Tablet magazine

“Hope is the promise of a crucifixion.”


So wrote Benjamin De Casseres–a lost legend of the early/mid-20th–a man about whom I knew nothing until today, when I read the latest piece by the great Joshua Cohen (whose “Bridge & Tunnel (& Tunnel & Bridge)” will be out from The Cupboard Pamphlet later this year). Here’s a little taste of the article. Click-thru anywhere below for smorgasbord.

It is regrettable that for a man who wrote so much, so little is known, and so little is the desire to know. There is hardly any scholarship about De Casseres (he’s mentioned in a handful of doctoral dissertations regarding interwar New York literary society); none of his books are in print; and the manuscript of his thousand-page diary, Fantasia Impromptu, reposes in the basement of the New York Public Library, where I might have been the first person to read through its pages since they were interred there by De Casseres’ widow, Adele “Bio” Terrill, following her husband’s death in 1945.


But De Casseres’ posterity mainly rests on a single poem, Moth-Terror, first collected in the Second Book of Modern Verse in 1919, edited by journalist colleague and correspondent Jessie Rittenhouse. The poem was subsequently recycled into numerous reprints and subanthologies that proliferated in schools, colleges, and book clubs even after World War II (which should tell our writers of today that if they intend their work to live for tomorrow, they should make friends with anthologists)

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August 31st, 2009 / 3:59 pm