Broken Turtle Blog

Broken Turtle Blog

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Steven Leech's Literary Manifesto

Because we believe this work is so important, we are offering this excerpt from The Wedgehorn Manifesto and a special opportunity to obtain a PDF copy free.
-Phillip Bannowsky, BT Blog Editor
About the Cover
On the cover is a map that accompanied the 1938 publication, A Guide to the First State. Produced by the Federal Writers’ Project, the map does not show I-95. You can almost see all the old roads on which flowed life in this part of Delaware in the late 1930s. Later, after World War II, came what we would call—in some neighborhoods—“Dupont Driveways,” those roads and highways that seemed only to lead to the various Dupont plants, laboratories, and offices that dotted the area. Even later, the great wealth of our post 1950s world flowed through Delaware on I-95 which resulted in the great suburban sprawl that began to cover northern New Castle County.
The addition I’ve made to this map is to illustrate the portion of land that was held in dispute because of the inexact science of geography and cartography in the 18th and 19th centuries. Mason may have made a chronometer that in Delaware literature is still ticking, but he wasn’t able to get Delaware’s unique border exact.
That piece of inexactness on the Maryland side of that border is called the Wedge. As an author I have exploited the Wedge’s potential for telling a story—a story which has included elements of Delaware’s literature. That sliver along Delaware’s arcing border with Pennsylvania has not inspired me. Much of it runs through “Chateau country.” A few remember it as the Horn.
What inspires me is that I’m always conscious that I’m walking the same streets in Wilmington as those that F. Scott Fitzgerald, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Clifford Brown and Nikki Giovanni once walked, to name but a few of the illustrious. I still see the rooms they once occupied even though the buildings are gone. In some cases the rooms are still there. Dunbar-Nelson left a living legacy in Wilmington. I see in the same kind of way an artist would, but the paintings are in books, like Biggs’ Seven Days Whipping, where I see a unique vision from a part of my own neighborhood just south of Wilmington. In two of Charles Wertenbaker’s novels I see familiar scenes where stories have provided me a different perspective from those which I’ve been led to believe. Now I know where all those “Dupont Driveways” really lead. Some essential parts of Wilmington from the turn of the last century in novels by Henry Seidel Canby, Christopher Ward, and in one important story from Alice Dunbar-Nelson are saved in the annals of American literature. All of this, including the story of Wilmington’s artists and musicians and the sounds and sights from them that are still around us, inspires me. A little like Paul Herbert Fricke from Christopher Ward’s One Little Man, I see through this world into other worlds that are depicted from so near by through our local literature. I also remember how, in the 1950s, I had been entranced by the cultural presence in Arden and wondered why the community in which I lived, Richardson Park, where Delaware artist J. D. Chalfant once lived and work, couldn’t be more like what I perceived Arden to be.
I am inspired by the history and existence of these locations under the unique crown of the Wedge and the Horn. In concert with the towns of Newark and New Castle, there are greater stories to be told from these places, and stories help us to see. 
To read more, obtain a free PDF copy of The Wedgehorn Manifesto at

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Are We Making Progress in the Culture War?

Since the midterm elections many with whom I've discussed the outcome have shared the dismay regarding the gains of the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party. My response has been that at least in our northern part of Delaware we seemed to have had better sense. As the results came in, I examined the voting trends by consulting those maps of Delaware provided by various media that displayed the red and blue areas of our state. Delaware was pretty much divided into a blue northern part of the state with a rim of red that ran across the arc that borders us with Pennsylvania where the wealthy live in chateau country, and a mostly red southern portion of the state except for an enclave in the vicinity of Lewes and Rehoboth where there is a large population of retired well educated professional people and artists.

Seeing this blue enclave in a sea of red downstate where I have a growing circle of friends in the burgeoning cultural community was heartening. It made me wonder if our efforts in the northern portion of Delaware with regards to our cultural activity over the past thirty years has paid off.

In 1984, when Ronald Reagan was reelected, I kind of saw the handwriting on the wall and backed away from the intense direct political activity in which I'd been engaged and sought a kind of cultural rapprochement. Part of the reason was connected to personal survival, but the major reason was to broaden the struggle into a larger social arena. That initial wave of extreme right wing lunacy seemed to be riding the crest of cultural initiatives that I perceived to have reactionary content.

In short, direct political activity might be good for winning the minds of people, but cultural activity might be better to win their hearts.

In general, I concluded that cultural activity added social value that both is ineffably valuable to the quality of our lives and comes closer to inherent truths within our individual selves. While the corporate and banking ruling circles in our country were using the ascendancy of the right wing to impoverish us economically, I felt it important to add cultural value to provide cohesion to those inherent truths of who we are and who we've been, and based on these, who we could become.

Considering all this, my conclusions still insisted on taking the form of questions during the course of reassessing my previous cultural activity. As far back as the late 1970s, when I became involved with Wilmington's Black press, I gained an innate understanding of the cultural component of a community and the value for social cohesion it embraced. This had been an important element in our efforts to undermined the Marshall machine and to begin to elect Black candidates to city offices and to pave the way to electing Wilmington's first Black mayor. After 1984, and after the ruling circles in Delaware conspired to crush The Delaware Valley Star, my writing in the local Black press reflected issues related more to social and cultural ones, like the effects of the "drug war," along with matters of music, literature and other aspects of local cultural history, and the social and cultural need for the ruling circles to pay reparations for the damage incurred by slavery and the institutionalized racism that has followed. But, to return to the subject, would the Black community at large have voted for right wing lunatic fringe candidates? I think not!

Nevertheless, questions of my work on behalf of providing cultural value to our local community persist. Has my work contributed to at least some people thinking more deeply, clearly and more critically about our environment? Has my work, under the aegis of the Dreamstreets project, on behalf of local literary artists, both from the past and in the present, improved our social and cultural environment? Has my broadcasting work on behalf of our local literary history and community, as well as our history of jazz artists, had an effect on protecting our ignored cultural history from those right wing lunatic fringe elements who would wish to belittle that legacy in order to gain some cultural hegemony based on Delaware's tired old legacy of cultural mediocrity, which serves the interests of the ruling corporate and banking circles that seek to control our lives? Have any of those who have joined in on performing this kind of cultural activity contributed even some small modicum of difference? I'd like to think so, even in some minuscule, intangible way so that people in this part of Delaware can think more sensibly about the political decisions made in the voting booth.

Even if I'm giving myself too much credit regarding my role in social and cultural progress, what matters most is that whatever it takes to counter the intent of the lunatic fringe from negatively influencing our lives is helpful. I don't intend on stopping. Never give the bastards an inch because they will take a mile.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Comments to Fear/Sanity Comments

To David:
I agree, and disagree. Yes, you deserve to be mad as hell that the world is as evil as it is, and that the Obama administration has meaningfully failed, and even betrayed, some of its campaign promises. But, what are you going to do, throw a tantrum? The pear is not ripe right now for revolution, even if you want one-- but only for sensationalist rebellion that hardens hearts to no good end. Acquiescence is not the only alternative. Old saying: Don't get mad, get even. Translation: Don't rage, get civil, and under that cover be crafty as a cheshire cat.

