Last year I wrote here about my great-great-grandfather Richard DeKorn’s second family. After the death of my great-great-grandmother Alice Paak DeKorn in 1908, he married Jantje (Jennie) Jansen Sootsman in 1910. It was a second marriage for them both.
Jennie had two daughters, Marion and Marjorie (Marge), by Oscar Sootsman who had passed away in 1907. Richard became their stepfather.
Marge and Marion Sootsman
The younger daughter, Marge, married George Bernard Owens on December 9, 1916, in Kalamazoo.
When I wrote the post, I wasn’t sure, but believed she had one son.
I now know that son was David Owens.
Eventually I was contacted by the ex-wife of David after she read the blog post.
Rochelle Owens wrote me that she had been married to David for about three years. The marriage was the 2nd of David’s three marriages. She said that he was born March 1, 1929 or 1930.
Apparently Marge divorced George at some point. Rochelle believes it was before or soon after David’s birth.
In 1948, at the time that her mother passed away, Marge and David both lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan. David attended the University of Michigan.
What I particularly love hearing from Rochelle is that Marge was a gifted woman, an occupational therapist.
Rochelle Owens is a poet and experimental playwright who has taught at Brown University, the University of California, San Diego, the University of Oklahoma, and the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette).
On her website, rochelleowens.org, Rochelle has posted some “recollections” in a section titled Autobiograpy. Here is a passage where she describes David Owens, as well as her reminiscences about some famous writers, including her friendship with poet Amiri Baraka. She creates the atmosphere of the disenfranchised artists of the time period–and David Owens considered himself an artist.
I did not personally know of any young women who wrote poetry then. When I stepped out of the subway and headed towards Christopher Street, I imagined myself as a poet. I felt adventurous and idealistic. A few years ago it occurred to me that during that period of my life I hadn’t been aware of the value of money. I think it’s a little strange. I was after all simply a poor working girl who was not even a graduate of Brooklyn college or C.C.N.Y. I did not have the luxury of having prosperous parents give me an allowance while I played out the role of being a poet searching for “authentic experience” while receiving an education at an expensive institution of higher learning. I did clerical work for a living and was innocently blind to the added disadvantages of being poor and female. Naively, I committed myself to art as ideology. It was in Pandora’s Box that my glance first rested on the animated face of David Owens. He had noticed me while he was engaged in conversation with a young painter by the name of AI Held, who has since become very successful. David was good-looking in a romantic English way. His personality was mercurial and seductive. He feigned an English accent and loved punctuating his obsessive speech with a French expression, raison d’etre, while railing against “bourgeois values.” He considered himself an artist while working as a salesman and doing carpentry. At the Peacock Café, The Lime-light, and the Cedar Bar, we met our friends and acquaintances who were painters, sculptors, photographers, poets and musicians. I came to know some of the leading personalities whose creative contributions have shaped avant-garde theatre, literature, and art in America during the last twenty-five years: Alexander Calder, Jack Gelber, Judith Malina, Julian Beck, Lee Strasberg, Ronald Bladen, Rod Steiger, Leo Castelli, and Tambimuttu.
David’s charisma and style impressed all. He resembled Richard Burton and was society’s ideal version of an angry young man, whose baritone voice skittered through the air and banged against the walls like giant hornets. He reveled in certain names and periods of history like, “Malraux’s Man’s Fate, the Renaissance, the French Impressionists, Franz Kline, abstract expressionism.” Etc.
I was perceived as an attractive and a bit zany girl who sometimes laughed hysterically. My background and upbringing had left me anxious and nervous. At times I imagined myself to be in disguise. On other occasions I felt like an irrepressible poet-philosopher. One evening after reading some of my poems, Peter Ritner, a former editor at Macmillan, bombastically stated that a mere girl should not have it in her to write such rich and cerebral work. He screamed that I must be a freak. “What experience could you ever have had! You’re just a goldfish swimming around in a bowl.” He died a suicide years ago. He invited David and me to dinner a few times, and I recall that he always prepared delicious mashed potatoes with lots of butter and garlic.
In the winter of 1955 David and I discovered old New York together. We visited the financial district; the buildings were strange and wonderful. We were the observers of an environment. Although we had no hope in its very structure, we saw our appreciation of the line, form, and color of the area as an act of faith in our ability to draw beautiful observations in a disintegrating time and an unbearable society. It was America during the Eisenhower years. The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit hung suspended over the rapidly growing artistic and political consciousness of the young like a bloated advertising zeppelin ready to explode.
It was the beginning of radical artistic experimentation. The poets, playwrights, film-makers, painters, sculptors, and performing artists were inventing, finding, producing, gathering, analyzing, and selecting the groundwork for those who came later, including the pop culture heroes of the billion dollar rock music business. The place to be was in New York or San Francisco. Later I would meet playwrights Adrienne Kennedy, Megan Terry, Roslyn Drexler, Sam Shepard, Ken Bernard, and Leonard Melfi.
In March, two days before my twentieth birthday, I was married to David. We moved into a small apartment on the upper west side. I was working for the Poetry Society of America and became a member after submitting some poems to the committee of jurors.
I wanted to add this paragraph although it’s not about David as it is about the famous poet Amiri Baraka:
One of my earliest friends had been the young poet and playwright LeRoi Jones who later changed his name to Amiri Baraka. Jones published a poetry magazine called Yugen; I remember how happy I was to be included among the contributors: Charles Olson, Tristan Tzara, Daisy Aldan, Jack Kerouac, Frank O’Hara, and Paul Blackburn, who later became a good friend. In 1962 Jones published a group of my poems in an anthology titled Four Young Lady Poets. It was not surprising that when I edited an anthology of plays ten years later called Spontaneous Combustion, a play of LeRoi’s was included.
Finally, she writes this about the period of her life when she and David separated:
In 1959 David and I separated and the marriage was annulled. I had finally recognized that he was too unstable and self-absorbed to alleviate my own dissatisfaction. For further insights into my relationship with David I would suggest reading the introduction to my collection of plays, The Karl Marx Play and Others. I decided to retain the name Owens because I had already been published under it. I wrote about David in my play Chucky’s Hunch. It was produced by George Bartinieff and Crystal Field at the Theatre for the New City in 1981 and by Jack Garfein at the Harold Clurman Theatre in 1982. The play won a Village Voice Obie and The Villager Award. The critical response was excellent, the New York Times describing it as “Hilarious! Wonderful!” The Village Voice said, “A triumph of verbal fireworks! Not to be missed.” Clive Barnes of the New York Post stated, “Rochelle Owens’ comic flame has never burnt so bright, but like the eye of the tiger, it is savage.” The play is published in an anthology, Wordplays 2, and is included in the Samuel French catalogue. Years ago, George Bartinieff and Crystal Field had appeared in the premiere production of my plays Beclch and Istanboul. I knew them both in the early period of off-off-Broadway.
David sounds like a character–I hope to find these passages about David in Rochelle’s books. I’m thrilled that Rochelle discovered my blog and made her connection with my family.
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