Today is the birthday of John V.A. Weaver, a member of the Algonquin Round Table you probably never heard of, unless you read my book The Algonquin Round Table New York: A Historical Guide. Weaver was born on this date in 1893 in Charlotte, North Carolina (just a month older than Dorothy Parker, another poet in the Vicious Circle). I found his life fascinating and a lot of fun to write about. Practically nobody has ever written anything about Weaver, and if he’s known for anything, which is incredibly trivial, it is that he was the screenwriter for the first Louise Brooks talkie, Love ‘Em or Leave ‘Em, which is based on his poem of the same name.
Weaver married another Round Table member, Peggy Wood, a Brooklyn-born actress who was on Broadway for 60 years. One thing I was never able to determine was if Weaver knew he had tuberculosis when they were married, or if he contracted it later.
Weaver had a lot of success as the “slang poet” who wrote in “Americanese” and was championed by H.L. Mencken, who was his mentor and discovered him. He published four books of poetry and had a modicum of success in Hollywood. He died June 14, 1938, in Colorado while battling TB. His wife was appearing in London at the time. Weaver was 44.
All of his books are out of print. Finders(1923) contains this gem. (All punctuation and grammar is his).
By John V.A. Weaver
I wonder where it could of went to. …
I know I seen it just as plain :
A beautiful, big fairy city
Shinin’ through the rain.
Rain, it was, not snow—in winter!
Special-order April weather
Ticklin’ at our two faces
Pressed up close together.
Not a single soul was near us
Standin’ out there on the bow;
When we passed another ferry
He says, sudden, “Now!”
Then I looked where he was pointin’. …
I seen a magic city rise. …
Gleamin’ windows, like when fields is
Full o’ fireflies.
Towers and palaces in the clouds, like …
Real as real, but nice and blurred.
“Oh…” I starts in—but he whispers,
“Hush! Don’t say a word!
“Don’t look long, and don’t ast questions;
Elset you make the fairies sore. …
They won’t let you even see it
Never any more.
“Don’t you ever try to go there. …
It’s to dream of, not to find.
Lovely things like that is always
Mostly in your mind.”
Somethin’ made me say, “It’s Jersey!”
Somethin’ mean. … He hollers, “Hell!
Now you done it, sure as shootin’. …
Now you bust the spell!”
Sure enough, the towers and castles
Went like lightin’ outa sight. …
Nothin’ there but filthy Jersey
On a drizzly night.
For more information, pick up The Algonquin Round Table New York: A Historical Guide (Lyons Press) and The Lost Algonquin Round Table, available online and in bookstores.