For Charles-Henri Ford Another I Did Not Know
Atop a cardboard knife
Dissolve into haiku’s
Roses of ashes
in the Blue
Written at Provenzano Funeral Home October 11, 2002
Its funny how memory works. Selective memory. What one chooses to remember. Forget. Like when I put my signed hardcover anthology of View magazine published in 1991 by Thunders Mouth press. Or my copy of the 1991 City Lights book of selected poems Out of the Labyrinth that I bought from a homeless guy on the street, already signed and bearing the inscription, "A pleasure to be with Martin Baldwin & truly a leap year." Ah, but there’s that 1988 seahorse reissue of the ’33 breakthrough gay novel The Young and Evil by Ford and Parker Tyler, replete with original paintings by Tchelitchew, staring right at me. I bought that one in Housing Works for a couple of bucks and then later got my wife to get Charles-Henry Ford to inscribe it. There were tons of copies available at the time. I should have bought more.
It’s funny what choices memory itself makes without our consent or knowledge. How one remembers first encounters. Adds to. Omits. Fabricates. It’s ironic how, sometimes, one remembers things that never existed.
That’s my memory of Ford. He was a phantom in my life like others that were near but whom I never got close to. Right here in my town. A ghost of the avant-garde. A revolutionary, as I put it recently, who succeeded in the revolution. In this case the stormy post–World War 1 revolution known as Surrealism. He knew them all. Breton, Stein. Tanguy. Duchamp. He brought them back to America, if not literally then figuratively, where in 1940 he and Tyler teamed up once again to start the aforementioned now legendary magazine of the arts, View. And here’s where my journey into memory begins.
I first became aware of Ford through his work as editor-publisher, in the mid-’70s, when a book dealer acquaintance of mine, who realized my uneducated passion for surrealism, took me to his loft to show me an almost complete set of the magazine. There on its covers and in its pages I discovered so many of my childhood heroes, including one of Surrealism’s lesser known enigmas. Pavel Tchelitchew, whose painting Hide and Seek has both haunted and influenced me ever since my first encounter with it in my early teens at MoMA. Now nearly of a quarter century later, I still seek it out and vise-versa. I did not find out until a few years after these precious zines that Tchelichew and Ford were long time companions. (from 1932 up until Tchelichew’s death in 1957).
My next encounters with Ford came through contact with beat/surreal poet, Ted Joans. He constantly mentioned Ford to me. His connection to the Surrealists. His life with P. T. His voyages abroad. And his living quarters in the famous Dakota, where he resided from 1959 until his death in 2002. Joans, when visiting NY, always made trips to Harlem to pick up Sweet Potato Pie and on his way back downtown he would stop in to see Ford. Well, for some reason Joans’ could always take that book dealer to visit Ford, but never me. He always told me "You can’t come. You’ll just be crude and ill mannered." This infuriated me, but what could I do. But alas, I finally did get to meet Ford in the flesh in 1984. Or, so I think. It was at the opening of his show at the now defunct Barbara Braathan gallery. It was a show of his Haiku in collaborations with his companion, the artist/photographer, Indra Tamang, whom he met in Katmandu in 1972 and whom he remained with until his death, and the Napalses artist, Reepak Shakya. I remember the encounter like this after climbing up two-what-seemed endless flights I entered the space.
Ford’s work, though in the "traditional" 575 haiku form, was nice but not really haiku in the true sense. Even so they inspired me to write haiku based on his "haiku". A Japanese form known as mojiri. A polite way of "stealing" by more or less paying homage to the original work. To tell the truth I don’t know if I ever actually got to meet Ford, or even find out what he looked like, though my wife confirms that we did.
Within a year of that "encounter" I received a catalogue from a Boston book dealer. In it was a listing for the rare 1945 Ford edited book on Vanguard Press, A Night with Jupiter and Other Fantastic Stories, containing the likes of such giants as Chirico, Henry Miller, and Paul Bowles, for only $20. I ordered it and two weeks later it arrived in the mail. As the years passed Ford would pop up every now and then at readings and shows. I finally grew familiar with him and would always politely say hello, introduce friends to him, or get him to sign a book as he did the last time I saw him at his opening at Ubu Gallery a couple of years ago. This was primarily a show of posters, visual poems and of course, under glass, copies of View. In fact, what I got him to sign was that View anthology, the precise title of which is View: Parade of the Avant-Garde 1940-1947 and edited by Ford, that I still can’t find. I’d always use Ted Joans as a reference and that made him smile.
My last encounters with his work was the brilliant collage show (most done in his now trademarked index card size) at the Scene Gallery on Rivington St., October–December 2002, and the latest show at the Mitchell Algus Gallery curated by the artists Jack Pierson, January-February 2003. I went to the former on a blizzard-like day with my wife and it truly knocked us out. So much so that we went back twice. Ironically, the show was called "Alive and Kicking." It was due to open in October 2002 with the thought of Ford still being with us. He died, however in September, but at his wake at the Provenzano Funeral Home, a representative from the gallery gave out invitations to the show saying that he would leave the title as it is. The Algus show, filled with drawings, collage and photos of and by Ford, was historically more interesting , but overall dulled in contrast with the artistic rewards yielded from Scene Gallery.