‘Why Poe Matters to Me’ – a guest post by WJ Rosser

OC Note: The following post is provided by WJ Rosser of Landmark Literary Press. Landmark is in the process of releasing an anthology called The Spirit of Poe, the proceeds from which they plan to donate to The Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum in Baltimore. The Poe House is in danger of being shut down after the city of Baltimore completely cut the $80,000 funding it has provided to annually to keep the museum open to the public. Rosser is spearheading this project to keep the Poe House afloat, and this is why:

Edgar Allan Poe

We’re working to keep the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum in Baltimore open to the public.  Funds from the City of Baltimore aren’t available anymore, and this piece of our literary heritage is going to be nothing more than a building available to just a few.  We’ve got a great many wonderful stories that will be included as well as an introduction by a renowned Poe expert; but let me tell you why Poe is important to me, and why I undertook to do this with my coeditor Karen Rigley.

Two or three times per year while I was in elementary school I walked into the classroom and found that a little tri-fold catalog from Scholastic Books lay on my desk.  It was an exciting time for me because I knew that the answer was always “yes.”  If I wanted a new Star Wars action figure, the answer was “we’ll see.”  If I wanted to go to the movies, it was “maybe.”  In my childhood, there were a whole lot of negative or noncommittal answers from my parents.  Scholastic was the big exception.   I always got four or five books without any trouble.  I could usually push for seven or eight.  It was through the little checkboxes and careful , wide-eyed choices that I ended up reading The Yearling and Marty and, in the beginning of my sixth grade year, a collection of short stories called Tales of Terror and Mystery by Edgar Allan Poe.

Maybe it’s some kind of cloudy, romantic fancy to look back more than thirty years and think about a book or about any everyday event only to attach significance now I probably didn’t feel then, but I don’t think I’m overstating things to say that that little paperback book did more to influence my literary ambitions than anything else.  First of all, well look, IF I could even find an R rated movie on that new channel HBO, there wasn’t a chance in Hell my parents were going to let me watch it.  But right there in front of me, I was reading about murders, violence, and men going crazy.  All of the sudden, scary wasn’t just a dark, dark room at the end of a dark, dark staircase in a dark, dark house in a dark, dark woods.  Poe was the first writer who actually reached me on a visceral level.  For the first time, I saw that words on a page could actually do more for me than pictures on a screen.

Why Poe?  What was so different about him?  Far more educated writers have provided far more educated reasons, but for me it all boils down to one word, “humanity.”  Poe wrote about horrible events, horrible places, and even horrible people; but he did so in a way that gave humanity even to the most revolting of them.  Do you think for a second there could have been a Freddy Krueger without a Hop Frog?  Do you think there ever would have been a Hannibal Lecter without a Roderick Usher?  Poe was blurring sympathies for the reader years before anyone else got to that point in literature.

Further, Poe made it seem effortless.  We know it wasn’t.  He wrote treatises on the structure and form of fiction and poetry.  We know he slaved over each word choice in The Tell Tale Heart, that he carefully considered how to present each disguise that covered the faces in the Masque of the Red Death.  He did it so remarkably though, that a reader sees the finished work as though it flowed directly from his mind onto the page without any interruption.  There aren’t any awkward moments in his work.  We might scream, “don’t go in there!” but none of us think it’s unbelievable that the doomed character will.  When Fortunato screams “For the love of God!” we scream with the victim, and when Montressor cries out “Fortunato” in a sudden panic and sickness over his crime, we cry right along with the murderer.

This is Poe.  He was the first, and the best.  His house in Baltimore was the beginning of his literary career, and an argument can be made that it was the beginning of H.P. Lovecraft’s, Ambrose Bierce’s. Ray Bradbury’s, Stephen King’s, Robert McCammon’s, Clive Barker’s, Wes Craven’s, William Peter Blattys, and I could probably list a thousand more.  The question really isn’t “Why should we preserve access to this museum?”  The real question is “How could we not?”

To preorder the anthology (and we’re working frantically to get it out in time for Halloween) go to literarylandmarkpress.blogspot.com.