On Friday, the 20th of October, a handful of English students and professors Curtis and McDonnell congregated for a Dead Poet’s Society reading in the gazebo near Maddox and Wright Halls. It’s the gazebo with a statue of a raven on the tip of its roof that, with its endless and forbidding croak, seems to beckon for a group of nerdy Poe-enthusiasts to read and geek out there. While I obviously attended the meeting, I was not one of those Poe-enthusiasts only because I haven’t read that much Poe. I’m not certain if my colleagues were Poe-enthusiasts either, but there was one obvious Poe-enthusiast, the same one who organized the event and came up with the idea of having a Poe-day and a Dead Poet’s Society, and this was Dr. Curtis. Before the reading started, Dr. Curtis informed us of Poe’s life, and more specifically his death, since this was, after all, Dead Poet’s Society.
On an October night in 1849, Poe had disappeared from the city of Baltimore. He had been visiting his family in Richmond, Virginia. But he then turned up—and most likely turned up—in Baltimore on election day and was found unconscious in a gutter and wearing ill-fitting clothes. Many people suspected that because it was election day he was being used to conduct voter fraud. People now think he died of rabies because he kept falling in and out of consciousness and Dr. R. Michael Benitez wrote an article that pieces together various accounts of his death and argues quite persuasively for the possibility of his dying of rabies. So he very well could have been bitten by a rabid dog, a raccoon, or hopefully a bat.
The first reading was the hardest to start because nobody wanted to go first. Dr. Curtis didn’t want to start because he knew that he would get too intense. He told us that after “The Raven” came out it became a performance piece. Poe made a lot more money performing it and his other poems than he did publishing them. Curtis told us that women and nervous persons were highly affected in accounts of the time by what Poe wrote and that he developed a celebrity status by performing his works. Thus provided the context for Curtis’s reluctance to read first: when he reads Poe, watch out. He performs. “Let the crazy man in the gazebo do his thing” he said. Continue reading “So Poe: A Dead Poet’s Society Get-Together on Edgar Allen Poe”