Sunday, January 19, 2014

Happy 205th, Mr. Poe

Man, you should have seen them kicking Edgar Allan Poe!
                                               —John Lennon, “I Am the Walrus”

According to a 1971 interview Lennon did with Rolling Stone magazine, Lennon wrote that line because he’d been taken aback by some harsh criticism he’d read of Poe. Seriously, who hates on Edgar Allan Poe? Moreover, why?

Edgar Allan Poe lived only 40 years, had a taste for liquid intoxicants and (really) young women. A regular 19th century Jerry Lee Lewis. Except our good Edgar not only established the genres of macabre fiction, Gothic horror, and the detective story, he codified the principles of the modern short story. 

One may complain of the early 19th century density of his prose, but in the short time Poe was writing he inspired the entire career of French writer Charles Baudelaire. Antipathy towards Poe is jealousy, plain and simple.

His death is a mystery, along with his decision to leave his biographical legacy to a man who hated him. Me, I remember reading an essay in an omnibus edition of Poe’s work, which described how he observed his cat learning how to work the thumb-latch door. I recognized that classic paradox observed in creative types, myself included: a fascination with process, even as we engage in deliberate Rimbaudian derangement of the senses.

Like a boss.
Edgar Allan Poe was more than crumbling houses of Usher, black cats and cannibals and haunted tombs. He was a man interested in things. The reason a lot of so-called writers fail is they’re focused on one or two things occupying the whole of their interest. The overclass of writers like Poe, then Twain, then Whitman, etc., embrace worlds of fascinations.

We do love that spooky stuff, though. Myself, especially. The haters can bother me when one of them writes something as sublimely messed-up as “The Tell-Tale Heart,” or “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Cask of Amontillado.” Thanks for all the tales of mystery and imagination, and Happy Birthday, Mr. Poe!