Today is Edgar Allan Poe’s 207th birthday. Best oblige with pointy hats and streamers.
For years, I try to honor his birth and legacy in some way. My first inclination is to create a meal representative of his work and/or his personal preferences. Poe didn’t speak of food, not even cannibalism (which I do find odd). Recipes already put together in honor of Poe–that aren’t cross-referenced with Halloween party ideas–don’t exist. An article I found years ago, which I cannot find now, indicated his food to be Rocky Mountain Oysters. I’m not sure that’s true, as much of Poe’s life and predilections in general are unknowns.
The nearest to food I can get in Poe’s work and legend is drink. Wine and spirits. As I don’t drink, I am without options. But, as a writer, I can honor Edgar Allan Poe in the two other great traditions: hunger and writing meta. Poe, through his work and our ignorance of him as an individual, is himself a Meta creation. A Meta Man.
Edgar Allan Poe is one of the fathers of many sub-genres of fiction, but most notably of horror and the American Gothic. American Gothic is defined by the presence of monsters, the uncanny, obsession, and insanity. What’s more particular to Poe’s American Gothic is how the narrator is unreliable to the reader and themselves.
In all this, if I err not, my reason had little to do. My convictions, or I forget myself, were in no manner acted upon by the ideal, nor was any tincture of the mysticism which I read to be discovered, unless I am greatly mistaken, either in my deeds or in my thoughts. Feeling deeply persuaded of this, I abandoned myself implicitly to the guidance of my wife, and entered with an unflinching heart into the intricacies of her studies. And then — then, when, poring over forbidden pages, I felt a forbidden spirit enkindling within me — would Morella place her cold hand upon my own, and rake up from the ashes of a dead philosophy some low, singular words, whose strange meaning burned themselves in upon my memory — and then hour after hour would I linger by her side and dwell upon the music of her voice — until, at length, its melody was tainted with terror — and fell like a shadow upon my soul — and I grew pale, and shuddered inwardly at those too unearthly tones. And thus joy suddenly faded into horror, and the most beautiful became the most hideous, as Hinnon became Ge-Henna.
Poe takes this step out of Self and the reader with him, whether by leave of his own warped mind or by the machinations of another. Or both at once. Such did happen to Poe, though it happened after his death.
Poe’s reputation as a lascivious, drunk and drug addict is pervasive and wrong. This image of Poe was struck by Rufus Griswold (a man who hated Poe and who would go on to be tormented by him), who was Poe’s first biographer and wrote Poe’s obituary.
EDGAR ALLAN POE is dead. He died in Baltimore the day before yesterday. This announcement will startle many, but few will be grieved by it. The poet was well known, personally or by reputation, in all this country; he had readers in England, and in several of the states of Continental Europe; but he had few or no friends; and the regrets for his death will be suggested principally by the consideration that in him literary art has lost one of its most brilliant but erratic stars.
Truthfully, not a great deal is known about Poe as an individual. Most accounts from his life are supposition, some suspect. Poe is left up to interpretation of reader, scholar, and artist to make up ideas of his work and especially of himself.
What we know about Poe is scattered throughout his literary works, criticisms, letters, photos, and the defamation to legendary account by Griswold which adds up to a 100+ year old fandom, compounded by Poe’s mysterious final days.
A transformative work takes something extant and turns it into something with a new purpose, sensibility, or mode of expression.
In Poe-Land, J.W. Ocker reframes context to better amplify his Poe’s image. Accepting Griswold’s hoax, Ocker doesn’t make much of it when the “Poe Legend” is so cool.
When I read Poe, I read him as a man of calculated rhetoric; a man with a schadenfreude sense of humor with carefully executed melancholy, insanity, romance, and surrealism.
From the poems and stories I’ve ready throughout my childhood and adult life by Poe, from the bits of him that I am interpreting as him in his works, I think of Poe as funny. Yes. A man who had a sense of humor, but knew enough to not show it so blatantly.
Except, my Poe may be different than your Poe. Poe is a transformative person, which gives him a certain living status the way all fan-artists and fan-fiction writers (including scholars; there’s no difference between headcanon and scholarship beyond citation).
So! Here’s happy birthday to our Eddie, the myth and living transformative work.