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,
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.


The Boss (In Honor of Labor Day)

The Boss – Thomas Owen Randall and Wife Iva Randall


He was always referred to as
The Boss.
Tall and slender,
with warm brown skin
and a regal
yet humble
Bearing family secrets
he took to his grave,
He commanded respect,
though his voice seldom
rose above a whisper.
He took his 3rd grade education
and uncanny math skills
from his home
in Calvert County
to West Baltimore,
Settling into a tiny,
three-story rowhouse
(later fitted with Formstone)
on Bloom Street,
with his wife,
an equally tall and regal,
but buxom,
said to have Indian blood—
and the nose and cheekbones
to “prove” it.
over a span of 19 years
they raised
eight children
in the tiny,
four-bedroom house.
His World War I Draft Card,
issued in 1917,
declared him
exempt from serving,
owing to his status
as a head of household.
In those days,
donning knee-high leather boots
and balloon pants,
he rode a Harley-Davidson motorcycle,
toddling his wife
and their young children
in a sidecar.
He was never seen
without a starched shirt,
and only rarely
without a necktie or bolo.
So good with his hands
was he that, over time,
he replaced
the outhouse
in the backyard
with an indoor bath
with full plumbing,
replaced the wood-burning stove
and icebox
with modern appliances,
replaced the wooden floors,
mended the three flights of stairs,
and painted the interior
several times over.
His 48-year employment
with the C & P Telephone Company
was mythical.
From executive chauffer
to trusted courier,
he rose through the ranks,
eventually opening the door
to more Black employees,
vetted by his record and his word
His friends and children
among the many workers
he entrusted jobs to.
In retirement,
he started a cleaning service,
employing his young grandchildren
to clean C & P phone booths
all over Maryland
(including Scaggsville),
enticing them
with the promise
of a day-old bun
and a Coke,
his favorite beverage.
He’d pile his children,
(and later,
grands and great-grands)
into his pristine, old gray Buick,
fitting the littlest ones
onto the footstools
on the floor in back,
for day trips to amusement parks
and two-week visits to family in Atlantic City
every Summer.
And the Day-After-Christmas
was reserved for the
ever-growing family
dinner and gift exchange
at The House.
In 1971,
two weeks after
planning and overseeing
a Grand Family Reunion,
The Boss,
Patriarch of 3 daughters,
5 sons,
35 grandchildren,
and 29 great-grandchildren,

took his last breath
and was laid to rest.
His wife joined him,
6 weeks later.


This poem, originally written and published on (August 20, 2019) was premiered during the Labor Day Literary Extravaganza hosted by Rafael Alvarez, at Ikaros Restaurant, September 1, 2019


Announcing a New Literary Journal: History of Poetry in Baltimore / 1945 to the present

From Jackie Oldham: On January 12, 2019, I joined forces with Baltimore writer Rafael Alvarez and his partner in crime — Tyrone Crawley; founders of the Story Company in the late 1980s, to launch a new, on-line literary journal.

The first post, of our inaugural meeting at G&A Coney Island hot dogs, was published on January 13 [] by Rafael.

We encourage you to click on the above link to view, like, and comment on it—we need outside proof that we exist. For now, the sharing option will take you to the Facebook page Baltimoreblackwoman. This sharing option will be updated as soon as possible.

All nail-biting aside, I am excited to announce the launch of History of Poetry in Baltimore / 1945 to the present.

This site will explore the wide-ranging and still evolving poetry scene in Baltimore, and our newly discovered, shared experiences with this history.

Your humble co-founder and Braciole web-master,

Jackie Oldham