To Phillip Bannowsky:
All that I called the Fear/Sanity event was "good medicine," much humbler than "medicine for all that ails us," as you phrase it, which I don't claim. And yes, Stewart and Colbert are, finally, just centrist show-bizzers. But so what, if, as you say, it's up to the rest of us? I do not suggest we bow down before our tools, just the opposite. We should pick up all available tools to our purpose. These brilliant and sophisticated commedians are available instruments. I say avail.

To Anonymous:
You say he, Obama, needs to "start kicking some ass." I agree. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you're seeing the Fear/Sanity event (at least as I've portrayed it) as a self-defeating harmonizing with Obama's, as you put it, "transcendental coolness." Although I personally admire his professorial tone, I see how it fails in our anti-intellectual, wild west political culture. Picture Obama: "Now, class, let us all turn to page 34." So we do, except half of us tear page 34 out of the book, so we can't all be on the same page anymore. You're right, Obama is far too civil. But he is the President, and the rest of us are not. So, different rules. If little old me is going to kick ass in a land of already too many combat boots, it's going to have to be done with an old soft shoe.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Fear and Sanity

What the?... Yes, my thought exactly on last weekend's Colbert/Stewart Fear/Sanity party on the Mall in Washington D.C. My wife and I attended-- attended?-- showed for the duration. And "show" is the operative term.

Well, it was the most populous D.C. event I've ever been to. I missed Obama's inauguration, but even the anti-Vietnam war Pentagon March of 1967 was out-populated. The train ride into town (we left our car on the outskirts) was so packed you could only have slid in more people horizontally against the ceiling. And yet the mood was fabulous. The crowd, mostly young people (My wife and I are in the old category now) laughed and joked, and frequently broke into song that infected the whole car, often songs from the '60's and '70's, songs popular decades before most of the singers were born. Who would have thought the spirit lives on?

When we got to the Mall we couldn't get on it-- too many people. We got only as far as the famously last-minute available batteries of port-o-potties. Spry youngsters climbed trees for a better view, but I doubt they saw more than head tops. So we never got to see-- or even hear-- the stage deal. All we got was: one another.

So I guess that was the point: it had to be, none other was available. We'd bothered to come to the Capitol for a show, and got one, ourselves. It was quite a party, and decked out with costumes and signs that were dedicatedly playful, politically a blearly crayon-scape, when political at all. Bear in mind the next day was Halloween, and the adult trick-or-treaters were testing out their equipment. Election Day to follow 3 days later. Who's your favorite ghoul? Vote with your candy.

Only later, at home, on TV, did we "see and hear" the official event. It was a pleasant and appropriate enough pop show, and after all it was finally just a theatrical event. Or, was it, despite itself? How can you ever, no matter how hard you try, not be everything you are? How can you not, even by brushing your teeth, tell the world what you care about? Jon Stewart made a terrific serious speech. My take is this: We are invited to enjoy the god-given right to be afraid, which implies the god-given imperative to be awake and alert; we are also invited to understand that sanity requires a no-pain no-gain grunt attitude, and that in our consumerist society sanity is not a luxury item, but one shelved next to the rice and beans.

But Jon Stewart already made this speech, and his was better than mine.

Did we do any good? I valued learning what I can only hope others learned also, that there are so many people of good will who "get it" that their numbers can crush you half to death in a wide open space, even in these politically ugly times. I valued seeing that this has not changed since 1967: Americans have the capacity to behave in a responsible and orderly way, even under stress and running amok. I almost feel sorry for the D.C. cops: they looked so bored.

The whole deal was good medicine, even if only in the sense that it did the patient no harm.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Preamble to the Contradiction

Dear Christine O'Donnell, kindly follow my thought thither and hence. The bread on the waters will return to you.

WE THE PEOPLE, in order to form a more perfect union? Wait a minute. Isn't more perfect a little like more pregnant? Of course, if you want to be pregnant, and become so, you are from day one beginning with a kind of perfection. Then, as you grow larger, you can be said to be becoming more perfect. So, okay, let us grant that, under some conditions, one may have degrees of perfection.

Well, I have just re-read the Constitution of the United States, and I am dismayed. If it were a house, it would be a log-cabin without thatch or mortaring. Open to the rain and wind. The fire would not keep much heat in. Founding Fathers, ha!, thank you? And yet. And yet I say yes thank you because all that rain and wind somehow built a mighty estate out of that log cabin. Our Founding Fathers, who were, among other things, monsters, somehow stumbled into securing for posterity significant blessings of Liberty. A more perfect pregnancy, conceived often in what most of us would rather not think about, but giving birth to significant Liberty.

And so, O'Donnell? Running for office here in Delaware? You and your fellow ultra-strict constructionists? Do you really want to go back and live in that log cabin? Don't you understand how well the evolution of constitutional meaning has served to ensure the domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and not only secure the blessings of liberty but of anti-biotics and central heating as well? Invention rights protection is in the Constitution. And these last two really do help during child-birth.

Okay, granted, philosophically and politically, there will always be conflicting interpretations of the Constitution. This is necessary. The framers are all dead, and the world we live in is one they couldn't know. And what they framed was the necessity of only their moment anyway. And that's my point: interpretation means that fundamentalism is impossible. In the beginning was the Word. The Word is a baby: you love it, but would you let it drive your truck?

Don't you understand that even though the moon does not love us, the tide it elicits has raised all our nation's boats? Lucky us: History has handed our Society the moon, in our constitutional evolution. Even rich white males are better off now, despite all the effluvial dispersals of wealth and rights to disenfranchised classes, than were their counterparts of 200 years ago. Everybody is winning. And women too. Hmm...

Which means, Christine O'Donnell, I just noticed something. You're a woman. Oops... Now, strictly speaking, strictly as in strictly constructionist, going back to a fundamentalist beginning, you strictly speaking as a woman had no right to vote, much less run for office. If you're such a political purist, shouldn't you be back home washing dishes, barefoot and pregnant? After all, by your own ideals, you're just a girl. Unless you're also a hypocrite who wants to ordain and establish whatever she can grab.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Small Degree of Separation While Remembering Paul Apel

When I was a youngster growing up in the late 1950s and early 1960s in Richardson Park just outside of Wilmington, Delaware, I used to hang out on the corner with many of the other boys in the neighborhood, hair greased up in a pompadour wearing a leather motorcycle jacket with a switchblade tucked away under the zipper that tightened the cuff of its left sleeve, wearing khaki pants and Keds red ball sneakers playing the part in that otherwise apathetic stultifying America where "Door Gunner" Joe McCarthy and HUAC goons made sure I had no thoughts that might be construed as truly threatening or subversive. We thought we were rebels without a cause, and that was okay because no cause was better than having a cause. Having a cause meant you had to have knowledge as a basis upon which to think seriously about things.

Even with the role I played in order to fit in, I had a sinking feeling there was more to American culture than hanging out on the corner. My evidence could only be found in two places. One place was from the books my father kept, but this merely indicated the raw landscape. Mostly they were books about art and the pictures in them were like little windows into a world that I didn't see while standing on the corner. The other place took the form of a second floor apartment above Starr's Drug Store at the corner of which we hung out. In that apartment lived a man who was about ten or twelve years older than me. In some ways he was like the neighborhood beatnik, though he would have bristled at the comparison. He did have that bohemian aura however. In the late 1960s he was angry that he could no longer be trusted by those in the counter-culture because he was over 30 years old. He knew a lot about art, literature and modern music. He was comfortable and proficient discussing religion, psychology and –– for the times –– subjects as esoteric as cybernetics and media, like radio and television. For example, he first introduced me to Marshall McLuhan's ideas. He became a long time friend throughout the 1960s and into the early 1970s when he move with his new wife to Cincinnati, Ohio. His name was Paul Apel.

