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Harry Crosby 1919 portrait

There is no other poet in our history quite like Harry Crosby. He is above all else a poet of one unforgiving obsession: the image of the sun and every variation he can ring on it in poems of ecstatic incantation. Poems like "Pharmacie Du Soleil" should be read aloud, preferably by a score of people speaking either in unison or in counterpoint. Born Henry Sturgis Crosby into an upper class Boston family, his education at privileged Boston schools gives little anticipation of the iconoclastic Paris expatriate of the 1920s. But World War I changed him. He enlisted in the Ambulance Corps, went through the slaughter at Verdun, watched his own ambulance blown to bits while he was barely thirty feet away, and commemorated the moment as his "death day" every year thereafter. He won the Croix de Guerre medal at the end, but returned home radically alienated. At Harvard, he fell in love in 1920 with Mary Phelps Jacob Peabody, a married woman who later changed her name to Caresse. Hoping to end the relationship, Crosby's mother arranged a job for him at uncle J.P. Morgan's Paris bank, but Caresse followed him and they were married on a return visit to New York in 1922. Back in France, their wild parties, gambling, drinking, opium experiments, and blatantly open marriage gained them considerable notoriety among the expatriate community. Increasingly committed to writing poetry, Crosby and Caresse also cofounded Black Sun Press. They would publish Pound, Lawrence, Joyce, Crane, and such books as Crosby's own Chariot of the Sun. In Crosby's poetry, he sought to transform the modern wasteland by the power of unconscious revelation, exploiting surrealism, incantation, declamation, and automatic writing. But he also began to craft his own ultimate nihilist performance. On a trip to New York, still married to Caresse, he successfully staged a joint murder and suicide with his willing mistress Josephine Rotch, the Mad Queen of his poetic mythology. He shot her first and then took his own life.