cravan set out alone on a sailboat. He never arrived in Argentina and it is presumed that he died, aged 31, in a storm at sea. Mina gave birth to their daughter, Fabienne, in April. She spent a year searching for him, and decades fantasizing his return. Although theories abound, the mystery of his disappearance has never been solved. 

Mina Loy found here

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47 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. What kind of woman even with just 2 brain cells would get hooked up with creatures like this guy.

    • Well, romantic love is a kind of madness. And who knows, perhaps his lover could see things in him that others couldn’t.

      • Women love bad boys. It’s the oldest story in the book. Nice guys can’t catch a break.

      • Fascinating post, as always. I think they shared many things in common. She created art out of words and material. He created many things, but his medium was himself. He fabricated a series of personae to express his need of self worth. He may have succumbed to his own creation. He believed himself to be more than he was, taking on the form/role without the true skill/content.

  2. “which he was expelled after spanking a teacher. ” consensual or not? haha

  3. Nurse Myra, what a treasure you are! I love this blog, and your curiosity and interest in humanity. Thank you!

    • Thank you sunbad, do you have a blog also?

  4. Well at least he had enough guts to go in the ring with JJ.

  5. The first bit reminded me of my eldest (yes, even the dropping of pants in public).
    The last part? How sad to have finally found love (and himself?) and then to (possibly?) die – never to have known his daughter.
    Mina Loy was beautiful.

    • Yes, she had an amazing face

  6. Oh how sad, disappearing at sea, and she never knew what became of him.

    • Very sad

      • I love sad stories, don’t know why. Poignant stories, I guess, not just sad. Life can be so unfair sometimes. But then, it’s just life reminding us that it’s not supposed to be.

  7. Not much shocks the Greenwich Village avant-garde these days.

    • You ought to do something about that!

  8. promoting yourself as an eccentric? shouldn’t it be obvious?

    • haha…. yes indeed

  9. Craven sounds like a lot of fun but Jack Johnson is a fascinating story and worth looking into.

    Can you imagine shocking the Greenwich Village avant-garde?! Now, THAT’S an accomplishment.

  10. A fist-fighter who spanks? Odd.

    • Maybe more common that you think Tammy

  11. All through I kept reading his name as Caravan, which would have been fine if he’d managed to get hitched at the end instead of lost…

  12. He sounds as if he would have taken to the internet like a duck to water …

    • Or a gingernut to a cup of tea

  13. If being drunk, undressing and cursing shocked the Greenwich Village avant-garde, they must have had extremely sheltered lives. I wonder what it would take to shock the Greenwich Village set nowadays. Someone saying what a fabulous guy Rupert Murdoch is?

  14. Wow I had never heard of him before. Another larger than life character but with Johnson he bit off more than he could chew

  15. What a sophisticated spectacle! Pulling one’s pants down in public! That tickled me. If I pulled my pants down in public people would simply assume I was going to poop on the street…again.

  16. Bonus points for climbing in with a pro…
    or attempting to, anyway…

  17. Aw, so sad that he got lost at sea, and she kept thinking he’d be found. :(

  18. If I’m ever going to get lost at sea, it better be because of a sailboat.

  19. Mina was lovely!

  20. Oh what a redeeming ending to a ridiculous life.

  21. I took boxing training as a teenager, and poetry-writing classes as a young adult–maybe I’m a pugilist poet!

    Seriously, spanking his teacher–that’s hilarious! I’ve never heard of anyone doing that before–he must have had guts!

    • If you follow the link to the wiki entry you’ll see that statement does require a citation……

  22. Thankyou for identifying a whole new source of text books to help me in my day-job of teaching in a Big Girls School.

    • you’re welcome Affer

  23. The Spanking Teacher! Where was she whilst I went to school??

  24. there would have been no pleasure in spanking any of the female teachers at my school – most of them looked like Desperate Dan !

  25. that is just so sad, the last part. if this was made into a movie, i’d be crying my eyes out :(

  26. Mina’s artworks are strangely compelling

    • I particularly like Christ on a Clothesline

  27. Fascinating review in this week’s LRB of a new biography of Constance Wilde.

    It’s paywalled but email me if you’d like to read it.

    • Thanks Looby, most interesting


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