Paul used to refer often to a friend of his from his own adolescence during the Second World War years while they were living in St. Augustine, Florida. That friend's name was Langston Moffett. Langston's father was also named Langston Moffett, but neither put a "junior"or "senior" after their names. The elder's father was Cleveland Moffett, an author who wrote at least one novel, Through the Wall, published in 1909. His son, Langston Moffett wrote the novel Devil by the Tail, published by Lippincott in 1947. It is largely a novel about binge drinking and may have closely been modeled on the author's own experiences. The novel's main character, Gordon Sullivan, had once been a Paris correspondent for a prominent New York newspaper during those "lost generation" years of the late 1920s and early 1930s.

Langston Moffett had been a journalist for the Paris Herald in 1928 and 1929. His father, Cleveland Moffett, had also worked for the same paper when Langston was a child. During Langston's stint with the paper he caroused with notable literary figures from the United States, particularly F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. They partied hardy at such Paris hangouts as the Ritz Bar, Chez Bricktop, and the Hotel Crillon. In an article Moffett wrote entitled "Paris: Fun and Frolic" for the Spring 1987 edition of the Lost Generation Journal, he provides a report of the continuation of Scott and Zelda's exploits right after they left Wilmington where they had been living.

In the early 1930s, Langston Moffett returned to the United States, and except for writing the novel cited above, turned to painting and eventually moved to St. Augustine and became a shaker and mover in what had been informally called "the lost art colony" in that city. It was there that the younger Langston Moffett and Paul Apel became friends.

Paul once told me a story, which I had subsequently forgot and about which Paul's widow Carolyn reminded me recently, about how he and Langston were working at a local radio station in St. Augustine –– probably WFOY –– during the Second World War. It had been possible for teenage boys to do radio in those days because the War had created a shortage of grown men. While doing radio there, the two kept hearing stories about this blind kid who was about the same age as Paul and Langston, who attended the nearby Florida School for the Deaf and Blind and who played a mean piano. They wanted to bring this kid on the air and broadcast his extraordinary talents, but the station's managers refused to allow them to bring him into the studios because he was Black and Jim Crow rule was the law of the land in the South. Evidently, however, after Paul and Langston left the station the managers relented. At the very least, Paul and Langston recognized this youngster's talents, which quickly became irresistible enough to give him a break. As it turned out, Paul Apel and Langston Moffett had played a small part in introducing to what would become a growing audience the gift and talents of the future Ray Charles.

These first small degrees of separation began to open the door to that world I had suspected was out there beyond the one imposed upon me by purveyors of mediocrity and pushers of suffocating parochialism, and it was as nearby as that apartment above the neighborhood drugstore where Paul Apel lived among books piled around, a small electric piano and sparse furnishings. Yet for me the world opened up. Here was someone who had known Ray Charles, and whose best friend's father caroused with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. Who knows what may have become of me had I not known Paul Apel. If would have been easy for me to end up in prison, or a mental hospital with a future of homelessness ahead of me, given how our world has turned out since the 1960s. Paul encouraged my own artistic endeavors and enabled me to choose to go to college rather than join the Army, for example. In short, Paul Apel saved my life and at least I owe him this small tribute because those small degrees of separation that the world I wished to know was not that far away.

Monday, September 13, 2010

One Nation: from Discord, Action

Can you create from discord, action?

I suspect that folks in the arts and literary community generally dislike the simplifications of politics, that discourse that reduces humanity—complex in its physical struggles and spiritual yearning—to geopolitical and theological categories. And I know from direct experience that many artists, like their fellow Americans, see their personal battles against the Great Recession going nowhere. So I would not be surprised if they turn in disgust from the degraded discourse of Tea Party racism and despair at the paralysis in economic policy.  Well, judging from an extraordinary “maquette” for One Nation Working Together designed by Michael Murphy, that’s about to change.

At first glance it is a map of the United States with the word “One” plastered in the center, apparently a two-dimensional collage made from discordant scraps.  However, click on the three dimensional view and the work rotates so that, as the artist describes it, “moments of discovery occur,” and we see the multifarious faces, tools, fauna, diversions, and emblems of America. As it resumes the shape of our country, there is a realization of the material basis of our national unity, sort of like the feeling of America we get from poet Walt Whitman’s praise of the commonplace.

Discovery or realization is not the end point of this sculpture, however; action is.

On October 2, 2010, hundreds of thousands of Americans will gather under the banner of One Nation Working Together at the Lincoln Memorial, overcoming their “superficial differences” as the organizers declare, to demand jobs, education, equality, and peace—in a phrase, to demand “the change we voted for.”

Initiated by the NAACP and SEIU, One Nation Working Together is now partnered with hundreds of labor, civil rights, peace, social justice, gender rights, and other organizations from across our nation. Participants are welcome to display their own placards and slogans.

Many are marching with “The Peace Table,” among them Delaware Pacem in Terris, which will provide a coach bus (at $25 per seat) leaving from Rodney Square at 8:00 a.m.

Others can ride for free with the Delaware State AFL-CIO, which has reserved 8 busses.  To reserve a free seat, simply email the state AFL-CIO at, give them your name, email address, and cell phone number (if you have one), and tell them you want to go. Busses will leave from several locations around Delaware.

Artists like Michael Murphy show us the interaction between artistic vision and civic engagement. Take this opportunity to produce your own creations to reflect on this historic event and move people to action. Post them on your blogs, Facebook, and web pages, email them to friends, recite them at readings or act them out on streetcorners. Or Post them at Broken Turtle in Comments.

And then BE THERE 10-2-10!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

To my unknown Muslim community

While I am not a christian, I was raised in the christian cultural camp. I know its vocabulary and imagery and have lived intimately with christians my whole life. Therefore I know for a fact, and need not take it on faith, that the great majority of christians are good people leading peaceful constructive lives. I can read their collective face, and what evil I can see there I can isolate from the good.

It is in my personal nature to consider by extention that the great majority of muslim people are good, and leading peaceful and constructive lives also, despite the fact that in the 9/11 era virtually all terrorists have emerged from islamic belief and culture. But, because I am not a muslim and have had no intimacy with its culture, I do have to take my cherished assumption on faith. Your collective face is veiled to my eyes, I have no personal tool for isolating the evil from the good.

I can't be alone in my limitation. How common is this, here in my home in the U.S.A, in northern Delaware, or anywhere? I keep wondering, why are all the good muslims so quiet? They seem to be. Those wishing to build a muslim religious center blocks from ground zero in NYC can't not know the hurtful sensibility of the situation. Are they seeking to seed a healing glasnost in the heart of the west, or simply and cynically to keep their enemies closer? Or is it really just the luck of the real estate draw? I know that where I live the last decade has witnessed a ballooning muslim presence. They have a large community center just 2 miles from my front door. Them. Them is the problem. Not "they are," but "them is." Sometimes you can wind up alone in a limitation even if there are millions of you-- if you wind up being them.

