Poe's 200th anniversary: Stuart Kaminsky
Today's guest poster is Stuart Kaminsky, a Mystery Writers of America grand master and editor of On a Raven's Wing -- a compilation of new mysteries marking Poe 's 200th. Among the featured authors: Mary Higgins Clark, Thomas H. Cook and S.J. Rozan. Kaminsky's post, adapted from the book's introduction:
A little while ago I was looking up at the pale-faced and closed eyed bust of Poe which I received as Grand Master. It resides on a bureau just across from the desk at which I work. There is a continuing problem with the bust, however. The paint on Edgar's head is slowly peeling away. As I’ve done before, I went to the garage, got some black paint and dabbed at the several places in his hair showing white where black should have been.
I was careful, but the paint began to drip across Edgar’s face forming a startling set of black tears which ran from the outside corners of both of his eyes down his cheeks. Was I reading something into the moment that was not there?
My answer to the last question was a tentative "yes". Edgar was no more weeping black paint than I was the only person who will be left after the Rapture.
Still, I felt that chill, the one that makes my shoulders shiver. It is also the shiver that I feel and have felt when I read one of Poe’s tales of terror.
I have felt it stepping into Poe’s preserved dormitory room at The University of Virginia. I have felt that shiver sitting at the desk at which Poe sat at The Southern Literary Messenger. The desk, part of the Koester Collection at The University of Texas, Austin, was in a well-guarded tower on an upper floor, against a wall in a room that reminded me of the vast warehouse at the end of Citizen Kane.
You can go to the internet to find an odd list of Poe artifacts the very reading of which reminds me of something one of Poe’s morose characters might compile: locks of Poe’s hair, fragments of Poe’s original coffin, a pen holder made from a fragment of Poe’s original coffin, the bed in which his child bride Virginia died, Poe’s rocking chair, Poe’s bible and much more.
Things we know about Poe and often say and hear include the assertion that, in his forty years of life, he created the short story, the detective story, the modern horror story. As far as I am concerned, it does not matter if he was first or if he created any literary genre. What matters is that he had the power to send me into a near syncope with his stories and poetry.
One of my earliest encounters with Poe was through a half-hour live teleplay in the 1950's of The Cask of Amontillado. The production was a disaster. Actors muffled and mumbled lines. Painted sets rattled in the breeze of passing performers. And still, just before the last painted cardboard brick was set in place, I felt the horror of that imprisonment as the actor called out, "Fortunato."
Poe's life and work have inspired radio episodes; television tales; popular music by, among many others, The Beatles and Joan Baez; classical music and even operas by Claude DeBussy. There are Poe tee shirts, candies, bobble-head dolls and action figures. And don't forget Raven Beer.
The revenue from the tee shirts and bobble-heads alone would almost certainly come to far more than Edgar's estimated lifetime earnings even adjusted for inflation.
I know there are many, including writers, who do not share my appreciation of the odd-looking and wild-eyed Poe. At my regular poker game a few months ago, I said something about Poe and was asked if I would like to meet him were it magically possible. I said ‘no’. Poe, haunted and besotted, was as morose and difficult as any of his characters. I think a meeting with the man would depress me and probably end with him asking me for ten dollars which I would gladly give him.
I am content to look up and see the bust of Poe and be inspired, depressed, transported or even, on some occasions, happy.