Broken Turtle Blog

Broken Turtle Blog

Friday, April 12, 2019

Chelsea and Julian: When Poetry Crosses with Coverup


One of the yet unpublished poems from my novel in verse Jacobo the Turko is called “Wikileaks: JTF-GTMO Detainee Assessment.” It comes early in my story, and it gives me a chance to use the form of a Gitmo detainee assessment to outline the course of Jacobo’s life as well as the absurd fabrication by which his tormentors justify his imprisonment. I can thank Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange for my material. Anyone who peruses the Guantanamo Files will soon see how the truth is more absurd than my somewhat absurdist fable of an Ecuadorian indigenous who is mistaken for a Middle East terrorist. The pursuit of the files’ leakers reveals the lengths the intelligence community will go to to equate anyone who exposes them with the accused terrorists whose human rights they have trampled. Sometimes I wonder if fear of government persecution has deterred publishers from publishing my book. Or maybe it stinks, although half the poems in the book have been published by over a dozen national and international journals and anthologies, just not the prestigious lit rags.
The greatest crime of Chelsea Manning was to reveal to Julian Assange and thence to the world the murderous nature of the U.S. military’s campaign in Iraq (see “Collateral Murder”), the bogus nature of U.S. claims against the vast majority of prisoners at Guantánamo, and the towering arrogance at the U.S. State Department, especially when conflating our national interests with empire. Julian has just been arrested at London's Ecuadorian Embassy, and Chelsea has been returned to prison, where she is tortured with solitary confinement, on the yet to be proved pretext that she and Julian went a step beyond downloading secrets to hacking the password of a secure military server. This last charge, partially spelled out in a March 6, 2018 sealed indictment, gives great comfort to the war criminals who have murdered, tortured, and set the world on fire and wish to reverse the direction of opprobrium back to the smarmy Assange, as well as to Manning (and perhaps to President Obama, who pardoned Manning). It also gives some relief to the New York Times, who published the same documents as did Assange, and lets the mainstream media return to making Assange the scapegoat for Hillary Clinton’s loss. It also gives some distress to those of us who see the arrests of Manning and Assange as an attack on freedom of information and the press and a warning to all who challenge imperialist policy and state-sanctioned mahem.
I invite you to peruse Andy Worthington’s 2017 characterization of what the Guantanamo Files reveal. The cult of secrecy, so often defended with cant about methods and means, is there exposed as a cover for incompetence and crime.
We who have been around a while have seen this before. For decades, everyone to the left of Richard Nixon was tarred as an ally or dupe of Russia. Communists were branded as traitors, not dissidents, and anyone whose opinions could be tied to the soviets, from the liberal Helen Gahagen Douglas to the red Dalton Trumbo, was smeared, blacklisted, or jailed.
Make no mistake, Russia today is ruled by a criminal clique of former apparatchiks who seized the property of the Russian people after they had run the socialist system into the ground. However, attempts to paint Trump or Assange as Russian assets is an opportunistic case of historical acid reflux disease. I remember how Khrushchev and his gang got rid of Stalin’s vile henchman Lavrentiy Beria without accusing themselves: they charged him with being a British spy. Similarly, American media accuses Trump, without admitting their own predilection for talking heads trumpery and establishment talking points over substantive news. One can hardly blame Americans for seeking news from alternative sources.
For example, there’s RT America, funded by the Russian Government. While often inserting Russian propaganda, it also broadcasts several distinguished Americans such as the commentators Chris Hedges and Larry King and the comic Lee Camp. Of course, Liz Wahl famously broke with RT when RT blipped out her question to Ron Paul about the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. On the other hand, RT’s Breaking the Set host Abby Martin condemned the Ukrainian invasion on-air, but stated RT backed her. You can accuse those remaining of being opportunistic or can doubt their ethos, but that’s too easy a way to dismiss their views. Personally, I prefer Democracy Now with Amy Goodman and Juan González. At least there you may learn that if Trump pulls out of the START treaty with Russia, it will be the first time since 1972 that nuclear weapons are totally unregulated. Slim Pickens rides again!
If we let our dismay over our national disaster get highjacked by corporate media’s reductionism we may soon find ourselves swept up in the narrative of those, liberal to conservative, who backed the Iraqi war crimes Wikileaks exposed.
We love Chelsea Manning. Will we let her be tortured and destroyed? We hate Julian Assange. Is that a sufficient reason to accept DOJ claims about an incomplete password Assange might have sussed? Remember that the greater crime, the crime of the century, is the invasion of Iraq and the dismantling of human rights by the nation that proselytized human rights. Will we, poets or politicos, collude in the coverup?
-->

