Broken Turtle Blog

Broken Turtle Blog

Friday, November 28, 2014

George Lippard, Local Novelist and Another Friend of Edgar Allan Poe, and his Hidden Relevance for Today

The body of canonical American literature serves to enlighten us regarding that which lies behind or beneath our American history. It serves to bring to light those conditions, incidents or events from our past. Often those events or conditions deliver a work into the canon. A good example might be Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. On the other hand, works by American authors of extraordinary talent can enlighten us about the ground floor nature of our psyche that led to, or surrounded, those conditions from various periods in our history. Examples are evident in the works from authors of the post Civil War era to post World War years like Clemons, Melville, Cather, Wharton, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway, just to touch upon some of the literary giants of that era. There are many others who contributed, as well, to giving us a “feel” for a broad portion of our history –– if indeed we are knowledgeable about a history from which we continue to learn its lessons.

The great fatal flaw in American history is that we are a country built on twin pillars. One pillar is the legacy of slavery, and the other is the genocide of our Native Americans, which in large part led to those imperial designs that drove our “Manifest Destiny,” to be a country “from sea to shining sea.”
Of the antebellum era, three major canonical literary figures come to mind: Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, and Edgar Allan Poe. With the exception of Fenimore Cooper, none gave much space or effort in addressing those issues associated with those twin pillars.

The politics embraced by Edgar Allan Poe are largely an enigma. His politics are not readily apparent or discernible from his fiction, non fiction, or poetry. On the one hand, Poe wrote many stories about ordinary people caught up in extraordinary situations. On the other hand, Poe, as a Southerner who grew up surrounded by slavery, did line up behind the racist writing of James Kirk Paulding. However, there is some reason to believe Poe’s attitudes were subject to revision. He certainly grappled with the issue in his only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, and there is some sketchy evidence that he had a friend who was black, Armistead Gordon. Otherwise, Poe rarely dwelled on the matter, though he was intelligent and well traveled enough to be capable of critical thinking.

As I have suggested in my own fiction, Poe had been influenced, or given pause to reflect, by others, particularly by Delaware author and poet John Lofland, a staunch Abolitionist. In his travels between Virginia and New England, Poe was exposed to new views and perspectives on the subject.

In 1841 – 1842, Poe was editor and critic at Graham’s Magazine in Philadelphia. It was in Philadelphia during this time that Poe met George Lippard. Poe and Lippard were two authors who shared literary styles. Both wrote gothic tinged subject matter, combined with a uniquely American romanticism. These were stories about the underbelly of American life. However, Lippard wrote with a different purpose.

George Lippard
Lippard met Poe early in his career when he was working as a copy editor of the newspaper Spirit of the Times. Poe worked across the street at Graham’s Magazine. There is some evidence Poe influenced Lippard’s literary style. There are also some sketchy reports that Lippard rescued Poe from some dangerous situations in the streets of Philadelphia.

Recently the University of Pennsylvania published a new edition of Lippard’s long out of print novel The Killers. Originally published in 1850, the novel is set during the events leading up to a race riot in Philadelphia the previous year. The time frame is also during the same election cycle, ironically enough, when Poe was “cribbed” in Baltimore in an incident that eventually led to his death.

The plot of The Killers involves Philadelphia street gangs, one of the most vicious of which was “the Killers," located in the Moyamensing district of that city. Major characters are a set of half brothers, one brought up in abject poverty and the son of an absentee rich woman who has turned to a life of crime. The other brother has become the leader of “the Killers.” The father of the former son, whom he discovers only shortly before the incidents described in Lippard’s novel, is a manipulative banker who had made a fortune off the illegal slave trade. During the riot in which the white gang of “Killers” descends upon blacks in a nearby neighborhood, burning and pillaging it, rich banker Jacob D. Z. Hicks kidnaps Kate Watson, the common law sister of his long lost and abjectly poor son, in an attempt to drive her into a like of prostitution. Through a rather complex set of circumstances, a black man variously known as Black Andy, or “the Bulgine,” saves her from a burning building.

George Lippard was a strong anti-slavery advocate, and in The Killers he demonstrates the extent of the greed of those who sought to benefit from the illegal slave trade, along with other illegal activity stemming from it. One is reminded of similar implications suggested by today’s illegal drug trade as well as the gluttonous and unregulated arms trade, especially in terms of spawning other out of control illegal activity. As a result, corruption was rampant even among “respectable” politicians and businessmen.

Lippard, unlike Poe, was called a “reformer” in some circles, and a “muckraker” in others. He clearly saw the relationship between chattel slavery and wage slavery. In fact, near the end of his life he formed one of America’s earliest labor unions, The Brotherhood of the Union, which drew its inspiration from the principles of the revolutions that spread throughout Europe in 1848. One must wonder at how much Lippard’s attitudes rubbed off on Poe.

George Lippard was born April 10, 1822 in a place called Yellow Springs in Chester County, which directly borders New Castle County, Delaware. He died, probably from tuberculosis, on February 9, 1854. During his short life he wrote over a dozen novels. Of them was Blanche Of Brandywine, set during the Battle of the Brandywine during our Revolutionary War. His most noteworthy novel was The Quaker City: The Monks of Monk Hall, a Romance of Philadelphia Life, Mystery & Crime. In this novel, Lippard exposed widespread corruption in Philadelphia.

