Verse and its legacy
A year after Adelaide Crapsey's death, a collection of her poetry titled Verse (1915) was published based on a manuscript she had prepared. The volume was divided into two parts. The first part contained three long poems and twenty-eight poems of a form she had invented called the cinquain; the second part, thirty-two other poems. Her work received widespread praise and five subsequent editions of Verse were published throughout the 1920s and 1930s (all by Alfred A. Knopf except the first edition).1
Contemporary poets Carl Sandburg and Lola Ridge2 were moved enough by Crapsey's work that each included poems dedicated to her in collections of their own poetry. Sandburg's poem appears in his 1918 collection Cornhuskers3 for which he won a Pulitzer Prize:
Among the bumble-bees in red-top hay, a freckled field of brown-eyed
Susans dripping yellow leaves in July,
I read your heart in a book.
And your mouth of blue pansy—I know somewhere I have seen it rain-
And I have seen a woman with her head flung between her naked knees,
and her head held there listening to the sea, the great naked sea
shouldering a load of salt.
And the blue pansy mouth sang to the sea:
Mother of God, I'm so little a thing,
Let me sing longer,
Only a little longer.
And the sea shouldered its salt in long gray combers hauling new shapes
on the beach sand.
As evidenced by Sandburg's poem, interest in her work was augmented by the drama of her untimely death. Having been diagnosed with tuberculin meningitis in 1911 and written many of the poems for Verse knowing her life would be pre-empted by this disease, Crapsey cut a tragic figure. She struggled to assemble the manuscript for Verse (which contains many poems still in draft form) as she neared death and clearly intended the collection to be, as Edward Butscher describes, "a sort of last testament and self-memorial."4 This perception is underscored to her readers by the decision to offer the following poem at the conclusion of Verse:
The Immortal Residue
Wouldst thou find my ashes?
In the pages of my book;
And, as these thy hand doth turn,
Know here is my funeral urn.
Unfortunately, as the memory of her tragic death faded into the past so did enthusiasm for her poetry which has been absent from most anthologies of American poetry published since 1950.
In the 1970s, however, thanks to the intersection of a ripe special collection of Adelaide Crapsey papers at the University of Rochester and the emerging women's studies movement, an interest in Crapsey was resurrected. In 1977, The Complete Poems and Collected Letters of Adelaide Crapsey, edited by Susan Sutton Smith, was published and is now the definitive source of Crapsey's work. Other texts followed including Adelaide Crapsey, by Edward Butscher, in 1979; a chapter called "Amy Lowell and Adelaide Crapsey" in American Poetry and Japanese Culture, by Sanehide Kodama, in 1984; and Karen Alkalay Gut's Alone in the Dawn: The Life of Adelaide Crapsey, in 1988.
Some momentum has even carried over into the Internet era where, aided by a kinship with the haiku and tanka, Crapsey's cinquains have managed to attract an increasing number of new readers and poets. Besides the webzine AMAZE which is dedicated exclusively to the cinquain, The World Haiku Review publishes original cinquain poems and occasionally includes an essay on the form. There is also an active Yahoo! Group named CinquainPoets which invites writers of all levels to experiment with cinquain composition.
1The 1922 edition of Verse, by Adelaide Crapsey, is available online through the American Verse Project.
2The poem "Adelaide Crapsey" by Lola Ridge was published in a collection titled Red Flag (1927). Ridge was a student at Smith College at the same time Crapsey was teaching there.
3Cornhuskers (1918), by Carl Sandburg, is available online through the American Verse Project.
4On page 27 of Butscher, Edward. Adelaide Crapsey. Boston: Twayne, 1979.