Monday, January 14, 2019


Eulogy for Vic Sadot
Presented at his Celebration of Life
Ashland Nature Center
Hockessin, Delaware
January 13, 2019
by Phillip Bannowsky
Vic Sadot
July 21, 1947-October 6, 2018

Vic Sadot’s musical career is charted beautifully by his brother Rob in his remarks and obituary, from Vic’s founding of the Americana and folk-rock Crazy Planet Band to its re-incarnation as the Cajun-Zydeco Planete Folle, and we learn how Vic so often performed at events in the struggle for peace and social justice. I’d like to fill in a little with what I know about the political activism integral to his musical career. When I’m done, we’d like anyone else who has something to share about any aspect or incident in Vic’s life to come forward.
Victor Rene Sadot. “Vic,” was a musician, writer, publisher, social worker, disc-jockey, autoworker, and above all a revolutionary patriot. A son of an autoworker who had come to America after his French home had been force to quarter Nazi soldiers, Vic shared his father’s love for his adopted home, in spite of the economic insecurities of working class life. It is rumored (and now verified by his brother Rob) that he even led the Young Republicans at the University of Delaware. However, like so many of us from of that era, he was badly disillusioned as the truth about America’s aggression in Viet Nam came to light and as peace and black liberation struggles met with repression, but he was inspired by the protest, folk, and rock music of the era and by the first principles of America’s founding mothers and fathers. A 1968 article in The Review, official student newspaper at the university, lists Vic Sadot as a speaker at a rally opposing the firing of Professors Rob Bresler and Al Myers. A year later, Vic was named “Outstanding Senior” at a Student Government Association banquet where then Governor Russell Peterson castigated students who disrupted classes. Inside scoop: Peterson’s son was a conscientious objector and member of Students for a Democratic Society.
I remember really getting to know Vic in Washington DC at a peace demonstration in the early seventies. Around that time Vic and his brothers Joe and Rob had been arrested at the Fort Belvoir Army base in Virginia for leafleting the troops during an Armed Forces “Open to the Public Day.” He was the public, an American citizen, and whether they liked it or not he was going to act in the spirit of the nation’s founders. Joe, by the way, used to publish a satirical newsletter called The Crazy Planet, hence the name of Vic’s band.
Back to what the founders had to say, their words inspired Vic to become an organizer for the Delaware People’s Bicentennial Commission, a group founded by Jeremy Rifkin that crashed various official parties put on in 1975 and 1976 and applied what founding patriots like Thomas Paine said about King George to the corporate kings who had taken over. Vic recruited me and about a dozen others to shake thinks up in the Company State. Once, the city of Newark held a public bicentennial-slash-renaissance fair celebration, and of course Vic and the rest of us showed up to exercise our free-speech rights, but they tried to kick us out, trying to claim it was actually private. The brouhaha revealed that one of the City Council members had a financial interest in the event, even though she hoped that news would not be made public, but that’s your corporate Queens for you. We had a lot of fun in PBC, a somewhat gonzo operation in Delaware, where Vic set the tone.
Ovelapping somewhat with these activities, Vic began working for Chrysler in Newark and was one of the founding members of what we called the Progressive Movement, a rank-and-file faction of the United Automobile Workers Local 1183 that agitated for civil rights, women’s rights, safety, union democracy, and a return to the union’s first principles.  In fact, Vic inspired one of our first campaigns, the distribution of Labor’s Untold Story, by Richard O. Boyer and Herbert M. Morais. Vic wrote a review in the Progressive Movement’s newsletter, and we managed to sell maybe a dozen copies. These stories of radical agitators who built the labor movement had a positive influence on the political environment at Newark Assembly where several of us eventually won union office, although after Vic left.
