Posts Tagged ‘poets of Greenwich Village’

A Village poet and the hospital she’s named for

July 17, 2014

Ednastvincentmillay1Edna St. Vincent Millay is an emblem of 1920s Greenwich Village.

Bohemian, free-love advocate, and a writer of passionate, sometimes cynical lyrical poetry, Millay lived in various places in the Village beginning in 1917, most famously at 75 1/2 Bedford Street.

Considering how connected she is to the Village, it’s still surprising to learn that Millay, born and raised in Maine, was actually named after another Greenwich Village icon: St. Vincent’s Hospital.

Giving her the middle name St. Vincent was a way to honor the hospital that saved her uncle’s life just before Millay was born in 1892.

EdnastvincentmillayarchWorking as a stevedore on a ship, he became trapped below deck for days without food or water.

When he was found, he was brought to St. Vincent’s and nursed back to health.

Shortly after Millay was born, her aunt wrote this in a letter to her uncle, “the Vincent is for St. Vincent’s Hospital, the one that cared so well for our darling brother,”  according to Nancy Milford’s wonderful biography of Millay, Savage Beauty.

Millay referenced the city around her in her poems: riding the Staten Island ferry, the “fruit-carts and clam-carts” of MacDougal Street. She died in her upstate home in 1950.

Stvincents1931byroncompany

Founded in 1849 and closed abruptly in 2010, St. Vincent’s (above, in 1931) was bulldozed out of its longtime location at Seventh Avenue and 11th Street over the past year.

The 1940s “poetry mender” of Greenwich Village

December 14, 2013

Artistspoetsgreenwichvillage19352Curious characters have always lead anonymous lives in New York. One of them was a Village man who dubbed himself the Poetry Mender.

Everything known about him comes from a small, touching article from 1948 in the New York Herald Tribune:

“The sign outside the door at 25 West Third Street, Greenwich Village, said ‘ring bell loudly or knock hard and wait.’ But no one tugged at the bellpull—a piece of baling wire with clothespin attached—or knocked on the faded green door last night.

“For the Saturday night soirees of Anton Romatka were over forever.”

Washsquaresouthsullivan19222Romatka, you see, had scratched out a meager living writing poetry, which he and other “versifiers” would tack “on the fences around Washington Square.”

The old man’s apartment “was the kind of place which non-Villagers think of when they speak of garrets of poets and artists in that romanticized section of lower Manhattan.”

Manuscripts cluttered the room; boxes of food hung from string attached to the ceiling to keep them from mice.

Westhirdstreet19352Romatka, a Bohemian in both senses of the word (he was born in Bohemia) also hosted Saturday night sessions, were poets sat around on chairs and soap boxes to read their work aloud and hear his criticism.

“He charged a few cents to criticize or edit poems; he wrote verses to order, from five to 15 cents a line.”

One Saturday night, his students got no answer when they pulled the wire. “They called police, who broke into the two-room cold-water flat on the third floor. There they found the 70-some-years poet dead of natural causes.”

Max Bodenheim Relaxing on a MattressAfter his death, his students—among them Max Bodenheim (at right, in the 1950s)—paid tribute to Romatka at the chapel at Bellevue Hospital and then by his grave in New Jersey.

“The people who were close to him in Greenwich Village said that Mr. Romatka, who never married, was widely known for his generosity and kindness—especially his chivalry toward women.

Washsquarepoetry2“It was for the latter quality, they said, that poets placed a picture of Our Lady of Fatima on his breast, beside the poems and a group of red roses, before his coffin was sealed on Tuesday.”

The four photos (from the NYPL) are of Romatka’s Village, Washington Square South and the vicinity in the 1920s and 1930s.

He was known to pace up and down the sidewalk, “his frayed brown hat pulled down over his brow, offering advice to fellow poets—or a piece of the apple pie some one had paid him for a verse.”