Thursday, October 22, 2009
Edgar Allen Poe
It would be a crime to let this season pass without paying homage to this incredibly influential and tragic figure. Edgar Allen Poe, one of the creators of the modern detective story and indeed one of the architects of the modern short story, is a striking individual whose importance shouldn't be allowed to be understated.
For those who haven't visited Poe in some time or who may be somewhat new to him, here is a tremendous site. The Poe Museum is well organized, with interesting information about the author as well as opportunities for young people to participate in short story and poetry competitions. Teachers can find links to suggested readings and even lesson plans. The curious may want to purchase Poe themed t-shirts, coffee mugs, or other items or collectibles.
As for the works of the master himself, since Poe is out of copyright, his writings are available throughout the web. However you may want to visit the excellent poestories.com.
Let me take a moment though to discuss two things about Poe's work that has most affected me. First, for those who have heard me talk about writing, Poe views on the importance on economy should be printed out and mounted over every author's computer screen. Poe once wrote that every paragraph, every sentence, every word, every punctuation mark should further either theme, setting, plot, or character. I have always used this as a compass.
The other thing about Poe that has moved me is his ability to create an image through an amazing word choice. Look, for instance, at this opening to the Fall of the House of Usher.
"During the whole of dull, dark, soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country, and at length found myself, as the shades of evening drew on, within view of the melancholy house of Usher."
This one sentence is so rich in technique and meaning, and it brilliantly sets up this story of the decadence of Southern aristocracy and premature burial. Look at the alliteration of the opening breath and then follow, if you will, the descent upon which the reader is taken through the remainder of the sentence. It's like watching a leaf fall, gliding first to the left and then to the right, but ever and inevitably descending.
This sentence is also rich in drama without being melodramatic. Although one can imagine the pounding of an organ with the proclamation about the House of Usher
I could go on and on about this and about other Poe delicacies, but instead let me urge you to surf, discover and rediscover on your own. I would also recommend that you read this marvelous article from The New Yorker. It's a bit long, but well-written and edged with a fine sense of humor.