Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Poe Wars

Ed Pettit's "We're Taking Poe Back" piece in last week's Philadelphia City Paper has prompted some supportive volleys from other Philadelphia partisans, while the Baltimore gang is firing back. In a Baltimore Sun column, "We Have the Body, and We're Keeping Him," Poe House curator Jeff Jerome tells Philly "Keep your greasy, onioned, sub-stained hands off Poe!" Jerome admits to being impressed by Ed's research: "I plan to go up to Philadelphia, punch him in the eye and then say, 'Let's talk about Poe.'"

A.J. Daulerio, writing for the Philadelphia Magazine blog The Daily Examiner, calls the Baltimoreans "crabcake-stuffed cranks," and gets in a few low blows of his own. Ed says of the fracas "In his time, Poe took part in some rough and tumble literary wars (often of his own making), so I feel gratified that my piece has generated some heat. At least this battle will remain good-natured; Poe's fights were gravely serious, with his literary survival always at stake."

Well, I have to point out that Boston also can lay claim to Poe: he was, after all, born here. But as a Boston Globe story pointed out back in January, there's not much love in Beantown for the man whose literary corpse is being so viciously tussled over by his other sometime-homes: "His name is not routinely uttered on tours of the city, nor does it appear among the 1,000-plus attractions on the city's tourism website. Boston has neither a Poe statue nor a Poe museum - only a small plaque commemorating his birthplace on the outside wall of a luggage store. The Poe Studies Association, a group of scholars and fans, rejected Boston for its 2009 celebration of the bicentennial of his birth partly because this city offers little for Poe aficionados."

Following a particularly poorly-received reading at the Boston Lyceum in 1845, Poe wrote of Boston "We were born there - and perhaps it is just as well not to mention that we are heartily ashamed of the fact." He and the grand literary poobahs of the day - Hawthorne, Longfellow and their ilk - were not on pleasant terms (to say the least). And Poe's final stay in Boston can hardly be remembered pleasantly: he tried to kill himself here in 1848 by overdosing on opiates after a relationship went sour. Not exactly the ties that bind, are they?

But wait! What is that anonymous byline on the title page of Poe's first published work? "Tamerlane and Other Poems. By A Bostonian."

Well, it's something, at least. But not enough, I think, to warrant Boston's entry into the Poe Wars. We'll let Baltimore and Philly fight this one out - we wouldn't want to rile up the Brahmins.