Or, maybe the limitation is mine? The muslim community is talking, only I don't know how to hear it? Is a profound failure in the American media to blame? All too often good news isn't good enough to feed its appetite for sensationalism. If I could interview my hypothetical "you" on the street, here would be my question:

You are in my country by choice-- do you like us? Do you like what we are? Or do we disgust you and you just stay for the education and the work? Hey, if that's so, I understand. My italian immigrant grandparents didn't like it either, but back home in Italy, where society was decent, they couldn't find jobs. But their feelings never turned into hostility. Have yours? Or, are you like our own historical Pilgrims, who came to America to escape religious intolerance only to turn around and become intolerant of others at every turn? So, what will your contribution be to any future american greatness, good deeds despite all? Or yet one more growth-provoking lesson in hypocrisy?

Why do I talk to you as if you're a giant monolith? Because I can't see your face, whether that be my fault, my culture's, or yours. It's not fair to either of us, because the face is that unique part of the human body that shows the soul. And, politically speaking, you can see mine. Treasure any modesty you wish except that of your face.

I favor building the religious center near ground zero, granting transparency, simply because the rightness of doing so is the law of the land, constitutionally and morally. And even if we don't look moral to you on our surface, just below it most of us come out of a sense of justice in which we invest a profound faith. We allow ourselves-- and you-- to run wild because we trust ourselves to behave well when it counts, and because, as our Benjamin Franklin expressed, those who would give up liberty for the sake of security deserve neither. I deserve your face in return for mine.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Remembering Robert Reynolds

For those of us in our local literary community, among the most tragic of losses was the death of poet Robert Reynolds. In an environment where we tend to forget those poets and authors who have gone before us, I often think about Robert Reynolds. The first thing we remember about his poetry were those long lyrical lines containing a bit more meter than is usual, but Robert turned those lines into a lyrical music rarely conveyed by mere words. When I first met Robert back in the early to mid 1980s, he had evidently found a typewriter with a wide carriage that could accommodate a piece of paper fed into it sideways. In this way he could type out those long lines across the length of the page. He quickly found voice for those long lines, pulling the listeners into his images.

Robert’s poems were meant to be heard. Whenever he showed up during our Second Saturday Readings in Wilmington, whether during the open segment or during those times when he was the feature, his reading of his own work had the capacity to nearly enchant the listener, not with just the music of his words and his delivery of them but with the vivid quality of images they provoked. One could see in one’s mind’s eye the scenes he portrayed in his poems better than that found in many other good poems.

I don’t know the full circumstances of Robert’s death, nor do I really want to. I know he died long before he should have left us. This much I do know, and it’s relevant. With many poets, the force that compels the composition of poetry comes from a mixture of love and haunting. Most poets are haunted by those demons that compel us to strike out against them with words, and strangely enough words seem to be the most affective weapon against them. Robert was no different in those regards. Yet, sometimes life’s situations exacerbate those inner struggles with those demons. I do know that Robert’s apartment building, which was administered through public housing, had sustained a fire that was serious enough to rehouse the building’s residents. Knowing Robert as I had caused me to suspect the event sent him into an emotional tailspin. I’d been told that Robert’s death was at his own hand and that he had evidently destroyed all his poems along with his mortal coil.

Of his published work, the only examples known to have survived appeared in the local literary periodical Palengenesis. In the mid 1980s I had the occasion to record Robert reading a couple of his poems for the Dreamstreets radio program. To my knowledge this was the only recordings of him reading his work and can be found among the Dreamstreets archive linked from this site. During a memorial event held for Robert I made copies of this recording for those who wished to have them. The recording was played for those at this memorial event. Some in attendance wept while declaring they thought they’d never hear his voice again. It warmed my heart to know I had provided this small token.

But the story doesn’t end here.

Some weeks later a mutual friend of Robert’s and mine informed me that some months before Robert had given our friend an envelope full of his poems. Initially the announcement provided the prospect that his work had survived. However, this disclosure was made to me by our mutual friend after he had also been subjected to another inner city housing shuffle, this time by a mortgage predator who had forced our friend to make a frenzied move to another living arrangement. Articles in his house were divided among newer accommodations in his extended family. Other things were allowed to dribble into places unknown. In his new accommodations my friend looked for that envelope containing Robert’s poems in great earnest. After all, Robert was his friend as well. But the envelope could not be found. Maybe it’s around somewhere and will turn up, but as time goes by the chance of that becomes less likely. Perhaps in another frantic act of a being forced to forsake comfort and security, a more real demon than the ones with which many poets and artists struggle had had a role to play, a demon real enough to hasten the destruction of a poet and his work as well as a demon real enough to lull us into forgetting.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Bottom of the Fox

A True Story of Love, Devotion & Cold-Blooded Murder
by Shaun D. Mullen
Fishy Business Press

In The Bottom of the Fox, local author and blogger Shaun Mullen (Kiko's House) has captured the ambivalent ambiance of the storied Poconos bioregion that just shoulders the piedmont where we Delawareans reside. What we learn from Mullen is that behind the tony resorts and meandering roads that grace those gentle green mountains is a world of in-bred isolation, territoriality, and violence. In the late seventies, Eddie Joubert wandered in. He was an entrepreneurial hippy and former Teamster who sought to bring the freewheeling spirit of the sixties to the Poconos by running a bar called The Bottom of the Fox and helping to organize The Delaware Water Gap Festival of the Arts. On November 28, 1981, while retrieving some beer from the Fox basement, he was brutally murdered with an axe.

Mullen does a great job tracing both the geologic and the social evolution of the Poconos as one of America’s earliest resorts. We learn about the various confrontations among the settlers who drove out the Indians, the politicians who sought to sell out the region’s beauty, and the subsequent waves of immigrants, including a bunch of hippy squatters who tried to take over some condemned properties.

Mullen also captures the spirit of a drop out culture that did not cop out. While Eddie Joubert had his vices, he was a warm-hearted soul who bonded with everyone from the local minister to the homeless veteran, and he boosted the economic and cultural well being of the society of his adopted home. Apparently, according to Mullen, as Joubert ranged easily among all the odd human fauna of the Gap, he came to know too much. The real powers in that community had too much to lose if Edie’s murder was investigated scrupulously, so the cops just chalked it up to some hippy getting himself killed in a drug deal involving outsiders.

Mullen has a strong suspicion about who killed Eddie, and I must confess I am not totally convinced about his conclusions. But solving the specifics of the crime is not the main point. It’s about young folks who were re-inventing the American Dream in the sixties and seventies. It’s about the underside of a smug establishment that marginalizes its visionaries as low-class bohemians. It’s a story we in Delaware know well.

Buy a copy from his site at

One dollar from the sale of each book goes to the Delaware Water Gap Festival of the Arts.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Is Change Impossible (Part 3)

Coda: 16 Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Well, I thought I was done — until I wasn’t.

I think Bliss assumes, like many so-called rational people on the left, that social change is primarily an intellectual and political problem. Bliss writes of an anguish “no amount of scholarship can heal” as if it would be possible to study your way out of despair, but you can’t. The only way out of hopelessness is, oddly enough, hope itself.

