Charles Henri Ford (1908-2002)

Poem Posters (1966)
Johnny Minotaur (1971

Charles Henri Ford’s emergence onto the modernist literary scene began in 1929 when Ford started publishing the little magazine, Blues: A Magazine of New Rhythms (1929-30). Ford gained more prominence in modernist publishing when he moved to New York and began to engage with modernist poets such as Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams. He subsequently moved to Paris, where he met Gertrude Stein and had an affair with Djuna Barnes. Upon his return to New York with his partner/lover Pavel Tchelitchew, he founded the Surrealist magazine View in 1940. Due to the confluence of his own Surrealist poetry and View (1940-1947), Ford became the leading American Surrealist voice in New York’s literary and art communities. Edward B. Germain claims that Ford was “America’s surrealist poet” and that he “creates the wonder, the wit, and the erotic beauty that have made surrealism the most significant of all modern influences upon poetry” (qtd. in Howard 9).

While Ford’s literary work has received far less critical attention than that of his modernist peers and collaborators, one of Ford’s most important contributions to the field of modernism was the novel that he co-wrote with Parker Tyler, The Young and the Evil (Obelisk Press 1933). Modernist scholars acknowledge this as the “first proto-queer text in American letters” (See 1073). According to Sam See, The Young and the Evil “disrupts critical narratives that relegate queerness to a ‘niche’ realm of scholarly and literary interests and those that […] appear to align the mythic with the heteronormative” (1075). In addition, Ford published sixteen collections of Surrealist-influenced poetry, beginning with A Pamphlet of Sonnets (1936) and The Garden of Disorder (1938).

Ford occupies an interesting bridge between modern and postmodern artistic movements as an important modernist poet and publisher, who simultaneously influenced so much of the art of the 1950s and 60s in New York. Ford began making collages and chainpoems in the 1940s and in 1966 published Spare Parts, a collection of “poem posters.” He exhibited his paintings, photos, and drawings in the mid-1950s and began making films in the late 1960s. Ford exposed a young Andy Warhol to New York’s underground film scene, and accompanied and advised Warhol on the purchase of his first camera (Howard, “Between” 146).