One day while we were passing out our newsletter at the front gate, a couple of guys from the leading faction showed up, clearly looking for trouble, but we can’t completely blame them for what happened. We had been on a short strike a couple weeks before and Lyndon Larouche’s phony U.S. labor party showed up claiming that the strike was a plot by the C.I.A., that they were members of the University’s SDS chapterthey were not—that they had many of their members in the plantthey did notand they were taking over. Long story short, these two union guys tried to tear the flyers out of Vic’s hands and throw him over the rail, where most certainly he would have broken some bones. Vic pulled away, fortunately, and started explaining to the guy rationally how we were union brothers simply expressing our opinions blah blah, but these guys had got themselves good and drunk to elevate their courage and suppress their rational thinking. In 1979, Vic expanded into publishing. Carrying on the tradition begun by the late 60s Heterodoxical Voice and the early 70s Purgatory Swamp Press, in 1979 Vic founded the Delaware Free Press, changed to Delaware Alternative Press after the first issue was hit with a cease and desist. Somebody had already trademarked the name.
Soon after that, Vic joined the editorial board for the historic BroadsideSing Out Magazine, the famous mimeographed music mag from New York that printed words and music by topical singers from Woody Guthrie to Steve Forbert to Phil Ochs. In 1982, Vic republished in Broadside an article he wrote for the Delaware Alternative Press called “Phil Ochs’ FBI File.”
Vic was the ideal musicologist to host the “Freewheeling Roots Show” on the University of Delaware’s radio station in the early nineties. He brought the spirit of Phil Ochs to Delaware’s airwaves, the spirit of “The Broadside Balladeer,” to quote the title of Vic’s tribute song to Phil.
Over the years Vic contributed his music, analysis, and activism to numerous environmental and social justice issues, from the campaign to “Save White Clay CreekDon’t Dam it” to the struggle against the suppression of Dupont: Behinnd the Nylon Curtain, by Gerald Colby Zilg, to intervening to help fellow workers at the Newark Food Coop, to the struggle for Democracy and Independence in Haiti, to Save the Whales and to the dangers of Fukushima.
Vic saw countless deceptions and outrages emanating from the national security state that ruled the country he loved, from the assassination of JFK to Gulf of Tonkin incident to the Saddam’s missing weapons of mass destruction. Accordingly, Vic took on the mantle of “the Truth Troubadour” on behalf of the 9-11 truth movement, which holds that the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon was a false flag operation. He composed and recorded dozens of songs on the topic such as “The Ballad of Pat Tillman,” “Cheney’s in the Bunker,” and “Trouble in the Rubble.” These songs can all be found under Vic Sadot on YouTube.
We lost touch somewhat after he moved to California in 2008, but his name was always coming up in reports from the barricades. Vic had always kept up the struggle, even when he was struggling with his own troubles. Who knew he’d find peace in Berzerkely?
I recently learned that Vic had joined the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, where he of course became chair of their social justice committee. I had always known him as a non-believer in religious mythology. We had been business partners painting houses in one period and roommates in another, and we had many discussions about science, politics, and free-thinking. Still, I think how Vic felt can be described in the words he applied to his brother Joe Sadot, who died in 1978 at the age of 26. In Vic’s introduction to Green Leaves, the collected literary and sketch work of Joe’s, Vic wrote:  “He rejected supernatural spiritualism, but he embraced the natural spiritualism of awe and reverence for the mysteries of life and the intimacies of love and comradery.”
Before I call on friends and family to share their memories, I’d like us all to remember Vic and those of his family who have passed on in the tradition practiced by South American revolutionaries who would call roll for their fallen comrades. After each name, all assembled would call out “presente,” meaning the fallen are still present in their works and in our hearts. Let’s try it first with Phil Ochs. I say his name and you say “Presente! loud.”
Phil Ochs: Presente!
We’ll begin with Vic’s father, then his mother, his brother, and himself.
Jean Sadot: Presente!
Eleanor Sadot: Presente!
Joe Sadot: Presente!
Vic Sadot: Presente!

