As I continue work on Nightmares with the Bible, I am reminded just how influential Edgar Allan Poe has been in my life. It’s not that I read Poe every day, but it’s more that his stories have stayed with me since childhood. For an English term paper in high school, the last one I recall writing, I selected Poe as the subject. Something of the sadness of his life made me feel as though we were kindred spirits, although I could never meet him, and never let him know that he would have had a friend if he had been born a maybe a century and a half later, and if possible, in Franklin, Pennsylvania. If his fondness for drink came with him, he would likely have met my father in such circumstances.
Even today I feel a kind of fiercely protective interest in Poe, as if his poems and stories had been written exclusively for me. Seeing a handwritten fine copy of “The Raven” on display in the Morgan Library and Museum brought tears to my eyes. Like Poe, I strive to make a living as a writer, but unlike Poe, I cop out. I’m too afraid of losing everything. Jobs necessarily interfere with writing, and some jobs actively discourage it. Nevertheless, I still feel the shudder when I think about the first time I read many of his stories. This was, I suspect, what fed my young interest in horror. It wasn’t the blood and gore of the slasher film, it was the quiet, sad, disturbing atmosphere of Poe. It has been recaptured by few, in my experience maybe only by Shirley Jackson.
Those who write are connection seekers. Writing is a way of testing to see if we alone see the world in our own way. Will others respond? Poe somehow, mainly after his own lifetime, touched a responsive chord with many. His work is now very widely known. His visage appears on everything from bandages to socks. His stories and poems are endlessly retold, adapted, and parodied. When I read Poe I hear someone speaking from a life of hard knocks. His response was to strike back, through his writing. The life story written by one of his relatives suggests that he wasn’t as gloomy and tortured as he is generally portrayed. Perhaps not. Nevertheless, those of us who find gothic literature somehow redemptive know, once we close the cover, who it is we should thank.