Before I first read Bliss’ piece, I was working on a passage in my novel in which my main character, Morian, is having dinner with Lillian Ruby, the head of a huge biotech firm, probably one of the most powerful organizations in that world. Before detailing his version of the geopolitical history of the region, Ruby asks Morian what her political leanings are. She gives a noncommittal answer; the truth is she’s been politically inert for a long time, ever since she left the movement because of its lack of imagination.  Ruby counters Morian’s lackluster response by quoting to her the last sentences she ever posted to a political forum: The revolution is coming, but if you keep looking where you’ve been looking, you will never see it. It dresses in colors you have never worn; it is written in a language you have yet to speak.

At first Morian pretends not to remember the post, but then she finally admits to Ruby the reaction to her post was far from positive. She was imagining possibilities at the edge of language, almost beyond the   limits of human imagination. She couldn’t make her comrades understand, so she just gave up.

“I’m not surprised,” Lillian Ruby tells her. “Politics is the art of the possible. You wanted people to conceive of the beyond possible, which is usually the domain of religion.”

I was revising that particular section today when something hit me: in order to effect change, you must first believe in it. You have to have the courage to imagine 16 impossible things before breakfast. You have to have faith. To be successful, activism has to have a strong intellectual, political and spiritual foundation.

I essentially ended Part 2 of this series with a declaration of faith. I will continue to work for change because I believe I must and because I believe in my blood it is possible.

Now I realize “faith” and “spiritual” are loaded terms. You either think of Bible thumping fundamentalists or airy fairy New Agers. But it was no accident the Civil Rights movement was based, for a large part, in churches. That was the perfect place for many people to gain the fortitude to begin a journey towards the impossible, because moving towards what Obama called, a “more perfect union” in one of his better speeches, certainly seemed near impossible to many of them at the time.

The arts can serve a similar function. (And no, I don’t mean didactic pieces that preach mainly to the choir, although those can serve a purpose.) The arts can give us  the inner resources to fight the impossible fight, by imagining the way to light, by reminding us the world is worth saving even when we think it’s doomed to hell, and by providing encouragement during those inevitable long, dark nights of the soul. If we are to actively build our future, we must have the courage and imagination to dream it first.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Is Change Impossible (Part 2)

A continuation of Sunday's post...

Mastery of — or at least the ability to master — the extant technologies by which the Ruling Class maintains its power: A little over ten years ago, I looked into applying for an LPFM license with a couple of friends under the aegis of Dreamstreets Press. The idea was to build a radio station that would showcase the wide range of Wilmington’s cultural offerings, with an emphasis on local under-served communities. We planned to feature the work of local musicians, have interviews with visual and literary artists, do in-depth local news reporting and generally be a clearing house for the city.

We had a bit of a head start. I basically already owned everything to start a radio station except a transmitter. Our little group had several members with both deep roots in the community and audio production experience. We might have even been able to wrangle a little money from somewhere since funding for non-profits was hardly as tight as it is today. But unfortunately, the lower end of the FM band is rather crowded in this area, so no frequencies were available. I think the closest available frequency was somewhere south of Dover.

Why was a radio station so important? Because consistent access to the media is important. It’s the way you get your message heard — and unfortunately, progressives have fallen way behind in this area.

I’ll confess I have no idea as to how we might remedy this situation. Blogs, zines, books, websites, and podcasts are all well and good, but what we need is a TV station, indeed a whole network, since TV is the medium that is most readily available and popular. It is also the most expensive to produce well. Cheap TV looks cheap and the people will not be fooled.

The support of a major foreign power: I learned when I was a teenager that if I wanted something kind of iffy, that my parents might not want to give, that it was better to ask for it when outsiders (company, extended family) were present. Since my parents tended to avoid public displays of conflict, they usually gave in to avoid an argument — and with very few exceptions I got what I wanted. I took advantage of their efforts to save face.

Bliss asserts the specter of the former Soviet Union served a similar function for America’s capitalist ruling class. Since there was a strong, viable alternative lurking somewhere on the planet (they beat us into space after all) the robber barons couldn’t put their ugly butts on full display. The USSR might have been imperfect; they might have been oppressive and cruel, but we always had to show we were better than they were. We at least needed to look like we had the moral upper hand.

Now, Bliss maintains, for all practical purposes, socialism is dead and the new globalism has initiated a planet-wide race to the bottom, at least for most of us. Even in nominally Communist China, to get rich is glorious. Who cares if you wind up with some of the most polluted cities on the planet, thousands of people die in your mines or occasionally you are tempted to taint your products to maximize your profits? (It’s been a long time since I’ve read Marx, but I think that’s enough to have him spinning in his grave.)

Maybe nation states are no longer the true power. Corporations are. They have the money; they have the equipment; they have the jobs; they transcend borders and they can write their own rules. This is starkly apparent in the case of the BP oil disaster. Everyone yearns for the government to “do something”, but in reality there is only a limited amount the government can do. BP has the money, the equipment and the expertise. The government is very much at their mercy.

The time to have done something was before the drilling began, with strong regulation, oversight and planning. Of course then there would be the risk of BP taking its toys to play elsewhere, where perhaps the “small people” wouldn’t try to meddle as much. Even as Bobby Jindal tries to advocate for Louisiana’s endangered ecosystems, he doesn’t want drilling to end forever. It’s hard to slap the hand that feeds you.

These new world powers have given rise to an enemy just as ruthless. Al Queda in all its permutations is globalism’s darkest reflection. Despite all pretenses to the contrary, I wouldn’t call it a legitimate revolutionary movement because as far as I can see, it is completely nihilistic; it seeks to build nothing, only to destroy. It is the last desperate shout of the damned.


Yes, I know. It’s almost the Platonic form of depressing. But like I said, I refuse to give up. I also don’t want to discount the progress we’ve made so far. Obama has accomplished far more in his 18 months of office than he’s given credit for. However, I increasingly get the sinking feeling we are trying to patch up something fundamentally broken and that radical, paradigm shifting changes are needed if the human race is to survive.

The Gulf of Mexico oil gusher is an excellent case in point. Thankfully, at this writing, there is reason to hope. The oil has finally stopped flowing, but what about the oil already released? How long will it take the ocean to recover and will it ever recover completely? What will it mean if it doesn’t? And why were we going around poking holes where no human could go in the first place? How close are we to running out of oil and how much of the earth are we willing to rape to get it? What does a clean energy, post-petroleum economy even mean? A Prius in every garage — or something far deeper? What does the end of the easy oil age mean for agriculture, manufacturing, city planning, or medical science? Oil is in everything, you know, from the fresh tar coating on my parents’ driveway to the rather ingenious contraptions that allow me to stand and walk again. What will happen when there simply is no more?

The questions are endless. How long can the United States afford to spend the bulk of its resources remaking the world in its image and dreaming up new and exciting ways to kill people while it lets its own infrastructure rot? What will happen when it gets too expensive and dangerous to import basic goods from 12,000 miles away? What will happen when all those people in the world’s cheap labor markets finally stand up and say, Show us the money! Give us our due!

