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Subject: Charles Henri Ford, 94, Prolific Poet, Artist and Edito

New York
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Date Posted: October 01, 2002 1:42:00 EDT

Charles Henri Ford, a poet, editor, novelist, artist and legendary cultural catalyst whose career spanned much of 20th-century modernism, died on Friday in Manhattan. He was 94 and lived in Manhattan and had a house in Katmandu.

Mr. Ford, who also had homes in Paris and on Crete for many years, was peripatetic, precocious, charismatic, multitalented and very productive. He said he was inspired by the multimedia career of Jean Cocteau and by Cocteau's description of himself as a poet in everything he does.

Mr. Ford was considered America's first Surrealist poet and, by some, a precursor of the New York School. His first poem appeared in The New Yorker while he was still a teenager; he eventually published 16 books of poetry. But he was also a co-writer, with his lifelong friend the writer and film critic Parker Tyler, of "The Young and Evil" (Paris, 1933), which many consider to be the first gay novel. The book, based on the author's adventures in Greenwich Village bohemia, was banned in the United States until the 1960's.

His most recent book is "Water From a Bucket; A Diary, 1948-1957" (Turtle Point Press, 2001), with an introduction by the writer Lynne Tillman. Mr. Ford also made paintings, drawing, collages and especially photographs, which he starting taking in the 1930's and first exhibited in Paris in 1954, as well as a single film, "Johnny Minotaur," whose premiere was in 1973. His photographs were shown most recently at the Leslie Tonkonow Gallery in Chelsea in 1997. In 1999 the Ubu Gallery in Manhattan organized a revelatory exhibition of his so-called Prose Poems from the mid-1960's — large, colorful word-strewn collages that combined elements of Concrete poetry and Pop Art and presaged image-text artists like Barbara Kruger.

But Mr. Ford was perhaps best known as the editor of two influential magazines. One was the little magazine Blues: A Magazine of New Rhythms, which he founded in 1929 while still living in Columbus, Miss., under his parents' roof. Its eight issues published the work of William Carlos Williams, Gertrude Stein, Edward Roditi and, for the first time, Paul Bowles and Erskine Caldwell. The other was View, the premier art and literature magazine of the 1940's, whose Surrealist and figurative focus made it the natural counterweight to the Abstract Expressionists being championed by Clement Greenberg in The Partisan Review and The Nation.

The simplest summation of Mr. Ford's life and work may be that he did exactly what he wanted, and seemingly knew everyone. "Out of the Labyrinth," a 1991 collection of his poems, is dedicated to 22 mostly familiar names. His friendships reached from Natalie Barney and Man Ray to Robert Mapplethorpe and Patti Smith. They included Djuna Barnes, whose novel, "Nightwood," he typed while they were staying with Bowles in Tangiers in 1932; and Andy Warhol, whom he introduced to underground film. In addition, there was the Russian émigré artist Pavel Tchelitchew, who was Mr. Ford's companion from 1933 until Tchelitchew's death in 1957.

Mr. Ford's preferred birth dates varied between 1909 and 1913. In fact, he was born Charles Henry Ford in 1908, in the Hazlehurst Hotel in Hazlehurst, Miss. (He later changed the spelling of his middle name because he disliked being asked if he was related to the automobile magnate.) His family owned hotels in Columbus, Miss., Fulton, Ky., Nacogdoches, Tex., and Memphis, and he spent much of his childhood moving among them with his parents and his younger sister, the actress Ruth Ford, who is his only survivor.

A Baptist, he was educated primarily in Catholic boarding schools, claiming to have been expelled from most of them. His editorial activities began in grammar school, where he produced a typewritten broadside called The Brass Monkey.

Stanley Braithwaite's anthology of magazine verse and Erza Pound's little magazine The Exile inspired him to start Blues, which led to correspondences with Pound, Stein, William Faulkner and Tyler, whom he joined in New York in 1930. There he met Barnes, whom he followed to Paris in 1931, where he met Tchelitchew in 1932.

Returning to the United States in 1939, Mr. Ford and Tchelitchew became part of a circle that included Virgil Thompson, George Balanchine, Paul Cadmus, George Platt Lynes, Monroe Wheeler and Lincoln Kirstein. In 1940, Mr. Ford teamed with Tyler again to start View, which became known for its visual éclat, eclectic mix of writers and emphasis on Surrealism and Neo-Romanticism, especially Tchelitchew's. Taking full advantage of the European Surrealists sitting out World War II in New York, View had stunning covers designed by Max Ernst, André Masson, Man Ray and Yves Tanguy, as well as Georgia O'Keeffe, Isamu Noguchi and Alexander Calder. It published the first English translations of Albert Camus and Jean Genet and the first monograph devoted to Marcel Duchamp.

During the final decades of Mr. Ford's life, his companion and chief collaborator was Indra Tamang, an artist whom he met in Katmandu in 1972. During the last decade, he wrote haiku and made collages every day. An exhibition titled "Alive and Kicking: the Collages of Charles Henri Ford" will open late next month at the Scene Gallery on Rivington Street on the Lower East Side; its organizers have no plans to change the title. Among his unpublished works are two early novels, several journals and a memoir of his youth titled "I Will Become What I Am," a phrase that reflects his early determination to be famous.

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