Married poets have found a thriving art scene in San Antonio

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My father, Trent Cheyney, passed away earlier this year here in San Antonio. My siblings and I were born and raised here. While preparing for his obituary and chatting with relatives, I learned that his father, Edward Ralph Cheyney (his name was “Ralph”), lived here in the late 1930s and early 1940s and was widely known. and respected as “the people’s poet.” “His wife was Lucia Trent, also an active poet. Ralph died prematurely of appendicitis in 1942.

I was told that there was an active fine arts community here, with writers, painters and musicians. It surprises me a lot. In a way, I don’t think of San Antonio that way.

I also understand that a large portrait of him was displayed in the foyer of the Municipal Auditorium, possibly above the front doors.

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Was there an artistic and literary community here at that time? And did they think so much of my grandfather that his portrait was publicly displayed? Can you find the name of the artist? Are there any copies of this portrait? Are there local press articles on Ralph? It was also quite the political activist.

– Rachel Cheyney

Your grandparents had so much in common. A year apart, both were children of Ivy League academics (his father taught history at the University of Pennsylvania, his was an English professor at Columbia University) and both were graduates of elite universities (Penn for him, Smith for her). Both were drawn to radical politics and dedicated to the professionalization of poetry. They loved the literary life and understood the art of bustle.

Parents of three children born a few years after their marriage in 1927, plus Cheyney’s daughter from a previous marriage, they have managed to support their families by juggling art concerts across the country.

Throughout their life together, one or both have taught creative writing, lectured and read, led a correspondence course for potential poets, edited poetry magazines and anthologies, judged competitions. and wrote and sold their own poetry, sometimes for a joint book. projects.

The house at 116 King William Street was home to poet and artist Julia Daingerfield Glass, who may have painted a portrait of the late Ralph Cheyney, a former poetry curator.

Al Rendon

Trent’s work – more formal and accomplished – garnered more critical acclaim, and his was the largest production, including more books published and a long-standing contract with a journal for verses. short and light. His poetry, when paired with his, was referred to as “masculine” or “muscular”. As a couple, they were often presented as the “Brownings (or Barretts) of America”, in reference to the English poet couple Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Prior to their meeting, Cheyney gained a radical reputation as a conscientious objector during World War I. It’s on his registration card project. At an October 5, 1917 meeting at the Labor Temple in New York City, he told his audience, “They cannot enlist a conscientious objector because we have decided that we will not be enlisted.

Theoretically, he could have been sentenced to 10 years in federal prison for violating the Espionage Act for “attempting to provoke insubordination, disloyalty and mutiny among military forces”, but instead of becoming a case test to catch radical speakers, he was given 30 days, less time served, according to “Wartime Prosecutions and Mob Violence,” a 1918 pamphlet from the National Civil Liberties Bureau.

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Trent had previously written book reviews for The Nation, a progressive weekly magazine. She also wrote provocative poems on lynching, the “ghetto” and the need of capitalism for overworked women to have as many children as possible to equip the means of production.

Together, husband and wife edited a 1929 anthology – “America Arraigned!” – poetry on the controversial trial of the murder of Sacco and Vanzetti, with its connotations of xenophobia and judicial prejudices. Both were considered sufficiently legitimate as activists that black author and civil rights leader WEB DuBois wrote to The Nation asking for permission to quote works by Cheyney and Trent.

The couple also appear to have shared an ability to pick up and move on whenever a new opportunity presented itself, which was often, even during the Great Depression.

They began their married life living with his parents in Philadelphia, Cheyney working as a commercial photographer; and moved within a year to Chicago, where he became secretary of the Izaak Walton League, a natural resource conservation organization. Around the same time, the Radical Brand was writing a Haldeman-Julius Little Blue Books series: “How to Start a Business for Yourself”, “Hints on How to Merchandise” and “Hints on How to Advertise”.

Poet Aline Carter, who lived in what is now the Maverick Carter home, hosted cultural events, including a reading featuring married poets Ralph Cheyney and Lucia Trent.

