Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Edgar Allan Poe (A Call for Halloween Suggestions)

Jennifer came in yesterday marveling over the mock funeral held for Edgar Allan Poe this past weekend. She wasn't sure whether his body was taken out of the crypt or a replica was used, but she was sure that there was something more than a little amazing about having a funeral for a man who had been dead for over a century. It was obvious, though, that she would have gone to it if the tickets hadn't cost $40.00. Jennifer likes to be in on almost anything that happens in the neighborhood.

And Poe is definitely part of this Baltimore neighborhood. When I did my little school marmish bit of telling Jennifer that an unknown person had been leaving roses and cognac at Poe's grave on his birthday every year, she immediately told me that the stranger had almost been caught one year. According to Jennifer, the people who had staked out Poe's grave went on a lunch break, and the mysterious fan left his gifts then. Jennifer went on to talk about Poe's house, a museum within walking distance of YANA. She told the room that the building was so small, you couldn't have gotten most modern furniture up the stairs. She said that Poe was a morphine addict, and smilingly recited a line or two of "Annabel Lee." Then she talked about "The Raven" and concluded -- in the same wondering tone she had used talking about the funeral -- "That wasn't even no raven he was writing about. It was a crow."

After that she told us that a woman in her neighborhood said she had known Poe when he lived nearby. Jennifer wasn't sure whether that was true or not, but the woman was very old, and she was white, and she had lived in the neighborhood all her life. Also, everyone looked out for her, and she when she walked her dogs in the morning nobody bothered her, and color didn't matter, and the corner boys. . . well, you get the point. Jennifer is a talker. But, also, because one of the great American writers of the 19th century had been brought into her life, she took an interest in him.

It occurred to me then that maybe we could do something with Poe for Halloween. We could read a short story or poem out loud then write our own or illustrate his. I could talk about Poe as having been addicted to both alcohol and the 19th century equivalent of heroin. I could say that he grew up in a foster home, that at one point he had lived nearby, and that he had often been poor. Most importantly, I could say that he had been deeply scarred by the deaths of people he loved, and that he had transformed his pain into art. Maybe we could talk for a minute or two about doing something with life's horrors rather than only being afraid of them.

The practical applications of this idea seem a little difficult, though. Most of his work seems too long and complicated, and, frankly, too grotesque for our ladies. I hadn't remembered "The Black Cat," but I thought the title sounded sort of Halloween-lite. Then I read about a man who gauged out his cat's eye, hanged his cat, had his family's home mysteriously burned down, then got a new cat which grew a gallows sign on its chest, and I didn't think it was quite the thing to get the YANA women happily chatting away about cruelty and guilt. I've seen little Tina gasp and shudder at the sight of a dead cat by the side of a road.

Maybe "Annabel Lee" would be a good idea. It's fairly short, and it's very pretty. It is Halloween appropriate because it talks about death, and evil angels, and underwater demons. Most of all it talks about a love lost, a love that reminds Poe of childhood innocence. Do any of you reading think it's a good idea? Do you have another suggestion? What kind of art could we do in response to it? We have two weeks to decide, and I'd love to see some suggestions. Let me know. thanks, vickie

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