The Poetic History of Delaware
PostedMarch 01, 2007
Delaware's four major literary figures from the 19th Century all wrote poetry to varying degrees. First among them was John Lofland (1798-1849), who was known as the "Milford Bard." Lofland also had Abolitionist sympathies, was a feminist, and sympathized with the plight of Native Americans. He published his first book of verse, The Harp of Delaware, in 1828, and his second, The Poetical and Prose Writings of John Lofland, M.D., in 1846. A posthumous collection, Poetical and Prose Writings of the Milford Bard, was published in 1853.
Robert Montgomery Bird (1805-1854) began as a playwright. His plays, written in verse, were produced by the noted American actor and theatrical producer Edwin Forrest. Later, Bird became Delaware's first novelist. Two of his most famous novels are Sheppard Lee and Nick of the Woods. Both Bird and Lofland knew Edgar Allan Poe and the three shared literary influences.
Elizabeth M. Chandler (1807-1834) was known during her lifetime as a journalist for the Abolitionist press. She wrote regularly for Benjamin Lundy's The Genius of Universal Emancipation not only on antislavery issues, but those pertaining to the rights of women and Native Americans. While Lundy's publication occasionally published poetry by Chandler, the bulk of her poetry was only published in a single volume, The Poetical Works of Elizabeth M. Chandler, after her death in 1836.
George Alfred Townsend (1841-1914) was primarily a journalist known throughout the United States as GATH. He was the first to tell the complete story of the Lincoln assassination. He also wrote some critically acclaimed historical novels, most notably The Entailed Hat (1884), about Patty Cannon, the notorious Delaware slave catcher and mass murderer of the early 19th century. Townsend's poetry was mostly commemorative in nature and was collected and published in Poems of Men and Events in 1899.
Delaware's first notable poet of the 20th Century was Stanford E. Davis, an African American born in the late 19th century. One of his poems, "The Voice of the Negro in America," was reportedly praised by President William Howard Taft. A collection of Davis's poetry, Priceless Jewels, was published in 1911 by Knickerbocker Press.
Alice Dunbar-Nelson (1875-1935) was married to the American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar before she moved to Wilmington in 1903. Dunbar-Nelson wrote poetry, much of it published in early issues of Crisis, both before and during the Harlem Renaissance. Her poetry and prose, which was first published in the late 19th century, encouraged and influenced many of the literary figures who populated the Harlem Renaissance. Her later literary career was notable for her extensive journalism throughout the national African American press. Dunbar-Nelson's work was been collected and published by the Oxford University Press.
James Whaler, a major Delaware poet of the early 20th Century, was born in Wilmington in 1889. Noted as a Milton scholar, he wrote two critically acclaimed volumes of poetry, Hales Pond, published by Harold Vinal, Ltd in 1927, and Green River, A Poem for Rafinesque, published by Harcourt & Brace in 1931. Whaler died in Wilmington in 1972.
Two notable Delaware poets were father and daughter. Frank Fisher Slocomb's poetry was collected in Upward Ho!, published by Driftwood Press in 1934. His daughter, Jeannette Slocomb Edwards was not only a poet, but a fine artist as well. Slocomb Edwards, Delaware's second Poet Laureate from 1950-53, founded The Wilmington Poetry & Music Society in 1935, which promoted and published the work of local poets until the late 1970s, culminating in an anthology containing most of Delaware's working poets from the middle part of the 20th century. This anthology, Delaware Poets, was edited by Delaware's fifth and 13th Poet Laureate, David Hudson, in 1976 as part as Delaware's Bicentennial celebration.