-->

Friday, October 19, 2018

Invitation to Submit to Dreamstreets


For over forty years, Dreamstreets has published works by contemporary and historical writers and artists who live in, or have a strong connection to, Delaware. While we have at times opened for submissions, we have usually published work among a close-knit community of artists. We believe it is time to regularize that practice with a clear submissions process and publication twice per year, while occasionally publishing an extra and more closely-curated number, such as our Summer 2018 issue on the history of music from Wilmington in the 20th century.
What are we looking for? First, Delaware authors, those residing here and those in the diaspora. We like everything from avant-guard to home-spun. We like art that’s progressive and authors who are diverse. About forty years ago, we declared that we would not publish anything fascist, racist, or sexist, which set us somewhat apart, yet we have never been afraid of being edgy. Our purpose has always been to promote art that is marginalized by the insular esthetic of Delaware’s political economy, not to mention its insular geography. Take a look at past issues, archived at dreamstreetsarchive.com, but don’t limit yourself to what you see there. See if you fit the Delawarean criteria, check our submission guidelines, and submit.

Submission Guidelines (Read these carefully, or you may be ignored.)

We accept literary submissions in any genre from Delawareans and those in the Delaware Diaspora. We solicit our own visual art. Generally, we do not reprint previously published contemporary work although one previously published poem in a sequence of unpublished poems might be permissible; just make sure we know, so we can give credit. Our reading periods are during the months of December and June, although we may announce changes. Anything received outside of these submission periods will not be accepted or answered.
Send up to 5 poems of no more than 5 pages. Prose more than 10 pages will have to work hard to find a place. Begin no more than one poem on a page and make your stanza breaks clear. Send your work to sleech(at)udel.edu as a single attached document in Microsoft Word (.doc or .docx) and write “Submission” in the email subject heading. Include a cover page with name, address, phone number, email and a short bio of 50 words or less, and indicate your connection to Delaware. Double space prose, single space poetry, use 12-pt Times New Roman font, and remove extra space between paragraphs. Align text left, except for special or unusual typography, in which case, we may have to work with you to render it faithfully.
Simultaneous submissions are fine, but please let us know in your cover letter if you are courting another and inform us immediately if your work becomes elsewhere engaged. We reserve first serial rights until publication, when all rights revert to the author. Our rights include electronic as well as print publication and magazine re-prints. Please give Dreamstreets credit if you re-publish your work.
Submit only once per reading period in each genre unless we ask for more. Our editorial committee will review your work and get back to you before the next issue.
“Go at it boldly, and you'll find unexpected forces closing round you and coming to your aid.” -Basil King

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Stealing Enchantment

I’ve always been a bit enamored of the 1930s in spite of the crushing effects of the Great Depression that detrimentally affected so many. Yet it is that economic deprivation that brought people together. It began with sweeping Republicans out of office after their capitalist neo laissez faire policies and after decades of setting the tone for an economic life in the United States in the late 19th century through the the early 20th that allowed financial speculation to nearly lead to the downfall of an economic system designed to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. Out of that collapse came a wave of Democratic Party leadership that favored people who deserved to have a chance to climb out of the pit dug for them by avaricious capitalism.
Even while the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted policies that provided relief and put people back to work through provisions like the Works Progress Administration (WPA), capitalists dug in their heels globally and went into a martial kind of mode to save themselves and then to regain power. This began in Italy and then in Spain and Germany.

Charles Wertenbaker

The growth of industrial capital, in a thinly veiled local example, is embodied in the 1950 novel by Delaware author Charles Wertenbaker entitled The Barons about three cousins in the early 20th century coming together to save a failing company and transform it into an industrial giant. Sound familiar?
Wertenbaker favored one of those cousins, portraying him, even in the midst of family scandal and personal foibles, as a leader who at least seemed to appreciate that the acquisition of wealth begins with hard work and not merely financial machinations or even good bookkeeping as his two other cousins believed, and who is in a position to do “a big, good thing.”
One can easily suppose that one of the major struggles of the 20th century was for capital to regain a foothold over the economic life of the world, accomplished as a result of global war. However that martial means that capital invented to save itself was ostensibly defeated after the end of World War II. That invention called fascism, which had over run Europe and threatened to supplant democracy in the United States and having already compromised genuine social progress in the Soviet Union, was never ultimately defeated.
Such was the conclusion determined in Charles Wertenbaker’s final novel, The Death of Kings from 1954. In the novel, the main antagonist, Louis Baron, the son of Stuart Baron from his previous novel The Barons, who had closely resembled A. I. duPont, resembles Henry Luce who runs a national magazine that could be easily mistaken for TIME magazine. Under Louis Baron’s aegis is assembled a network of political paranoia, a subterfuge of suspicions driven by villains, some of whom are unwitting, blinded by fear, and in the case of one who resembles Whittaker Chambers, outright and overtly evil.
The story in The Death of Kings begins with the devastating events just before the outbreak of World War II, particularly the August 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. It was an event that split the Left, began the process of diluting a united Left in sympathy with progressive policies of the Roosevelt administration, and ended a “time of enchantment” during the 1930s, which would have been the title of Wertenbaker’s next novel, and the middle book of a trilogy that would’ve begun with The Barons and ended with The Death of Kings. 