Bliss compares global capitalism to the Borg and maintains not only is resistance futile, but “rebellion is suicide”. I disagree. The challenges ahead are daunting, but not impossible. If I can imagine the dangers ahead, I can also imagine ways to conquer them — and imagine I must. I have no choice but to walk towards the future. So I write as if it matters, dream as if it matters, live as if it matters.

Because, in the end, it really does.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Is Change Impossible? (Part 1)

About a week ago, I rewarded a productive day of writing with what was intended to be just a few minutes of mindless web surfing. After following a trail of links, I stumbled upon one of the saddest things I have ever read, Loren Bliss’ The Stolen Prerequisites of Liberation: Why Change is Impossible.

I’m not sure why Bliss’ piece affected me so deeply. Perhaps it was because I’d spent the day working on my novel Goodbye Jambalaya which is in large part about the geography of despair. Maybe it’s because I’ve often heard his hopelessness (and bitterness) echoed among several of my older activist friends. Anyway: it hit me hard enough to get saved into the PDF archive.

Bliss begins by thanking a couple of friends for their comments on previous posts and then gets down to explaining why he hasn’t posted anything for nearly a month. “Several people have wondered if I am sick — if my long silence is the result of illness. Indeed it is, but my affliction is neither viral nor bacteriological. It is instead political: the fact our collective powerlessness has become so obvious — and so depressing — there is little I can do beyond the proverbial wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

Oh yeah, I thought, I’ve definitely been there before. Several times: right after the latest Iraq War started, when the public option was taken off the table in the health care debate, when President Obama decided he was going to expand the war in Afghanistan, when BP’s insatiable lust for profits (as well as our insatiable lust for fossil fuels) propelled them to tear a hole in the ocean floor, and for 85 days, 16 hours, and 25 minutes all we could do was watch it bleed.

On most of those issues, I thought I was a good active citizen. I kept myself informed; I voted; I wrote my congressman and senators; I wrote and published zines. In the case of Afghanistan, I even wrote the President — in longhand, since I read somewhere he’d be more likely to actually see my missive that way. “Do something truly audacious,” I implored him. “Stop a war.” But no go. All my efforts — as well as the efforts of several million others — were in vain.

Bliss asserts this state of powerlessness is more than a passing malaise, that indeed real change is impossible and the bad guys (the Ayn Rand capitalists) have won. Part of the reason for this is that the “four basic requirements” for “liberation from tyranny” no longer exist. These four basic requirements are: solidarity, a disciplined population, the ability to master the “extant technologies by which the Ruling Class maintains its power” and support from a major foreign power.

I estimate Loren Bliss to be at least 20 years older than I am (judging by the fact he’s retired and by his terminology, which seems dated. Who capitalizes “Ruling Class” anymore?) so presumably he has less time to try to live in a state of total despair. Unfortunately, I can’t afford to give up; it’s a matter of survival and sanity. So I do not take Bliss’ four prerequisites as gospel and refuse to believe the tools to build a better world have vanished forever. But his post did get me thinking — and in my next posts, I will use his four conditions as a framework to discuss why real change is so slow in coming.


: By this Bliss means ideally ideological solidarity, or “at least the solidarity of a common list of grievances”. If you are going to effect change, you have to have enough people to agree on what needs changing first, and in America, getting to that crucial first step is quite a challenge.

I started attending demonstrations in the early 80’s way after the late 60’s/ early 70’s heyday. The one thing I was struck by was how scattered many of them felt; there was no solidarity of purpose. While we nominally might have been there to support one cause — divesting from South Africa, equal rights for women, etc — it was patently obvious to me (and I think anyone watching) that people were more interested in publicity for their own special interest group. Sometimes verbal altercations broke out between young and old, blacks and whites, anarchists and Democrats, gays and straights. It was depressing and sometimes flat out embarrassing. What does it say about your particular cause when you can’t get people to agree on it for a single afternoon?

I think that’s why I was foolish enough to think the anti-war demonstrations just before the second Iraq war would actually work. Not only were they huge, but, more importantly, they were focused. You really got the feeling of “we the people” because, amazingly, everyone in attendance was on the same page. It was exhilarating!

Part of the reason we have trouble coming together is that American society is incredibly diverse. But we are also intensely individualistic and selfish. I don’t mean to imply we are all personally selfish, as Americans have the ability to be quite generous when we want to be, but we live within a system that rewards selfishness — indeed thrives on it — and that’s bound to color our everyday dealings with one another.

Plus, many of us lack the knowledge and skills to be able to see the big picture. We don’t see what racism has to do with worker’s rights, has to do with women’s rights, has to do with early childhood education, has to do with universal health care, has to do with the environment. We almost never think about the long haul. Hell, often we can’t even remember what we did yesterday, and worse than that, in some cases we simply refuse to. (Hence the Tea Party people who can’t tell the difference between Hitler and Obama) If we lack the ability to think outside the box of our own heads, how can we expect to recognize what we may have in common with our neighbor?

A Disciplined Population
: “Effective political action requires discipline and teamwork”, Bliss states. True enough — although Bliss seems to think Americans lost their best opportunity to learn true teamwork and discipline when we abolished the draft. I’m not sure I agree with him on this point, but I understand what he’s getting at.

Some sort of compulsory national service (though not necessarily military) might teach people that freedom means more than just doing what you want; it costs something; it demands you give your best in return. It also might serve to give all Americans the benefit of a common experience of serving their country and help them become more invested in the common good. For instance: if everyone’s son and daughter had to serve in the military, we’d probably start fewer wars. Certainly, more people would have been more skeptical in the run up to Iraq.

But back to the point of discipline: political action and governance is often tedious. Yes, it requires passion, but it also requires patience. Yes, there are demonstrations, civil disobedience, and grand speeches, but there is also database maintenance, teaching yourself Flash, fact checking, grant writing, copy editing, accurate bookkeeping, talking to people you might not like and the occasional wearing of uncomfortable clothes and shoes so people will take you seriously. It’s not all fun and games and is often a thankless job.

(to be continued...) 

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Commie Bar of Beirut

Reprinted from OpEdNews
It is part nostalgia, part irony, part history lesson, and part revolutionary space in the heart of the Caracas District of West Beirut, unobtrusively nestled in the ground floor of the “Yaacoubian Beelding.” Tagged by us Americans as “Commie Bar,” it is actually called Pub Naya or Abou Elie’s. Plastered across the walls or enshrined in glass cases are the artifacts of revolutionary communism: Kalashnikovs, bandoliers of ammunition, Russian uniforms, Cuban cigars, photos and posters of Sitting Bull, Che (many), Lenin (on cigarette packs, vases), Stalin, and Marx, as well as the images of numerous Lebanese icons such as Druze Chieftain and socialist mystic Kamal Jumblatt, the singer Fairuz, and former Lebanese Communist Party leader George Hawi, who was assassinated in 2007 in the wave of killings that began with Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s murder in 2005.

At there is a slide show and short movie about the place.

It is about the size of your average kitchen. The booze is cheap: Almaza beer, Ksara wine, and plenty of Red Label, arak, and Bombay Safire. Patrons are always served plates of fruit (apples, plums, giant apricots, cherries), salted pumpkin seeds and other nuts, spiced olives, salted carrots, and some kind of white bean, which may pop out in the air as you attempt to squeeze off the husk, forcing you grab at it and knock your beer over onto your munchies. “Je suis désolé” will do if you don’t know Arabic. I don’t know how they make a profit.