Poet Aline Carter, who lived in what is now the Maverick Carter home, hosted cultural events, including a reading featuring married poets Ralph Cheyney and Lucia Trent.

Carter Maverick House

Then he worked in Washington, DC, where he worked for something called All America Press Service, producing press releases for businesses.

During one of their cross-country tours, Cheyney and Trent stopped, perhaps for the first time, in San Antonio en route to Pasadena, Calif., Where they lived on and off for the remainder of the decade.

Cheyney told a San Antonio Express reporter on December 23, 1934 that there were “more poets per square mile in Texas than in any other state in the Union.” He said he was most impressed with the San Antonio poets – all women, including Lilith Lorraine and Aline Carter, both of whom would figure prominently in the couple’s future. Carter and her husband, prominent local lawyer HC Carter, hosted a reading at their home (covered here as a cultural gathering place, December 9, 2019) for “members of several literary organizations and others interested in works of distinguished guests. “

In 1939, they were offered a job as co-curators of the Avalon Poetry Shrine. It was a meeting place and library for poets in Mary Maud Dunn Wright’s home in the 600 block of East Sunshine Drive.

Wright, a former teacher from Corpus Christi, used the pseudonym “Lilith Lorraine” to publish her poetry and manage the shrine, which would be headquartered in the backyard of the house she shared with her husband, Cleveland. , a former tram driver.

Besides the bustling poetry scene, the arts of San Antonio were flourishing.

European conductor Max Reiter had just founded the resurgent San Antonio Symphony; a touring company from the Chicago Lyric Opera had come to town; and the San Antonio River Art League organized popular shows that interested a variety of people in the arts.

To help the new shrine find its place in the mix, curators had to stock the library, plan events, and spread Avalon news across the many organizations – any league, company, council, or conference aimed at poets. or other writers – to which they belonged, served as officers or founded.

Poet Aline Carter lived in what is now the Maverick Carter House, hosting cultural events including a reading featuring married poets Ralph Cheyney and Lucia Trent.

Poet Aline Carter lived in what is now the Maverick Carter House, hosting cultural events including a reading featuring married poets Ralph Cheyney and Lucia Trent.

Carter Maverick House

At the Texas Authors and Composers Association state convention on March 29, 1941, in Harlingen, Trent was elected second vice president and Cheyney was introduced as first vice president of the National Authors and Composers. They were back in Harlingen for a speaking tour on October 11, 1941, when Cheyney fell ill with appendicitis. Although they operated, he never recovered and died at age 42 on October 15, 1941.

Trent and their children continued to live in San Antonio. Researchers at the Conservation Society of San Antonio library found an address for her in the 1942-1943 city directory at 202 Madison St. in what is now the King William Historic District. By this time, the neighborhood had passed its heyday as a fashionable neighborhood; the large old houses converted into rental housing were pleasant and affordable for artists.

A little over a year after the death of her first husband, Trent married Ernest Glass. He was the son of Julia Daingerfield Glass, a fellow poet and painter who lived at 116 King William Street. She and Trent had both published books by the Carleton Printing Co. of San Antonio, and Ernest Glass sang at events at the Carter House. He was a popular soloist or small ensemble singer, with a repertoire that included folk songs, hymns, and classical art songs.

Meanwhile, Trent and local poets organized a chapbook in honor of Cheyney. Entitled “Knights in White Armor”, it featured the work of San Antonio poets and others. Along with Aline Carter, Trent also co-founded a Poetry Day movement in tribute to her late husband. In 1947, Texas Governor Beauford Jester proclaimed the first celebration for October 15, 1948.

It’s unclear what involvement Trent might have had with the “portrait of the late Dr. Ralph Cheney” that “(hung) in the municipal auditorium” – painted by Julia Daingerfield Glass, as mentioned in a Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the 2 March, 1947, in an article on his “Plantation Stories”. While no documentation has been revealed and there is no photograph with the story, it is entirely possible that this has happened.

Anyone with more information can contact this column.

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