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.

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

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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