- Selected Poems (1946)
- Lights in the Valley (1942)
- Bringing Jazz! (1930)
- The King of Spain (1928)
- Returning to Emotion (1927)
- Against This Age (1923)
- The Sardonic Arm (1923)
- Introducing Irony (1922)
- Advice (1920)
- Minna and Myself (poetry), 1918
- My Life and Loves in Greenwich Village (1954)
- Slow Vision (1933)
- New York Madness (1933)
- Run, Sheep, Run (1932)
- Duke Herring (1931)
- A Virtuous Girl (1930)
- Naked on Roller Skates (1930)
- Sixty Seconds (1929)
- Georgia May (1928)
- Ninth Avenue (1926)
- Replenishing Jessica (1925)
- Crazy Man (1924)
- Blackguard (1923)
- Cutie A Warm Mamma (Hecht Ben, and Maxwell Bodenheim)
by Emily Schuster (SHS)
Although today he is seldom remembered Maxwell Bodenheim, born on May 26, 1892, in Hermanville, Mississippi, was once one of America’s leading authors (Lloyd 42). Originally born Maxwell Bodenheimer, he shortened his last name to Bodenheim and was known as “Max,” or “Bogie” to friends (Bisbort 3). Bodenheim’s father was a clothing store clerk and a traveling whiskey salesman whose job changes and business failures led to much financial struggle for his family (DiMauro 54). Despite the fact that Bodenheim did not have financial stability as a child or as an adult he became “a prolific poet, novelist, provocateur and performer, as well as an inveterate womanizer” (Bisbort 3).
Bodenheim and his family moved from Mississippi to Chicago, Illinois, in 1900. It was then that he began writing poetry as an act of defiance against his parents because he rejected the middle-class values his parents possessed. At sixteen, Bodenheim was expelled from high school for an “undisclosed infraction” (DiMauro 54). After leaving high school, he joined the United States Army in 1910. He went AWOL in 1913 and admitted bashing an Anti-Semitic officer on the head with a musket. Bodenheim was sentenced to jail; and when he was released, he moved back in with his parents (Bisbort 3). He did not stay at home much but bummed around the South harvesting cotton and rice, managing to get himself arrested for the second time for vagrancy. After working a variety of unskilled jobs in Chicago, Bodenheim decided to contribute works to Poetry magazine and soon earned the reputation of being a gifted writer. At the age of twenty-two, he officially decided that he wanted to make writing his career (Lloyd 42). Bodenheim moved to New York in 1915, where he became the editor of a literary magazine Others and formed friendships with several famous writers such as William Carlos Williams and Conrad Aiken (DiMauro 54).
Bodenheim’s first wife was Minna Schien. The two were married in 1918, and together they had a son in 1920. Bodenheim began to travel back and forth to Provincetown in order to write short scripts with the playwright Eugene O’Neil. He also traveled on several occasions to McDowell Artists’ Colony, where he discussed poetry with the well-known poet Edward Arlington Robinson. Later on, Bodenheim got involved in a bizarre firm with a man by the name of Ben Hecht. Together, they produced the Chicago Literary Times, earning a weekly pay of thirty dollars each. The partnership didn’t work out because the two began disagreed about nearly everything. They went their separate ways, and the “new journalist” idea of Bodenheim’s failed. However, he tried again by writing briefly for the WPA but was fired for suspected communist affiliations (Lloyd 43).
In 1925, Bodenheim released his third novel, Replenishing Jessica. The novel was based on the journey of a young woman’s sexual liberation, and it highly shocked polite society. However, it reached the bestseller list. Because of this novel, Bodenheim was accused of being a pornographer, but the book remained popular because of its obscenity. Once the accusations and scandals faded, Stanley Kunitz, who later became Poet Laureate of the United States, defended the novel, saying “Bodenheim is not a pornographer; he is deadly earnest, and there is an evangelistic tone to all his novels, in spite of their wild humor. The keynote of all his work is hatred, hatred for meanness and dirt and cruelty, and sometimes, it seems, hatred for humanity itself” (Bisbort 6-7).
During his marriage to Minna, Bodenheim perfected a pattern of his own. He possessed an odd allure that attracted many women on whom he could rely for housing, clothing, food, and even sex. However, he was still legally married. Emily Haun. The author of an “informal history of bohemianism in America,” states that in 1967 there were many reporters “still living who can look back to Bogie’s banner year, 1928, when it seemed for a while as if no week could pass without some distracted female trying to kill herself for the life of him” (Bisbort 5). In 1938, Bodenheim divorced Minna, the woman who inspired many of the poems in his 1918 book of poems entitled Minna and Myself. He was offered money to write his autobiography, but My Life and Loves in Greenwich Village, was actually ghost-written (DiMauro 54).
