Ed & Edgar

my adventures in the cult of Poe

and other literary endeavours



The Raven Illuminated

I came across this blog post today at Bioephemera, Le Corbeau Volant, featuring Édouard Manet's rendering of Edgar Allan Poe's Raven in flight. 

You can check out all of Manet's edition with Stéphane Mallarmé's translation of the poem, Le Corbeau (Poe's text is included as well) at Project Gutenberg.  And here is Gustave Doré's illustrated version of The Raven.

And today's reading is by Christopher Walken (which is actually very good) accompanied by animated Doré illustrations.  The whole presentation is quite good.  The Walken reading is from Closed on Account of Rabies, produced by Hal Willner:



Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" was first published while he was residing in New York.  At least half a dozen taverns and historic houses from NY to Delaware to Baltimore to Richmond make the claim that Poe began writing the poem while resting under their roofs.  But it is most likely that Poe began "The Raven" while still living in Philadelphia, then finished it in NY.  Poe's inspiration for his famous bird was Charles Dickens' talking pet raven, Grip.  Dickens had included Grip in his novel, Barnaby Rudge, first serialized in America while Poe was living in Philly.  Poe would have first read about the talking bird in the pages of the Pennsylvania Inquirer (now the Phila Inquirer).

You can visit the actual Grip (Dickens had him stuffed when he died) at the Phila Free Library.  I've posted about it before here, but just last week I came across this post from the Curious Expeditions blog about Grip, ravens, Dickens and Poe. 

Today's Ravenous reading is by John Astin, who has made a second career out of his Poe impersonation:


still is sitting, still is sitting

I very much enjoyed this short essay by Dana Gioia on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.”

The time and setting of "The Raven" are as much a part of the story as the actions that take place. (In Poe's work the physical setting often reflects the inner personality or emotion of the central character.) The poem begins at midnight in December–the last moment of a spent day in the final month of the year. Internally and externally, it is a time of death and decay. Even the "dying" fireplace embers reflect the moribund atmosphere. The setting is contained and claustrophobic–a single room. The narrator himself mirrors the time and locale. "Weak and weary," he seems trapped in his richly furnished prison. He hopes for the morning–the return of light and life–but tonight all he can do is brood on his dead love, "the lost Lenore," and feel the tangible horror of his current situation.

I think I’m going to have my students read this piece (along with the poem) in my Advanced Comp class this semester. Gioia focuses on the narrative force and the effects of the symbolic images in the poem, rather than just prosody. Just as Mallarmé could only translate “The Raven” into prose, I think the kinds of things Gioia writes about can be very easily adapted to students writing prose.

Today's reading is by Vincent Price:


Ravenous Rathbone

We begin Raven week with Edgar Allan Poe's poem itself.   Here it is as first published in the American Review, February 1845.  The Evening Mirror edition of the poem is dated Jan 29, but copies of the Amer Rev periodical were most likely on the streets in mid-January.  If you haven't read it in a while (and you probably haven't) then give it a read.  We're so used to hearing parodies of it that the original itself is often ignored or forgotten.  It's a wonderfully tense dramatic narrative. 

You can listen to an NPR piece on the creation of the poem.  At this link you can also hear Basil Rathbone's wonderful reading of the poem (my favorite version) or you can just click on the YouTube clip below.  Each day I'll post another version.


Poe theme week: Ravenous

Beginning Sunday, I'll be posting about Poe's most famous poem, "The Raven," all week.  That's seven Raven posts.  That is some serious late summer blogging delight.   So come back on Sunday and every day next week for some Raven-ous joy.

soaked in yolk


Haunted Poe

It's been official for about a little over a month now, but I haven't been posting.  In October 2009, Brat Productions will put on a Poe themed production here in Philly.  I've been hired as the "Poe literary expert."  Our creative meetings begin next week.  Here's a piece about the Philadelphia Theatre Initiative grants that help fund the show:

Brat Productions
$48,000 over two years to develop and produce HAUNTED POE, an immersive site-specific take on a traditional haunted house marked by the steady build of psychological dread that is the hallmark of Poe's work.  The production, created by a team including playwright Bruce Walsh, Poe-scholar Edward Pettit and Brat Founder and Resident Artist Madi Distefano, is scheduled to run during the bicentennial celebration of the author's birth and in conjunction with the International Poe Conference in October 2009.

I'm very excited about this.  Look for future posts about the creative process. 


The Byronic Dash

"The Byronic poets were all dash," Poe proclaimed in a defense of the dash and its encroaching replacement, the semicolon.  Paul Collins, in his piece, "Has Modern Life Killed the Semicolon?", relates how Poe complained against the oft misused point-virgule, in his "Marginalia" column in Graham's magazine.  I must agree with Poe that semicolons aren't nearly as romantic as dashes.


Ed on Edgar

Nigel Beale has posted his interview with me over at Nota Bene Books.  The podcast is about a half hour long and is basically an overview of Edgar Allan Poe's life.  The audio gets better as it goes along (I think Nigel moved the microphone closer to me).  I get some of the details wrong (ages, some of the chronology) and I didn't mention Poe's time at the Southern Literary Messenger, which was an important time for him. I also am not well versed in Poe's French admirers (Baudelaire, etc).  But this is a pretty good outline of his life.  And I get to plug Philly a couple times as instrumental in Poe's development as a writer.


Poe and his Light-House

Joyce Carol Oates' latest book, Wild Nights!, is a collection of five short stories, each reimagining the last days of a great writer: Emily Dickinson, Henry James, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway and Edgar Allan Poe.  For the first story, “Poe Posthumous; or, The Light-House,” Oates has used one of his tales as a template, the unfinished "The Lighthouse," a series of journal entries by a lone keeper of a lighthouse.  Poe wrote only the first three days of the journal, from Jan 1-3, 1796, but Oates reinvents the journal beginning on Oct 7, 1849, Poe's death day, and continues it through the following year.  As expected, Poe the narrator becomes increasingly unhinged as his days of loneliness multiply.  There is even a hint early on that this story is a reverie of the dying Poe or, more likely, as suggested by the title, this journal is the doom of a nightmarish afterlife.  Oates' story has a wonderfully grotesque ending worthy of Poe's own imagination.

Especially gratifying were all the references to Philadelphia in the text.  Baltimore is mentioned only as "a city not familiar to me."  Ha!  Oates has done her homework.  At the end of Poe's life, Philadelphia would have been much more familiar to Poe than Baltimore.  And let's not forget, Poe may have been planning on moving back to Philadelphia before his sudden death in that other city. 

I've also learned that there is a collection of stories, Poe's Lighthouse, edited by Christopher Conlon and published by Cemetery Dance in 2006 (with atrocious cover art), in which 23 authors continue the narrative (or entirely reimagine it).  I haven't been able to locate a copy yet.  However, there is continuation of "The Lighthouse" by Robert Bloch which I've read in Sam Moscowitz's anthology, The Man Who Called Himself Poe.  And there is story entitled "Poe's Light House," in Richard Selzer's short story collection, Imagine a Woman and Other Tales.  I've just ordered a copy of that through my library.  Selzer's story is currently being adapted into a movie.