BOOK REVIEW: Edgar Allan Poe: The Fever Called Living by Paul Collins

Edgar Allan Poe: The Fever Called LivingEdgar Allan Poe: The Fever Called Living by Paul Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Edgar Allan Poe is one of the most intriguing writers in American literature. His short life (he died at 40) was productive and inventive. He’s often credited with the invention of the detective story (i.e. “Murders in the Rue Morgue”), and was prolific as a writer of stories, poetry, and criticism. We know him for macabre tales like “Tell-Tale Heart” and the poem, “The Raven.” Few authors invoke such a benighted image.

Yet the popular image of Poe is a bit of a dark caricature, reflecting truths but exaggerating features for effect. Part of this exaggeration probably owes to our collective desire to romanticize the tortured artist – and Poe is as tortured as they come. However, some of the exaggeration of Poe’s faults owe to the fact that he was a harsh critic, and at least one of the authors who felt the sting of his pen found an opportunity to amplify the “drug-addled lunatic” aspect of Poe’s nature in a biography after the great author’s death. That’s not to deny that Poe had an addictive personality. He was both an alcoholic and prone to gambling away whatever funds graced his pockets.

This short biography (less than 150pp.) gives one insight into Poe’s life from birth to death in five chapters. The first of these chapters describes Poe’s childhood, which was marred by the death of his mother, abandonment by his father, and being taken in — but not adopted — by a foster couple. Granted the foster couple was wealthy, but Poe’s foster-father could be a harsh man and the uncertainty of not being formally adopted seemed to have weighed on Poe’s mind.

The middle chapters give special attention to Poe’s life as a writer, noting under what circumstances he was published, starting with a self-published chap book and moving through to becoming one of America’s great men of letters (though he never made enough money to live in comfort.) Poe famously married a cousin who was very young (though of legal age) at the time, and we get some insight into that relationship, which ended not terribly long before his own death. The last chapter gives the details of Poe’s demise.

I found this book interesting and educational. Collins neither gets lost in the minutiae nor give’s Poe’s life short shrift, and it feels as though he reveals the true Poe and not the T-shirt version. I would recommend this book for fans of Poe’s work and for those who are interested in the literary history of America.

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BOOK REVIEW: The Complete Poetical Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Complete Poetical WorksComplete Poetical Works by Edgar Allan Poe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Gutenberg page

 

The title is self-explanatory with respect the book’s content. However, if one is just expecting all of Poe’s poems bound together, one may be pleasantly surprised by some relevant bonus material in the form of scenes from plays and a few essays on poetry.

The works included are divided into seven sections. The first is entitled “Poems of Later Life” and includes many of the author’s most famous works such as: “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee.” The book then follows an inverse chronological order with the section entitled “Poems of Manhood” coming next. Next there are scenes from a drama entitled “Politian” that emulates classic Greco-Roman plays. Then there are the poems written in Poe’s youth. There are two more sections of poetry with only a few pieces each. The first is the “doubtful poems’’ – i.e. poems that may or may not have been penned by Poe. The last chapter of poetry consists of Poe’s prose poems. Finally, there is a section consisting of three essays about poetry. This is a nice inclusion as it offers the reader insight into Poe’s thoughts on poetry. For example, Poe believed in a poetry Goldilocks zone. That is poems that were too long would not be able to maintain the emotional experience, but one’s that were too short would not be able to convey meaning.

I enjoyed this book. Not all the poems are of the caliber of “The Raven” by any means, but the book is insightful nonetheless, and there’s a mix of Poe’s trademark darkness with pieces that might strike the reader as decidedly uncharacteristic. As I said, it’s fun to have Poe’s essays on poetry next to his poems so that one can consider his verse in that light. The inverse chronological order provides an interesting way to view the evolution of a poet – Benjamin Button style. (Plus it offers one some strong momentum by starting the reader off with some of Poe’s most exceptional work.)

There’s a brief biography in the front of the book, and there are a surprising number of detailed notations for a collection of poetry. That’s all the ancillary matter. There are editions with illustrations, but the edition that I read didn’t have them (i.e. the version on offer from Gutenberg Project .) Amazon seems to have editions both with and without illustrations. (I don’t think they would offer much value-added.)

I’d recommend this for poetry readers and poets interested in Poe’s approach to the art.

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BOOK REVIEW: 101 Great American Poems ed. The American Poetry and Literacy Project

101 Great American Poems101 Great American Poems by The American Poetry and Literacy Project

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This is a collection of 101 poems by 39 different American poets. It begins with a poem by Anne Bradstreet in the 17th century and proceeds through to a work by W.H. Auden of the 20th century. In between are many poets that one would expect, such as Poe, Whitman, Dickinson, Sandburg, and Cummings. There are others that might be unexpected such as Abraham Lincoln, Herman Melville, and Stephen Crane. While the poems aren’t all jingoistic in nature, there is a recurring theme of celebration of America.

Most of the poems in this tiny anthology will be familiar to poetry readers. This is a $1 Kindle e-book of a Dover Thrift Edition, and so one won’t find living poets represented, or poems that tap into the zeitgeist du jour— at the risk of mixing loan words. However, most of these poems deserve to be read and reread.

A few of my favorites are below with title, author, and a fragment.

The Builders by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Nothing useless is, or low;
Each thing in its place is best;
And what seems but idle show
Strengthens and supports the rest.

The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,

O Captain! My Captain! by Walt Whitman
O Captain! my captain! our fearful trip is done,
the ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,

I’m nobody! Who are you? by Emily Dickenson
I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us–don’t tell!
They’d banish us, you know

The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus
“Give my your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,…

Solitude by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
Weep, and you weep alone

War is Kind by Stephen Crane
Do no weep, maiden, for war is kind

Sence You Wend Away by James Weldon Johnson
Seems lak to me de stars don’t shine so bright,

Sympathy by Paul Laurence Dunbar
I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;

Fire and Ice by Robert Frost
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Chicago by Carl Sandburg
They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.

Fog by Carl Sandburg
The fog comes
on little cat feet.

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens
Among twenty snowy mountains,
The only moving thing
Was the eye of the blackbird;

The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos Williams
so much depends
upon

a red wheel
barrow

The Love Songs of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,

First Fig by Edna St. Vincent Millay
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends–
it gives a lovely light.

Ars Poetica by Archibald Macleish
A poem should not mean
But be

I, Too by Langston Hughes
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,

Little Old Letter by Langston Hughes
You don’t need no gun nor knife–
A little old letter
Can take a person’s life.

Nothing struck me as conspicuously absent from this collection, but I’d be curious what poems people feel should (or shouldn’t) be in such a collection.

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