Shortly after finishing The Death of Kings Wertenbaker contracted cancer, whether because it had run in his family or was triggered by the yellow paint he and a youthful friend had found and used to paint an entire house when working as laborers for Dupont near Wilmington. In any case, Wertenbaker considered cancer a somatic personification of evil. He made little more than some notes for A Time of Enchantment. About the proposed novel he declared:
“In all large organizations where one man is at the top, the others near the top will fight to get there, and so the morality of that organization will be conditioned by the struggle for power, and that morality will determine the organization’s external, as well as its internal, dealings. The only way to avoid this power complex, this power struggle, is by keeping the organization small and powerless (as in a very small business or a very small kingdom) or by curbing the power of the top man by vesting power in other –– and frequently hostile –– organizations (as in the checks and balances of the U.S. government or kingship in Britain). Let loose the struggle for power anywhere, and it will destroy all other concepts.”
While the phalanx of martial capitalism threatened to consume all of Europe, meanwhile in the United States, investments of government funds into the social welfare of our citizens was fueling progressive policies. Even some corporate leadership displayed some social responsibility, but it was government that established Social Security, unemployment insurance, greater enabling of labor unions, and cultural programs like the WPA’s artists, writers, music and theatre projects that fueled speculation that the projects might morph  into a cabinet level Department of Culture, and that was an enchanting notion.
However the seeds of fascism were hiding not only in the isolationist/America First woodwork, but in places like the Dies Committee of the U.S. Congress, having reared its ugly head in the attempted fascist coup d’etat exposed by General Smedley Butler in 1934. In Wertenbaker’s The Death of Kings we see a depiction of the right wing and fascists sympathizers gaining a foothold inside an important post war media vehicle. By the end of the novel Wertenbaker casts a wary eye at Spain with the remaining fascist regime under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco. The die had already been cast regarding the prospect of fascism in America. We had won the war, but we were loosing the battles, and over the next seventy years we would continue to loose battles while the legacy of Roosevelt’s policies got chipped away and the prospect of a time of enchantment faded from our consciousness. In this manner, Wertenbaker’s final two novels were not only prophetic but are now long out of print.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Wilmington in the Nexus of 19th Century Urban Fiction


Wilmington in the 19th century was situated, as it still is, in the nexus of other mid Atlantic cities. Because of its genteel Quaker nature and its relatively smaller size, it was unlike, by early 19th century standards, the teeming metropolises of New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore. These three cities became the source for a sub genre of antebellum literature by at least four authors with approximate  ties to nearby Wilmington: Edgar Allan Poe, George Lippard, Bayard Taylor, and most recently Walt Whitman, in an obscure and nearly lost early novel. Both Lippard and Taylor hailed from nearby Chester County, Pennsylvania, and Whitman lived his waning years in Camden, New Jersey where he died.
 
Our story, however, begins in Baltimore in the late 1820s with the brothers William Henry Leonard Poe and his younger brother Edgar. Estranged from one another throughout most of their youth, the Poe brothers, offsprings from the kind of rough urban life depicted in novels like Lippard's The Monks of Monk Hall and The Killers, Bayard Taylor's John Godfrey's Fortune, and Walt Whitman's The Life and Adventures of Jack Engle, acted as muses for one another. However, Leonard Poe died on August 1, 1831 at the age of 24, probably from tuberculosis. Examples of Leonard Poe's poetry are similar, if not exactly the same in some cases, to his younger brother Edgar's poem "Tamerlane," making it likely that both worked together, without rancor, on the same poems, though both wrote their own separate poems.

There is a striking parallel between Poe and Delaware author and poet John Lofland. Both, at an early age, were seriously involved romantically with women, Sallie Ann Mitchell in Lofland's case and Elmira Royster in Poe's case, and both Lofland and Poe were considered bad candidates for marriage by the parents of both women. The experience of rejection, and the forced nuptials of both Mitchell and Royster, proved traumatic for both Lofland and Poe and had the affect of influencing their later work and maybe bringing the two closer together.

