Son of a successful candyman, child of divorce, Hart Crane dropped out of his Ohio high school in 1917 and escaped to New York. For seven years he moved back and forth between the city and Cleveland, writing poems published in literary journals and working in his father's factory. Tortured by his love of men far more than was Whitman decades before him, Crane did have one joyous affair with a Danish merchant mariner named Emil Opffer who inspired his epic, erotically charged verse, Voyages. That poem was one of the highlights of his first book, White Buildings (1926), celebrated for the zest and fire of his lyrics and criticized, as was all his poetry, for its impenetrable confusion. Quoted in this New Yorker essay about Crane, he said he was “more interested in the so-called illogical impingements of the connotations of words on the consciousness . . . than I am interested in the preservation of their logically rigid significations.”
While Crane struggled to write his monumental work, The Bridge (1930), he suffered miserable affairs and worsening alcoholism. Although initial critical reception was weak, he won a Guggenheim fellowship to Mexico the following year. Returning from that sojourn aboard the SS Orizaba in April 1932, he hit on a working shipmate and was beaten up. Crane said, "Goodbye, everybody!" and jumped overboard to his death. One of many later writers who revered his work, Tennessee Williams left instructions that his body be buried at sea in the Gulf of Mexico where Crane drowned. (Instead, Williams' family buried him in Missouri.) Crane's legacy influenced gay painters as well, inspiring art by Marsden Hartley, Eight Bells Folly, and by Jasper Johns twice: Diver and Periscope. Get his Complete Poems or the Library of America edition with selected letters.