Lew Ney’s Circus


Unidentified photographer, Luther Widen with his portable typewriter, 1928.


The First National Poetry Exhibition began in the summer of 1927 under the directorship of Lew Ney (Luther E. Widen, 1886-1963) and his soon to be wife Ruth Willis Thompson. For one dime, anyone from New York to San Antonio to Toledo could submit a poem.

Each Thursday there was a Poets’ Soiree where many of the poems were read and, much like Facebook, people would “like” particular poems by initialing them. Poems were submitted by photographer Aaron Siskind (1903-1991), Charles Henri Ford (1919-2001), Maxwell Bodenheim (1892-1954), and Louis Ginsberg (1885-1976, father of Allen Ginsberg), along with 6,000 others.

Leona M. Kahl, who managed opera singers, came to each Thursday night soiree and read her poems. Lew Ney was so taken with the rhymes that he offered to design, print, and publish a small volume, illustrated with linocuts by another local Dean Dowell. On March 1, 1928, Circus was released at the price of $1.75, with all profits going back into the Poetry Exhibition.

lew ney circus1

Leona M. Kahl, Circus, with 100 linoleum cuts by Dean Dowell. All printed by Lew Ney (New York: Parnassus [Press] 1928). Graphic Arts Collection (GAX) 2013-0386N

lew ney circus3                            lew ney circus5
lew ney circus7
lew ney circus6
lew ney circus8