In one of the few prose works to have survived by Leonard Poe entitled "The Pirate," he reflects the anger and tragedy of Elmira Royster's forced marriage by depicting the "pirate," named Edgar in the story, as an exile who can never return home because he had murdered his promised betrothal on her wedding day.

Both Poe brothers spent their short lives together in Baltimore, where in later years Edgar and John Lofland encountered one another. It's not hard to imagine the two of them sharing their experiences at being jilted by romantic attachments via intervening parents. And one gets a good sense of the seedy nature of urban life in Baltimore from Lofland's own account in his "Confessions of an Opium Eater."

The urban environment in cities of the early 19th century are similarly depicted in early novels by Lippard, Taylor and Whitman. They are populated with con men, scam artists, poseurs, vagrants, prostitutes, and orphans. The honest and gainfully employed are mechanics, shop keepers, printers, blacksmiths, with others like lawyers, bankers and real estate agents often operating on the precarious edge of legality. In Whitman's The Life and Adventures of Jack Engle, the villain is a lawyer out to deprive a young woman of her inheritance and to perpetuate the orphan status of Jack Engle. In Bayard Taylor's John Godfrey's Fortune,  the New York City of the same vintage as Whitman's novel seems full of fakers, shaky entrepreneurs, and women forced into prostitution by callous con men. The same could be said of Lippard's The Monks of Monk Hall, which depicts a hotbed of the same sorts of characters, but on steroids, close to home in Philadelphia. In early 19th century Delaware author Robert Montgomery Bird's Sheppard Lee, we find the protagonist hopping from body to body in the city of Philadelphia in a metempsychotic frenzy searching for a way to get rich quick.

Wilmington seemed like a refuge in the midst of ferment in the embryonic megalopolis of New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore. In Delaware author John Biggs' novel Demigods, which occurs later in the 19th century turning into the 20th, the protagonist John Gault nearly gets swallowed up in Philadelphia's urban landscape, where he works for a while in the city's ship building yards. It is not until he moves to genteel Wilmington that he achieves any sort of success, first as a newspaper publisher and nearly so as a politician.

In real life, it wasn't until Delaware poet and author John Lofland moved to Wilmington from Baltimore and became clean and sober that he accomplished his most important and relevant literary work.

Not so with Poe. The intense urban environment in which Poe lived in Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York eventually proved to be too much. It was while attempting to make his way to Richmond, Virginia to be reunited with the widowed Elmira Royster, his sweetheart from his youth, that he got caught up in the nefarious election campaign practice of "cooping" in Baltimore, where men where rounded up, liquored up, and in a drunken state led from polling place to polling place to exchange votes for drinks, and then abandoned to the gutter, where Poe was eventually found. Poe had become a victim of an urban practice that could have easily fit into those depicted in Lippard's The Monks of Monk Hall, Taylor's John Godfrey's Fortune or Walt Whitman's The Life and Adventures of Jack Engle

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Siblings:The Story of Delaware's Literature in the First Half of the 20th Century

Anne Parrish
It was Wilmington author Henry Seidel Canby, who was among the founders of The Saturday Review of Literature, along with his cousin Christopher Ward, author of a wide range of literature including satire, serious fiction and local history, who were most responsible for launching Delaware's literary presence for the first half of the 20th century. It was through Canby's intercession that Anne Parrish, Delaware's most prolific novelist garnered success. Her younger brother Dillwyn also enjoyed some literary success, but as suggested in my last blog article, Dillwyn's shortened life and the manner in which he presented his novels deprived him of deserved recognition. 

The story of Delaware's literary art during the first half of the 20th century, in large part, is the story of three sets of siblings who wrote more than two dozen quality novels among them. However, availability of these novels runs from barely available used, and usually frail, copies to those that are no longer available.  

In addition to the Parrishes, those other siblings were Charles Wertenbaker and his younger brother Peyton, and John Biggs Jr and his sister Mary. 

Charles Wertenbaker

Charles Wertenbaker is arguably the most controversial novelist to have hailed from Delaware. Of the seven novels he wrote over his career, three of them were influenced by how Delaware brought him to conclusions about America, about the thirst for political power and its influence on our social and cultural life. In his final novel, Death of Kings, he demonstrates how, during the Second World War and the immediate period afterwards, our social and cultural environment would morph into the early years of the domestic Cold War when the ultra right wing found the means to manipulate the news in order to whip up social hysteria in an emerging post war America. 

