Second Annual New Year’s Eve Reading at the grave of Edgar Allan Poe / 2019

Westminster Hall church yard, Baltimore
Photo by Jackie Oldham

We gathered for the Second Annual New Year’s Eve Reading at Poe’s Grave at 9 a.m. with coffee, doughnuts and homemade baklava. It was a mild and sunny-to-overcast day.

“I hold that a long poem does not exist…” / EAP 

Tyrone Crawley & Rafael Alvarez
Photo by Mark Cates


The readers, in order of appearance, were:

1. Rafael Alvarez, welcoming the small but devoted crowd and reading from an essay (not his) about the time Charles Dickens and Poe met on one of Dickens’ tours of the United States. Dickens had brought his pet raven — GRIP — with him and this is widely believed to have inspired Edgar’s immortal poem and given name to a Baltimore football team having a historic 2019 season.

 

Poe 2019

2. Mark Cates, photographer, read a letter Poe wrote to an admirer from Maine, a physician named George Washington Eveleth. “I became insane with long intervals of horrible sanity.” / The crowd asked him to repeat the line so they could savor the truth of it. Eveleth later corresponded with George Edward Woodberry in 1883-1885, as Woodberry was preparing his biography of Poe.

 

3. Jennifer Bishop, photographer, read from the poem Eleonora. “Men have called me mad but the question is not yet settled whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence.”

4. Anne Haddad brought homemade baklava made with rose water syrup instead of honey and pistachios instead of walnuts — enjoyed by all.

Anne Haddad
Photo by Jennifer Bishop

Haddad told a story about having to read The House of the Seven Gables  (Nathaniel Hawthorne) for a 6th grade book report and not being prepared. A friend on the playground told her she’d seen the movie and gave a synopsis, which the young Haddad spun into her essay.

 
However, the friend gave her the synopsis for The Fall of the House of Usher instead, and the teacher either never noticed or didn’t think it was worth bringing to Anne’s attention. In the 9th grade, said Haddad, she had a teacher who effectively related “what literature means,” adding, as she stood next to Poe’s monument, “That it had a purpose. That year we read Great Expectations and The Fall of the House of Usher,” at which point, she embraced Poe and literature as a whole. 

At Poe’s grave on 12.31.19, Haddad read the beginning of The Fall of the House of Usher, aloud: “During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country ; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.”

Poe aficionados.

5. Elie Filippou, age 11, daughter of Jason Filippou, read the first stanza of Annabel Lee.

6. Jennifer Bishop read, “There are certain themes of which the interest is all-absorbing. But one too entirely horrible for the purposes of legitimate fiction is “the premature burial,” from THE PREMATURE BURIAL — published in 1844 in The Philadelphia Dollar Newspaper.


Jason Filippou. Photo by Mark Cale

 

7. Jason Filippou read from The Raven (and everyone’s hopes were very high that the local football team was going to the Super Bowl, alas….).

 

 

8. Jackie Oldham, poet/musician, read the last stanzas (part 4) of The Bells.

Hear the tolling of the bells—
Iron bells!
What a world of solemn thought their monody compels!
In the silence of the night,
How we shiver with affright
At the melancholy menace of their tone!
For every sound that floats
From the rust within their throats
Is a groan.
And the people—ah, the people—
They that dwell up in the steeple,
All alone,
And who tolling, tolling, tolling,
In that muffled monotone,
Feel a glory in so rolling
On the human heart a stone—
They are neither man nor woman—
They are neither brute nor human—
They are Ghouls:
And their king it is who tolls;
And he rolls, rolls, rolls,
Rolls
A pæan from the bells!
And his merry bosom swells
With the pæan of the bells!
And he dances, and he yells;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the pæan of the bells—
Of the bells:
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the throbbing of the bells—
Of the bells, bells, bells—
To the sobbing of the bells;
Keeping time, time, time,
As he knells, knells, knells,
In a happy Runic rhyme,
To the rolling of the bells—
Of the bells, bells, bells—
To the tolling of the bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells—
Bells, bells, bells—
To the moaning and the groaning of the bells.

Asked what Poe meant to her, Oldham replied: “Poe spoke to my soul at an early age The fright he inspired [seemed like] a way of being.” / Asked how Poe could successfully repeat the same word over and over (bells) without being corny, Oldham answered: “It’s because he understood the sound of bells, the actual sound they make.”

 

9. Tyrone Crawley, co-founder (1988) of the literary “factory” called The Story Company and co-founder (2018) of the annual New Year’s Eve morning tribute to Poe at the corner of Greene & Fayette, read a love letter written in October 1848 (a year after Virginia Clemm’s death) to Sarah Helen Power Whitman, an American poet, essayist, transcendentalist, spiritualist and a romantic interest of Poe. Edgar was courting two women simultaneously, according to Crawley, one a childhood friend and the other a fellow poet (Whitman).

Poe corresponded with Whitman not long after the death of Virginia Clemm, and perhaps before. Recited Crawley, in the voice of Poe, “I live and die unheard” (which, by our presence at his grave 170 years after his death, proves wrong).

And then, recited Crawley, barely containing himself, “OH HELEN! OH HELEN!”


The group of friends then departed, each their own way, to ride out 2019 while awaiting the arrival of 2020.

 

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