You may have a political conversation with someone who speaks English while admiring the chic and avant-garde crowd that habituates the place. He may express satisfaction with the fall of the Soviet Union, which enables left wingers to operate without being accused of being spies. He may tell you that there may be trouble with Israel or Syria or both in September, a month many Lebanese are anxious about, when the Hariri Tribunal will render a report, especially if it blames Syria for Hariri’s assassination and Israel chooses such a traumatic moment to move against Lebanon over offshore gas and oil deposits along their mutual coastline.
A computer screen at the end of the bar loops photos of Che Guevara, George Hawi, and the Palestinian cartoonist Naji Al-Ali. The Che’s are all familiar, from Alberto Korda’s ubiquitous icon to the glassy-eyed corpse on a table. George Hawi’s career included, apparently, meetings with everyone from Yassir Arafat to Haffaz Assad, the late leader of Syria. Hawi left the Communist Party in later years to focus on a more social democratic agglomeration called the Democratic Left Movement, which worked with the March 14 Alliance in opposition to Syrian dominance and the Iranian influence represented in Hezbollah.
Political Cartoonist Naji Al-Ali was an artist of the stature of William Hogarth, Thomas Nast, and Rius. Born in Lebanon’s Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp, his lacerating irony flayed not only Israel, but all the Arab leaders who frothed in support of Palestinians while feathering their own nests, including the PLO. He invented as his signature a scruffy, barefooted little Palestinian boy called Handala, back always turned to the reader, with hands crossed behind him defiantly. Exiled from one nation to the next, Al-Ali was assassinated in 1987 in London either by an the PLO or Israeli Mossad or both―that’s how these things are usually recounted in this highly divided land.
Lebanon, for those who don’t know, is divided politically according to some dozen and a half official “confessions”―or religions―so that the President is always Maronite (Roman Catholicism with an Eastern Rite), the Prime Minister Sunni, and the Speaker Shi’a, with other portfolios going to Druze, Orthodox, regular Roman Catholics, Malachites, and several others you never heard of. Each is so weak, my interlocutor explains, that they each appeal to some greater nation outside the country to give them power (Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, USA, Israel), but one has to pay for what one receives. Additionally, some 400,000 Palestinians Refugees live without citizenship rights in refugee camps all over Lebanon. Along with the 1975-1990 civil war among the country’s many confessions and militias―subsidized by several nations―, Lebanon suffered a brutal occupation by Israel from 1982 to 2000.
For all his merits as a strong center to Lebanon’s widening gyre, Rafik Hariri was a neoliberal crony capitalist and citizen of Saudi Arabia who did little for the poor Shi’a, while Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran did much. Many folks of different confessions still support Hezbollah as The Resistance against Israeli aggression. If they see Hezbollah through rosy glasses, so do many others view the martyred Hariri.
My friend at Abou Elie’s says if Lebanese scrapped the confessional system they could unite to defeat Israel and Syria. Only united could Viet Nam beat the U.S.; divided, Iraq will suffer war indefinitely, since the U.S. will accept a few thousand casualties annually as the price for Iraq’s resources.
A few years back my wife and I dropped by Abou Elie’s and found ourselves in the midst of the wildest party, singing, dancing, and celebrating freedom of the spirit and a hope for a liberating future. Now, says the manager, the neighbors are not so accommodating. Still, this tiny tongue-in-cheek museum represents a spark of hope for a Lebanon united around a secular, democratic socialist future that won’t have to pay anyone for its security and independence. Insha’Allah, God willing.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Wavin' World Cup Flags in Beirut and Palestinian Camps

Reprinted from OpEdNews
As I get older, I will be stronger,
They’ll call me freedom, just like a wavin’ flag.
K’Naan, “Wavin’ Flag”

Traveling this summer in Greece and Lebanon, I have been on a news fast and have thus missed the day-to-day dogfights that substitute for significant events on cable TV. I have, however, been able to view a few of the perennial battles as they play out concretely in ordinary lives: the resistance to austerity in Greece, the plight of Palestinians in Beirut, and, everywhere, football (soccer to us Yanks).

All over Beirut, as in Greece, the flags of Spain, France, Germany, Paraguay, Netherlands, and―especially―Brazil fly in proud fanaticism. A conversation in Arabic converts to a universal Language of Sport. A joke about a Brazilian player named with the universally recognized word Kaká is obvious in the laughter.

We broke our news fast and switched on the TV when my wife and I reached our rooms in Beirut. “Wavin’ Flag,” K’Naan’s world cup anthem-slash-Coca Cola product placement video clip was playing on Lebanon’s Al Jaras channel. Wait a minute: This is not the same clip we’d seen playing on flat screens in taverns from Athens to Mykonos. Here sharing the stage with the Somali-Canadian rapper and poet K’Naan was Lebanese hottie Nancy Ajram, singing in Arabic before a phalanx of Bollywood dancers. And wait a minute: Is that girl behind Nancy wearing a Palestinian keffiyeh, or just a checked scarf vaguely suggestive, a la Rachel Ray in the Dunkin Donuts ad dog fight? With a little research, I discover there is also an official Spanish version with David Bisbal, targeting the Latin American Market. All versions of K’Naan’s original lyrics have been slightly altered for Coca Cola.

The music of Beirut’s streets, however, is construction. The Saudis tear down historical housing for the middle and working classes on the promontory of Ras Beirut to build pricey hotels and apartments (and mosques) for the Middle Eastern elite, while Iran rebuilds homes destroyed by Israeli bombing in 2006 in southern Beirut’s Dahieh District for the more proletarian Shi’ites.

I had hoped to see Dahieh to research a novel I am working on, but Lebanese friends of all stripes tell me that suspicion about Israeli spies by Hezbollah, which dominates the district, make going there unwise. Also, the trust between the Lebanese in general and Hezbollah as the anti-Israeli resistance has been damaged badly since the assassination of Rafik Hariri and the Cedar Revolution that drove out Hezbollah’s ally Syria in 2008.

Still, we did get to see our friends in the Bourj al Barajneh Palestinian Refugee camp, where, as in the rest of the world, we saw in the narrow cinderblock alleys the wavin’ flags of many nations, plus those of Fateh and Hamas. When we arrived at the gate, a tiny doorway in an immense wall―a jigsaw puzzle of concrete, posters, and old paint―a  truck was unloading Coca Cola.

Life has changed for our friends, this family of a woman who teaches at a kindergarten in Bourj al Barajneh. She also volunteers at Shatila, the camp where the Christian Falange, with Israeli assistance, massacred thousands in 1982. She has just received her bachelor’s diploma. Her mother told her she would never forgive her if she did not go to her graduation party, but she was broke and could not afford a dress. She got an advance from her employer to buy one, but then one of her teachers bought it for her, instead. Now her father says he would rather see her continue on to a masters degree than get married. She needs a laptop. She joined a massive march on June 27 to give Palestinians some citizenship rights in Lebanon, which forbids Palestinians from owning property or holding decent jobs. She is hopeful that the times are right for change, but Falange legislators oppose.

