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.

14 comments:

Rick said...

I've always admired Poe as well, Stewart. And the sentence you quoted of his has always been my model of economy:

"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."

lol, happy halloween, friend.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Ah Rick, I would suggest that you take a couple English classes so that you can see that the sentence you quoted is indeed an example of economy.

Rick said...

You Republicans are all alike. College, college, college. Face the front, be certified by the government, listen to your elders, and bow to the textbooks. :)

BTW, I'm headed to the Poe musuem in the spring. I'm coming back with a coffee mug and a poster.

Charles Gramlich said...

I think I picked up some of my personal love of atomsphere from Poe. Just so rich. I'm a big fan of his poetry as well.

Stewart Sternberg said...

RICK,
You make me a fan of eugenics. If I thought you were sincere about heading for that museum, I'd say bring me a mug or something..but you lie.
CHARLES
I didn't mention his poetry, but I too am a tremendous fan. His use of language and structure, the images he evokes, are powerful and at the same time subtle. I think my favorite begins "from childhood's hour I have not been as others were..."

willow said...

Didn't I read something recently about Poe being reburied? What was that all about?

I keep meaning to ask you, are those your terrifying eyes in your header? Jesus, their scary.

willow said...

typo...that would be "they're"...but you knew that. ;^)

Stewart Sternberg said...

WILLOW,
Yes those are my eyes. As for Poe, according to the Baltimore Sun, only seven people attended his original funeral. A group of people came together on Oct 11 to rectify this. There were readings, toasts, and even a 'mock' Poe in a coffin. Here is a link to video...

http://www.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/poe/bal-md.poefuneral12oct12,0,133754.story

Sidney said...

I've been reading Rue Morgue's special Poe issue. I'll definitely check out The Poe Museum.

Steve Buchheit said...

I listed to the NPR report on the Poe reburial and thought it was excellent. They even included his greatest critic, who was roundly boo-ed. Although they don't have my favorite Poe t-shirt at the museum. There's one with his quote, "I became insane with long intervals of horrible sanity."

http://www.pyramidcollection.com/itemdy00.asp?c=01&SKW=apparel+tee&SKW2=&TKW=&Scat=Y&GEN1=Tees+and+Sweats&OR=&parent=&T1=P8118+S&PageNo=4&pos=6

SQT said...

I used to devour Poe. I think he had a huge impact on my taste in literature. I think the first story I ever read was "The Murders of the Rue Morgue" and then I was off and running.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I want to be able to quote Annabel Lee from memory. Not quite there yet.

L.A. Mitchell said...

What a treat that sentence is..and I love your metaphor of the leaf. So true.

Vesper said...

Poe is one of my first loves in literature... Your tribute to him is soothing to my heart...

Thank you for all the great links.