Charles' younger brother Peyton wrote under two names. Under his own, G. Peyton Wertenbaker, he wrote some of the most insightful science fiction to appear in the pages of the earliest issues of the groundbreaking "Amazing Stories" magazine. He wrote two novels in the early 1930s under the name of Green Peyton. The first of these, Black Cabin, was his side of the story that was told in his brother Charles' first novel from 1928 entitled Boojum!. Early in the brother Wertenbakers' writing career, as to a similar degree with the Parrish siblings, the two developed their craft by generating both subject matter and perspective from each other, and all four went on to develop their own voice in the later literature they created.


Another set of literary siblings from the early 20th century was John Biggs and his sister Mary. John Biggs published only two novels, though he reputedly wrote two others and wrote and published a slew of short stories. One of his novels, Seven Days Whipping, from 1928 is the most accessible. It's his 1926 novel, Demigods, that's the real gem, and it's nearly impossible to find a copy though the University of Delaware library has one frail circulating copy. Evidently Biggs wrote the novel at the same time that his friend F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby and there are some parallel elements in both though are very different from each other. Biggs' novel is about a fanatic who is also a bit of a naïf, who at varying times runs a newspaper in Wilmington, and runs for Governor of Delaware as a Single Taxer. It's a wild, hallucinatory novel in places and establishes a kind of land-faring metaphor early on when the protagonist, John Gault, is afflicted with a visionary purpose in life while working in a Philadelphia shipyard. 

Mary Biggs, in her only novel entitled Lily-Iron, also uses the underlying metaphor of "land-faring" as she takes themes reminiscent of Melville's Moby-Dick, and obliquely turns them inside out. Instead of the white whale, Biggs' protagonist, Jenson Romm, pursues a legendary race horse to which he attaches mythic attributes, after which he captures then loses and leads him to realize his own place in a world that he has caused to swirl about him. Lily-Iron is a masterpiece. It is the only novel Mary Biggs wrote because she died young. It is impossible to find a copy, though the University of Delaware Library has one copy. In the upcoming Dreamstreets 54, I'll have a longer article about Mary Biggs' Lily-Iron.

The single element that runs through the story of these novels, which were published by the country's most notable publishing companies, is that the best of them is extraordinarily rare. You will not find copies of Lily-Iron or Demigods. You will not find copies of Green Peyton's (G.Peyton Wertenbaker) second novel, Rain on the Mountain. Dillwyn Parrish's final novel, which he authored with M. F. K Fisher, is impossible to find, and only two copies of My Wives appear to be available. The point is that examples of Delaware's early literary history are disappearing at the very point of discovery. In cases where copies of these novels have survived, because copies are in the neighborhood of 80 - 90 years old, they are very frail. These novels ought to, and need to, be republished before they disappear for one or many reasons. If I had the money, or if Dreamstreets had the money, or had Broken Turtle Books, they could be save through republishing. 

Only one established local publisher could republish these works, a publisher that has an obligation to republish these novels because of their cultural standing in the community. That publisher is the University of Delaware Press. But will they? The answer I am sure would be a resounding NO! Delaware's literature is not worthy of any consideration, according to local academics. There is no local literary canon, except maybe for the fanciful tales of Howard Pyle. 

So what are we left with? The question is posed with incorrect grammar, but it is also rhetorical. 





Thursday, October 6, 2016

The Disappearing Novels of Delaware Author Dillwyn Parrish

Dillwyn and Gigi Parrish
Dillwyn Parrish was the younger brother of Delaware's most prolific novelist Anne Parrish. While Anne wrote sixteen novels, not counting the three early volumes of children's fiction on which the pair collaborated at the beginning of their careers, Dillwyn wrote only four using his own name, one written anonymously, and one written with his second wife, M. F. K. Fisher. All his novels were published by Harper and Brothers. They were Smith Everlasting in 1926, Gray Sheep in 1927, Praise the Lord! in 1932, and Hung for a Song: a novel of the lives and adventures of Major Stede Bonnet and Blackbeard the pirate in 1934. In 1929 his anonymous novel My Wives was published, and Touch and Go, written with M. F. K. Fisher was published in 1939.