Before Bodenheim’s marriage to his second wife, Grace Finan, in 1939, he had become a village beggar (Lloyd 43). It was discovered that he wore a hand-written sign that read “I AM BLIND” in order to make money. While Bodenheim was married to Grace, she developed cancer, but before her illness, he spent part of his marriage with her in the Catskills Mountains. In 1942 she remarked, “It’s fun to watch him in the country. He enjoys every leaf and twig. We plan to make our permanent home in Catskill, one of these days. He likes to roam the hills and raid the orchards” (Bisbort 2,7). He devoted himself to her throughout her illness and remained by her side until her death in 1950. Bodenheim then became an alcoholic and a lowly respected neighborhood “character” (Lloyd 43).
Bodenheim’s marriage to his third wife, Ruth Fagan, was the beginning of his decline. Emily Haun describes Bodenheim at this point in his life as “A grotesque figure who had long since lost his good looks, with cheeks fallen above toothless gums, unshaven face and unspeakable clothes, he yet, at the age of sixty, found a woman to marry him.” Fagan and Bodenheim were married in 1952; but shortly afterward Maxwell Bodenheim was arrested for sleeping in an empty subway train. Ruth was said to be an honor graduate of the University of Michigan, pursuing a job in the field of journalism. Though she was considered attractive, she was mentally unstable. Leo Connellan, a famous writer in Connecticut described Ruth, “The original conception of the liberated woman was of a Long Island housewife who came into the city to screw fifteen guys between Friday and Sunday and then went back to the clothesline on Monday morning to be a mom. That was freedom. Ruth came to the Village in that wave and met Max” (Bisbort 7-9). The couple traveled to Chicago for a reunion of an old Renaissance group. From there on, Bodenheim deteriorated, and the two lived homeless on park benches (Lloyd 43). Haun once more remarks, “After their marriage, Bodenheim and Ruth lived in the manner in which he had become accustomed, cadging money or drinks. Occasionally, Ruth picked up men to sleep with, or Bogie found them for her. The two stuck together. They fought each other, cursed each other, but helped each other too, sharing whatever dingy shelter they could find at night” (Bisbort 9).
The death of Maxwell Bodenheim and his wife came on the night of February 6, 1954. A man named Harold Weinberg, who sometimes went by “Charlie,” decided to pursue his attraction to Bodenheim’s wife. The twenty-five year old man had been befriended by the couple, and one night became sexually active with Ruth Fagan. Maxwell and Harold began to fight, and Harold shot Maxwell twice in the chest. Ruth was also killed after being stabbed four times in the back. Harold was sent to a mental institution for two counts of murder and was later labeled as mentally retarded and even possibly schizophrenic. The man who was once the king of the Greenwich Village bohemians died at age sixty-two (Bisbort 1, 2).
Most of Bodenheim’s works of fiction center around the theme of rebellion against authority. He reportedly uses an unusual amount of imagery in his writing, which critics view as highly individualistic. The protagonists in Bodenheim’s works are often confident youths who reject parental authority, a central theme of Bodenheim’s work. His female protagonists reject society and express this rejection through sexual rebellion. Indeed, Bodenheim sympathizes with women and depicts them as victims of an oppressive and intolerant society. Georgie May, one of his more popular novels, is an example of this theme. The novel tells of a prostitute living in Memphis during the early 1900s. Georgie May despises her trashy lifestyle that often results in violence, and she finally commits suicide. Bodenheim purposely has this act symbolize her only option for self-determination. Another theme of Bodenheim’s stems from the Depression and the economic failures that resulted from it. He wrote about financial failure in some of his later works (DiMauro 55).
In the end, Bodenheim established his reputation in literature as a poet; and throughout his career he was recognized more as a poet than a novelist (DiMauro 54). Looking back, his name appeared in many magazines such as the Nation, the Dial, Bookman, Harper’s, the Yale Review, and more (Lloyd 44). At the time of his death, Bodenheim had written ten books of verse and thirteen novels.. Jack B. Moore, the only writer who ever attempted to write a biography of Bodenheim, wrote: “I believe it true of Bodenheim’s life and art that rarely has an American writer of any historic significance committed more obvious and sometimes disastrous mistakes: but it is also true that rarely have the virtues and accomplishments of such a writer been so clearly misrepresented and so quickly forgotten” (Bisbort 2-10).
- 1892– born in Hermanville, Mississippi
- 1900s – moved to Chicago with family
- 1914 – began to publish his earliest verse in such works as Poetry magazine.
- 1914-1924 – established a reputation for being one of America’s leading authors.
