Thursday, October 29, 2009
As an official member of the Broken Turtle enterprise, and as one who has participated as writer and sometime editor in Delaware regional literary traditions going back to the beginnings of the Dreamstreets event, I should be quite an insider. Yet I am aloof, and always have been of my own accord wayward in my attachments and thoughts. (The preface of a recent local publication describes me as a "curmudgeon.") So I felt startled and grateful when I recently revisited the host of old material now available here, work of my own and that of old cohorts, much wonderful stuff that I'd long since forgotten. Phil Bannowsky and Steven Leech have done a wonderful deed in pulling such dust back into life. I can only hope that others will be so startled as well. An irony of the information age is that while it pushes the printed word aside, it simultaneously offers language and literacy a new center stage. Kids coming up now find it natural, some of us old-timers are still adjusting to the repackaging of whatever we find sacred. So this visit to memory lane is more importantly a trip to the future. Not a native Delawarean, and a relative latecomer to the region, I cannot personally relate as deeply as some to the innuendos of the locality (I'm a New York City boy, sorry), but I have been struck particularly, over the last 30 or so years, by one aspect of the local tradition: it has one foot in scholarship, and the other in the spontaneous culture of individual body and mind-- there is much voice in so many voices.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
The bane of the small regional literary magazine is that the audience is limited to the readership of a very short run. This not only denies the authors and artists who produced it access to their audience, but it also denies the audience a chance to participate in the cultural expression of their world, a world “rapidly paved over with asphalt and vested interests,” as the Dreamstreets editors put in on the front page of Dreamstreets 7 (Beltane, May 1989).
Thus, when Steven Leech and I were scanning the Dreamstreets archive to make it available in an electronic form, I became increasing excited and proud. This was thirty years of cultural artifacts, restored to the community from the middens of oblivion. Many of the artists and writers appearing in this archive are flourishing today, Dreamstreets having midwifed the birth of their artistic careers. And this is what I am proud of. Along with Steven Leech, Franetta McMillian, e. jean lanyon, Douglas Morea, Chris Oakley, and Dana Garrett in various terms, I served on the editorial board of Dreamstreets for many years until its final edition, #50, in 2006. Steven Leech had been the executive editor in every production since Betty Tew edited #2 after Dreamstreets was founded by John Hickey and a cohort of visionaries calling themselves the Eschaton Writers in 1977.
On that original staff were Peter Barrett, Lew Bennett. Julio Bezerra, Herb Connor, Candi Costis, Mark Delmerico, Bruce Frye, Terry Golstein, John Hickey, e. jean lanyon (who was often co-editor in earlier years), Betty McCaughey, David Moyer, David Robertson, Carl Schlatter, Susan Smith, Leslie Turner, Floyd van Riper, Ed Wesolowski, Tom Watkins, Jim Zingheim, and Carson Zollinger.
At last, we present the Dreamstreets Archive at www.dreamstreetsarchive.com, accessible in a link from Broken Turtle Blog. We will soon add a trove of audio and possibly video files to the archive, so it is a living instrument.
Among the numerous artists and writers who have graced Dreamstreets’ pages, many are Delaware Division of the Arts grant recipients, Poet Laureates, a few recently departed and immortalized in our pages, some immortals from our region’s past, and many brilliant flashes of poetic starlight that might have been missed by the residents of Delaware’s small—some would say impacted—universe.
These writers and artists are largely progressive in the broadest sense, giving voice to the voiceless and empowering the powerless, and that, of course, made the publishing of Dreamstreets “downwind from chateau country” all the more extraordinary. Dreamstreets is a source of justifiable pride for the brave little phalanx who with it took a stand.
Sunday, October 11, 2009
One magical thing any kind of artwork does is to serve to mythologize place. Locally, for example, the Brandywine Tradition artists have provided a second sight of the countryside just north of Delaware's border allowing us to see the Brandywine Valley through their artistic sensibilities. We are fortunate to have these art works with us, which preserve this transformative vision of our local mythology for our community. Both literature and visual art have served to provide greater significance regarding place as well as for their accompanying time frames, freezing them within our imagination. However, there are comparable examples from local literature that are obscured by their relative unavailability. Re-acquainting ourselves with our local literature can be quite rewarding because of its transformative social and cultural value. However, we don't always need to find this process in literature from local authors, even if their books had once entered the national literary arena. Occasionally a long out-of-print and nearly forgotten novel provides a true story enhanced by the vision of a literary artist, as well as a true story about other literary artists who once lived among us in an unique place; that unique place is a town in northern Delaware called Arden.
For a period of time, in the years before World War I, the American author Upton Sinclair lived in Arden. He used the proceeds from his novel, Love's Pilgrimage, to build a house that still stands there. The work of American poet Harry Kemp attracted Sinclair, who invited Kemp to come and live for a spell. Kemp, who was Sinclair's contemporary, was known as a "tramp" poet. Kemp rode the rails in his day, hanging out with the "Wobblies," or members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), and transforming his own vision of working and struggling against economic poverty in America into his poetry.
In 1922, Kemp published his novel, Tramping on Life, which is actually a roman-a-clef about his travels. The novel includes the episode of his life in Arden, which he calls "Eden," and his interaction with Sinclair, who becomes "Penton Baxter" and wife Meta, or "Hildreth Baxter." Incidentally, Arden's founder Frank Stephens becomes "Alfred Grahame" in Kemp's novel.
The philosophy behind Sinclair's novel, Love's Pilgrimage, in part a tome to the notion of "free love," was put to the test in Arden, and to make a long story short, Kemp, or "John Gregory" as he refers to himself, ends his visit with Sinclair by running off to New York with Sinclair's wife Meta in a blatant exercise in "free love." In New York they join that community of pre-World War I progressives made up of Emma Goldman (Emma Silverman), Lincoln Steffins (Carruthers Nefflin), John Reed, Louise Bryant, Eugene O'Neill and Djuna Barnes, among others.
I don't know about anyone else, but every time I visit Wilmington I'm fully aware that I walk the same streets that once Edgar Allan Poe and F. Scott Fitzgerald walked. It's as if I share a tiny bit in common with these venerable literary figures. They are not the only ones. There are others, like Kemp and Sinclair, who have seen and transformed this place where I live into their own visions that augment the annals of American literature for the greater fulfillment of American culture. When I read the works of those who also took up space in this place I call home, I have a better idea of how to look at my surroundings today, and, as spooky as it sounds, I wonder how closely what they felt about what they saw resembles how I see and feel about what I see here every day.