After Smith Everlasting, the locale of which could be Wilmington, there are parallels in the narratives of his next two novels. In the next, Gray Sheep, both John Rain and Dillwyn Parrish volunteered as an ambulance driver during the early stages of World War I, interrupting a college career at Harvard. Both were victims of gas attacks, which in both cases caused health problems. At the end of Gray Sheep, John Rain comes to terms with his feelings for a younger, precocious girl and with her heads west – destination California. That's  how the novel ends. In actual life Parrish ran away with a child bride, Gertrude "Gigi" McElroy, hopping on motorcycles at the Parrish homestead in Claymont, Delaware and heading for California. In Dillwyn's and Gigi's case, after an accident somewhere in the southwest, and a recovery period for Gigi, who was injured, the couple arrived in California by train. Setting up house near Hollywood, Gigi signed a movie contract with Samuel Goldwyn and appeared in several movies in the 1930s, then getting a divorce from Dillwyn and marrying screenwriter John Weld.

None of the references to Dillwyn Parrish that I could find refer to his secret 1929 novel, My Wives, which was cited in one of the the front pages of his 1932 novel Praise the Lord!  as having been one of his previously published. As it turns out, the novel was written anonymously. It was also the only one of his novels written in the first person who is never identified by name.

Why My Wives was published anonymously is open to speculation. There's reason to believe the novel may have some autobiographical aspects. The first part of the novel, and the first of three wives, "Penny," takes place in Greenwich Village. Penny turns out to be very precocious and independently mannered. After a quick and summarily contrived marriage, the narrator divorces her after it's learned she's been found to be unfaithful and a bit of a gold-digger. A bit wounded, the narrator returns home to a town never identified. Could the town be the Wilmington environs? And could the rich woman who becomes his second wife, who is a member of a very wealthy family, be someone who had been in the public eye? It turns out this second wife "Marilyn" is both petty and vindictive. The narrator gets a divorce and escapes to the Swiss Alps, to a real place where Dillwyn's actual second wife, Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher, lived for a short while, and which is where the pair collaborated on Dillwyn's final literary effort, the 1939 novel Touch and Go, using the pseudonym, Victoria Berne. But we're getting ahead of our story.

Near the end of Dillwyn's marriage to Gigi he met Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher, known as M. F. K. Fisher to those who have read her books on culinary subjects and reviews of cook books for The New Yorker during the 1960s. It was during this period that Dillwyn wrote his final novel Praise the Lord! about a rural kind of down home family who travel from farm country in Iowa to sunny southern California. They're trapped in the fundamentalist ethos of a religious charlatan and fast women. The mother shoots her husband because, in the context of religious hysteria, she claimed God told her to. Their deaf/mute daughter is traumatized and has to be institutionalized. Their guilt ridden, clueless son returns to the simple life in Iowa. Only a second daughter is smart enough to survive and make a life for herself in California, but only after turning her back on both her family and the crazed fundamentalist church with which they'd been involved. 

In the meantime Dillwyn had contracted Buerger disease, which is a disease of the circulatory system with neurological implications. The disease was probably a consequence of the gas attacks incurred by Dillwyn during World War I. The fact that he was a heavy smoker exacerbated the condition. At the time, the ultimate treatment was amputation of limbs. The couple travelled to Switzerland, the same locale described in the third part, "Paulette," of My Wives, as well as in Touch and Go. One reason for traveling to Switzerland is the availability of Analgeticum, which was affective in treating the chronic pain, but the pair had to return to the United States for treatments, which included an amputation of a leg. Two procedures were performed in Wilmington, and others at clinics in other parts of the country. Dillwyn and Mary Francis ultimately returned to California.

Their novel,  Touch and Go, published in 1939 by Harper and Brothers under the name of Victoria Berne is extraordinarily rare. Only a few copies are known to exist. About the novel, the Kirkus Review, in a review on May 9, 1939 wrote: "A pleasant tale, with likeable characters, a moral around the edges, intelligent though not important. The story of a widow who breaks the mother-in-law bond, and plans deliberately to have the child she craves. There's an unforeseen complication and several characters working at cross purposes, but she finds a man to love -- and marry -- and his children fill her needs and that of the wise old woman to whom she had gone at an earlier date. A rather ticklish subject well handled."

By 1941, Dillwyn Parrish's struggle with Buerger disease had become critical. Analgeticum was unavailable in the United States, and pain blocking injections with Novocaine proved ineffective. Facing more amputations, Dillwyn Parrish shot himself on August 6, 1941. It was the only way out.