Her sister just had a second baby. Every time we come back to Lebanon, she says, she has another child. An uncle has driven all the way from Denmark to visit, his wife covered modestly in a peach ensemble, his daughter uncovered, chic, and blond.

Last time we were in the country, our friend’s brother had been in bed for two months, depressed with dismal hopes for employment, marriage, and a family of his own. Now, he has escaped. When Israeli bombs fell in 2006, he and his fiancée slipped into a crowd evacuating to Cyprus by boat. “Forgive me,” he asked his family, “if I cannot send money, for I will be an illegal.” And he is, in Sweden, and married. He did not tell his mother, or she would have stopped him.

Grandmother still lives in the ground floor, as do all the members of the first generation of Palestinians who were expelled from Israel in 1948. Keys to Palestinian homes hang on the walls. The third floors for the third generation are as far as they can go, if they cannot return to Palestine or otherwise escape.

Around a table laden with fatouche, hummos, baba ganouj, kibbe, and chicken mansaf, the discussion turned to football. Many in the camp support Brazil because of their excellence. When they lost to the Netherlands the night before, the Palestinians built a coffin and held a funeral procession through the camp, complete with breast beating and ululation. Many also support Italy, because as 1982 World Cup champions Italy dedicated their victory to the Palestinians who were under Israeli siege that year in Lebanon. Our friend the teacher says it is better to support Brazil than to choose for political reasons.

Night before last, Germany destroyed Argentina, and parades of Lebanese fans careened throughout downtime Beirut on top of cars, cheering, blaring horns, setting off fireworks, and wavin’ German flags.

Yesterday, our Independence Day, Shi’ite spiritual leader and some say moderating influence on Hezbollah Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah died, and the attention of Lebanon is drawn from images of global celebration to reminders of an unstable national history. Too, Israel is threatening war if Lebanon presses claims for a share in the natural gas off their mutual coastline. Among all sports celebrations and hospitable offerings, everyone assumes that Israel will again attack.

So as the corporate globalists play their anthems to the freedom to consume, and as Iraq, Afghanistan and even Palestine and Lebanon burn, let us remember a couple of K’Naan’s lyrics left out for Coke:

So many wars, settling scores,
Bringing us promises, leaving us poor. 

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The Hoax Nobody Noticed

It was a hoax that I had perpetrated and it came from an overwhelming sense of frustration. It was shortly after I had finished writing the first edition of my novella, Poe’s Daughter, Pym’s Soul which was, in part, a piece of historical fiction about Poe’s visits to Delaware.

Two events occurred concurrently. One was my disappointment that my stories about Poe and his encounters with Delaware’s first literary figure John Lofland had such a weak public reception. My efforts had barely seemed worth the work I’d put into it, even though I earned $7,000 in fellowship grants from the Delaware State Arts Council for two of the stories. The second event was my discovery of an incident that occurred at Price’s Corner in 1903. I had stumbled upon it while doing research into Delaware’s Federal Writers’ Project papers at the University of Delaware library. The incident, only hinted at in a single page from an incomplete article, was the only lynching to have occurred in Delaware. I went to the microfilm archives to find out more. In the local daily newspaper I found the whole story. First, I was shocked to discover that my great grandfather had found the nearly dead girl who had been murdered. The event led to the arrest of George White, who was Black and even though he had not been formally charged, was incarcerated for his own protection in the New Castle County Workhouse, which used to stand in Price’s Corner. The other thing I discerned from a close reading of the newspaper articles of the time was the possibility that George White was innocent and the real killer was a stranger referred to as “The Avenging Cowboy,” who had conveniently shown up in time to incite a lynch mob. A sidebar article in the newspaper reported that he had been a part of several other similar incidents around the county, which led me to speculate that “The Avenging Cowboy” had been the real killer and that his modus operandi was to commit these crimes and then to frame an innocent victim. I thought about forming my research, which led only to speculative conclusions, into a novel. It was then that I said to myself, “Why bother? I’ll probably have to publish it myself in small numbers as I had with Poe’s Daughter, Pym’s Soul and afterward too few people will even want to read it to make my efforts worthwhile.”

However, the story was too juicy to give up on, so I perpetrated a hoax. I invented an unknown Delaware author, who I had discovered in much the same manner as I had discovered other little known but actual Delaware authors. I invented an author named “Tux Munce,” who had written a novel entitled Willow Run, which related the story of the lynching of George White and the activities of the real perpetrator who had got away with murder. Then I could turn around and report a shorter review of Tux Munce’s novel. A shorter piece would be more manageable. It would be short enough for people to read at a single short sitting, and it would be less costly to publish. This I did, published under the title, “Willow Run,” and told very few people I had invented “Tux Munce.”

I came clean with the hoax in a booklet, entitled The Secret Life of Tux Munce available elsewhere on this web site. In this booklet, I “used” Tux Munce to tell the story of some other events, like the story of how Upton Sinclair’s wife Meta, while the two where living the free love lifestyle in Arden, ran off to the bohemian scene in New York City with the American poet Harry Kemp. In later chapters of The Secret Life of Tux Munce, I mixed real life people who’d lived in Wilmington, like F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, with lessor known but remarkable residents of the city, like Weeping Joe Smoleki, who had been written about in Wilmington author J. Saunders Redding's No Day of Triumph; and Three Gun Wilson who was Wilmington’s version of Eliot Ness of The Untouchables fame; Daisy Winchester who was a local speakeasy proprietor, cabaret singer and local radio personality; G. Peyton Wertenbaker, who wrote science fiction for Amazing Stories and who also sang as Crash Peyton on local radio as Wilmington’s answer to Bing Crosby. I mixed in characters from novels by local authors John Biggs, Christopher Ward and Charles Wertenbaker and had them interact with Tux Munce and actual people, like the Fitzgeralds. Tux Munce carried on his writing endeavors by publishing stories in Alice Dunbar-Nelson’s The Wilmington Advocate, during which time Munce was secretly in love with Pauline Young, Dunbar-Nelson’s niece. In one of the stories, Munce encounters the Vodou loa Ghedé on the east side of Wilmington. For The Wilmington Suburban News, in the early 1950s Munce writes an article about Charles and Eleanor Bostwick, former residents of Kiamensi Gardens near Stanton, who were driven out of the county by local perpetrators of the Communist witch hunts during the HUAC/Joe McCarthy era. In his travels Munce interacted with the tango poets in Argentina and writes about it in another actual Wilmington publication called CANDID. Later he writes about his encounter with Zora Neale Hurston during a stopover in Haiti for another short lived Wilmington Black newspaper from the late 1940s called FRONT PAGE. I even inserted people I actually knew into the mix. Beside Pauline Young, who I knew, I inserted my grandfather, John Gasser, former Delaware State Senator Wilmer F. “Rudy” Williams, and Charley Stone, an elderly Black man from my youth who used to cut grass for some of my neighbors in Richardson Park.

Writing these stories had been some of the most enjoyable literary work I ‘d ever done. Drawing on both the literary works of authors who had worked in Delaware, combined with interesting characters they created, along with actual fascinating people, both famous and obscure, all within the context of our obfuscated local history was personally rewarding. As it’s turned out, that has been my only reward. Too bad I felt the need to cloak it in a hoax, but after all, it may have all really happened –– in another universe!