Throughout his works, Lippard displayed progressive thinking still relevant today. At one point in The Killers he declares that those elected to Pennsylvania state government “might go there as especial hirelings of Bank speculators, paid to enact laws that give wealth to one class, and poverty and drunkenness to another.”

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

One wonders how our history might have been shaped had Lippard’s literary works remained in print and given greater consideration by publishers and in the halls of academia. Certainly Lippard wrote within an important historical context, especially a local one.

We don’t often understand the genesis of some of America’s historical events. For example, T. S. Arthur’s 1854 novel Ten Days in a Barroom, and What I Saw There was as popular as Lippard’s novels and their contemporary novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Arthur’s novel is often credited with bringing the issue of temperance into prominence, culminating decades later with Prohibition during the 1920s. Incidentally, T. S. Arthur was also one of Poe’s acquaintances, and is an author who is largely forgotten. Thus, we are also deprived of better realizing the tightly knit nature of the literary world during Poe’s time within the confines of a smaller United States than the one from “sea to shining sea” that we take for granted today.

Our current literary canon is inadequate. We could have a better understanding of who we are by giving a better understanding of where we’ve been. Every region of our country has authors and poets who have represented, portrayed, or depicted our past experiences. If an expanded national canon might be considered too unwieldy for academia, then might we begin to build one on a regional basis? Here, in the mid-Atlantic, in the birthplace of the United States, there are plenty of forgotten authors who could tell us more about ourselves from the perspective of our past history. George Lippard is another one of those.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Douglas Morea Featured in Dreamstreet Downtown and Broken Turtle Booklist

Written with an “epistolary pretence,” Letters to You, Douglas Morea's breakthrough collection of poems, address the memories, persons, events, places, and moral preoccupations of Morea’s life. Breakthroughs are thought to be the province of youth, yet Morea has developed a new language of poetry, more intimate, but no less daring than the verses of Keats.

Douglas Morea will be featured along with the poet Pharaoh at the Dreamstreets Downtown Reading 3 p.m. Saturday, November 15 at the Chris White Art Gallery, 701 Shipley Street, Wilmington, Delaware. Morea is also November's author of the month at Broken Turtle Booklist.

Douglas Morea was publishing poems in The New Yorker in the early 1970s when he was about the same age as Keats in his glory. Douglas and his then wife Kass left the literary limelight of New York for the moated enclave of Delaware in the late ‘70s. Douglas remained productive, releasing short run chapbooks, essays, and cartoons, and reading at local venues his longer poems, typed on sheets pasted end to end somewhat like a scroll. I have long proclaimed Douglas to be Delaware’s finest poet. Letters to You demonstrates, I believe, that Douglas Morea’s craft and power have grown since his youthful successes at The New Yorker.

Right before Letter to You was published, I had been speaking with Douglas about John Keats, who had been so clever and daring, before he died at 25. Douglas, who has a wide knowledge of science, said it was even common for folks in the sciences to peak in their youth. I thought of Einstein, who published his Special Theory of Relativity when he was 26.  So what’s new with Morea since his day in The New Yorker sun?

Morea’s growth can be measured by comparing “Having Children,” a brilliant poem he published in the September 16, 1974 New Yorker, with “Hey Canada Geese, How Come Your Babies Almost Never Get Run Over Anymore?” from Letters to You.

In his earlier treatment of procreation amid life’s vicissitudes, Morea’s dominant metaphor is a scene where “brazen summer/wilts weeds in a city lot.” Describing the struggle of the weeds to thrive amid “gobs of tar, old tires,” Morea demonstrates youthful pyrotechnics of imagery, sound figures, and word play:

These growths are pale pith,
sweet and rank, piped in green fibre;
leaves ladder up them:
footholds gouged in the face of sheer cliff-air.
Sun pounds down on raised fingers branching
upon the ledge of bloom;

With such precocious flair, he was good thenbut he’s even better now. In “Canada Geese,” he mutes the fireworks so we can hear a more intimate voice, one that tells a subtler tale. Noting how subsequent generations of geese have learned to protect their offspring from traffic, Morea, with defter music, work-play, and apostrophe, laments

While most of you arise by wise adults, seasoned on many seasons,
we get raised by raw near-children.
Humans mostly have but one shot parenting, then
we're shot.
Like you, we learn to keep them off the road, but often
not in time. Like yours, our wisdom grows, but ours grows only old,
and with us dies.

You can read the entirety of both poems at Letters to You Samples.

Some suppose that after his Theory of Relativity, Einstein’s production was restricted to thinking deep thoughts at Princeton until he died in 1955, although he published over 300 scientific papers.

Since his last piece for The New Yorker, Morea has published six other collections of poetry including How About Meet Me Where Nothing Has Ever Happened in the History of the World and Not Sterilized but You Won’t Die From It/The Even Newer Testament. An essayist and cartoonist, Morea wrote The Andrist: a Sexual Political Essay and Book of Crosses: A Thematic Cartoon Collection. His works have appeared in numerous literary magazines including Dreamstreets and The Mickle Street Review, which awarded him the Doris Kellogg Neale prize in 1984.

Like Keats, Morea achieved youthful fame. Like Einstein, his later works are famous to but a few. May the publication of Letters to You provide a second and wider fame for Delaware’s finest poet.

Morea was born in 1945 in Queens, New York City, and grew up primarily there, marrying and moving to Delaware in his late 20s, where he with their mother Kass raised two daughters to successful adulthood. He remains here now with his second wife, Karen.