- 1918 – married Minna Schein
- 1918 – published Minna and Myself
- 1920 fathered a son
- 1920 – published Advice
- 1922 – published Introducing Irony
- 1923 – published Against This Age
- 1923 – published Blackguard and The Sardonic Arm
- 1924 – published Crazy Man
- 1925 – published Replenishing Jessica
- 1926 – published Ninth Avenue
- 1927 – published Returning to Emotion
- 1928 – published Georgie May and The King of Spain
- 1929 – published Sixty Seconds
- 1930 – published Bringing Jazz!, Naked on Roller Skates, and A Virtuous Girl
- 1931 – published Duke Herring
- 1932 – published Run, Sheep, Run
- 1933 – published New York Madness and Slow Vision
- 1938 – divorced Minna Schein
- 1939 – married Grace Finan
- 1942 – published Lights in the Valley
- 1946 – published Selected Poems
- 1950 – wife Grace Finan died of cancer
- 1952 – married Ruth Fagan
- 1953 – Bodenheim deteriorated
- 1954 – Maxwell and his wife Ruth were murdered
A Review of “Poet to His Love”
by Emily Schuster (SHS)
“Poet to His Love” is a poem written by Maxwell Bodenheim to the one he loves. The poem is short, simple, and to the point as Bodenheim reveals the words of his heart to one special lady. “Poet to His Love” is about a man whose love for a woman is represented by a church in the middle of the forest. The objects surrounding the church and in the church symbolize other parts of his feelings for her. For example, one line of the poem reads, “The trees around it [the church] are words that I have stolen from your heart.” Bodenheim also speaks of an old, silver bell that hangs in the church that only rings for the presence of his particular woman. He then goes on to say that the bell has no need in ringing once her presence is found because her voice can take the place of its sound.
A beautiful picture of giant trees, an aged church, and a rusted silver bell instantly come to mind as the poem is read. Each characteristic that Bodenheim distinctively took from his love builds the foundation for his poem. There is no particular setting or time period, therefore the poem can apply at any time, any place, to anyone. The style in which Bodenheim composed the poem is loving and gentle. There are no particular characters or thoughts other than his own, yet many people could easily relate to the love he feels. In just ten lines, Bodenheim expresses the way many people feel.
I liked “Poet to His Love” very much. The continuous symbolism seemed to be very well thought out, and no race or religion is left out because of the simplicity of the poem. There is nothing that could be added or deleted from the poem to make the meaning clearer or better. Also, the poem wasn’t at all confusing or hard to understand. No offensive words or phrases are included in “Poet to His Love,” and I strongly believe that any lover of poetry would enjoy this poem.
A Review of “Negro Criminal”
by Emily Schuster (SHS)
“Negro Criminal” is another poem written by Maxwell Bodenheim. The poem takes your imagination through the journey of an African-American man who is sentenced to jail. Bodenheim clearly creates the horror and pain of the jail through his words and perfects the use of bringing realistic pictures to the reader’s mind.
The jailed man in “Negro Criminal” is yelling and makes the pain that he has clearly felt for years be expressed through his voice. He gets thrown into a blazing jail cell and is instantly exposed to seeing undressed men. Silence comes about the entire building as the man gets hurled into the cell, left for rape. Bodenheim tells of the cruel men playing with the lives of those in jail and the smiles on their faces as they ruin so many futures.
The style in which the poem is written is a depressing one that sets the scene for sadness. Bodenheim leaves you with feelings of guilt, sorrow, and the desire to help.“Negro Criminal” is almost grotesque but necessary for the reader to fully understand what the poet is trying to portray. The poem makes you almost wish as if you could experience it just to make everything better for the mournful man with no chance for a better life.
I really liked the poem much more than I expected to. Much of the poetry written by Bodenheim is difficult to read and somewhat hard to understand. In this poem he writes in the shoes of a man in jail dealing with a black man getting treated badly. I liked the fact that everything is realistic and perfectly worded. The poem doesn’t lose you in the midst of all the details. Nothing about “Negro Criminal” is boring, nor does it even slightly begin to ramble at any point. The beginning of the poem introduces you to jail, ending with the uselessness felt by the narrator.
- A Poet to his Love by Bodenheim can be read here.
- Another poem To a Revolutionary Girl is part of Marxists’ home page.
- Poetry by Bodenheim appears in Telling and Remembering: A Century of American Jewish Poetry by Steven J. Rubin (Editor). The poems included are Old Age and Poem to Gentiles.
- Biography of Maxwell Bodenheim by Jim Burns
- Gadfly online feature Mad Max: Death of a Bohemian King
- Village Rogue: The poetic life of Maxwell Bodenheim
- Biography in Modernist Journals Project
- Bisbort, Alan. “Madmax, Death of a Bodenheim King.” Gadfly Online. 1-10. 18 March 2002. < http://www.gadfly.org/lastweek/bodenheim2feature.html>.
- DiMauro, Laurie, Ed. “Maxwell Bodenheim.” Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. 44thvol. Detroit: Gale Research International Limited, 1992. 54-55.
- Lloyd, James B. “Bodenheim, Maxwell: 1892-1954.” Lives of Mississippi Authors, 1817-1967. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1981. 42-45.