Saturday, May 5, 2007

To Helen by Edgar Allan Poe

I saw thee once— once only— years ago:
I must not say how many — but not many.
It was a July midnight; and from out
A full-orbed moon, that, like thine own soul, soaring,
Sought a precipitate pathway up through heaven, There fell a silvery-silken veil of light,
With quietude, and sultriness, and slumber,
Upon the upturned faces of a thousand
Roses that grew in an enchanted garden,
Where no wind dared to stir, unless on tiptoe--
Fell on the upturn’d faces of these roses
That gave out, in return for the love-light,
Their odorous souls in an ecstatic death —
Fell on the upturn’d faces of these roses
That smiled and died in this parterre, enchanted
By thee, and by the poetry of thy presence.

When I read the beginning of Poe's poem above, I feel surrounded by Spring. Yet, I look outside my window, and the skies are overcast. The air weeps.

I read:
Upon the upturned faces of a thousand
Roses that grew in an enchanted garden,
The "enchanted garden" has a thousand "upturned faces," and they're multicultural. They are the faces of humanity. Beautiful in their hue-arrays.

Despite the weather, I see Spring.
That gave out, in return for the love-light,
Their odorous souls in an ecstatic death
"[L]ove-light" shines in each of the "upturned" faces. Each is an odorous soul, and its fragrance remains long after its release.

Open this: Create flower power! And start clicking on the letters, then add clicks in blank areas.

Have fun. Create Spring!

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Poe's Appearance in Baltimore

Jeffrey A. Savoye in his essay, "Two Biographical Digressions: Poe's Wandering Trunk and Dr. Carter's Mysterious Sword Cane" notes that there were two first-hand witnesses that saw Edgar Allan Poe, before he was medically treated and died. They described his appearance when they saw him on a Baltimore street.

Although neither man “was scrupulous in his recollection,” their testimonies record Poe’s appearance.

Snodgrass says:

His face was haggard, not to say bloated, and unwashed, his hair unkempt, and his whole physique repulsive. His expansive forehead, with its wonderful breadth between the points where the phrenologists locate the organ of ideality—the widest I ever measured—and that full-orbed and mellow, yet soulful eye, for which he was so noticeable when himself, now lusterless and vacant, as shortly I could see, were shaded from view by a rusty, almost brimless, tattered and ribbon-less palmleaf hat. His clothing consisted of a sack-coat of thin and sleezy [sic]black alpaca, ripped more or less at several of its seams, and faded and soiled, and pants of a steel-mixed pattern of cassinette, half-worn and badly-fitting, if they could be said to fit at all. He wore neither vest nor neck-cloth, while the bosom of his shirt was both crumpled and badly soled. On his feet were boots of coarse material, and giving no sign of having been blacked for a long time, if at all.

Moran gives a shorter but equally detailed account:

A stained faded, old bombazine coat, pantaloons of a similar character, a pair of worn-out shoes run down at the heels, and an old straw hat.
Haggard, bloated, unwashed, tattered says the first account.

Stained, faded, worn-out, run down says the second.

Look around. See the face of mental illness. More Poes are out there.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Poe's Word-Agony

Edgar Allan Poe died under mysterious conditions with days of “irregular” eating and sleeping patterns before his death. “No one seriously questioned the verdict that the culprit was liquor…science in that day being unable to define it further,” says John Walsh in his book, Midnight Dreary.

Poe himself writes in his letters:

But I am constitutionally sensitive—nervous in a very unusual degree. I became insane, with long periods of horrible sanity. During these fits of absolute unconsciousness I drank, God knows how much or how long. As a matter of course, my enemies referred the insanity to the drink rather than the drink to the insanity.
In a PBS interview, Dr. Kay Jamison confirms that the “killing sides of manic-depressive illness” are “alcoholism, drug abuse, and suicide.” She cites her and her colleague’s review of twenty studies of rates of alcohol abuse or alcoholism in patients with manic-depressive illness:

Well, if you ask writers and artists who have depression, severe depression or manic depression, what they feel is important to them about their illness and their moods in their work, what they almost always focus upon is the intensity and the range of emotional expressiveness. Learning from the pain and from the suffering, they experience the sorrow, they experience the despair of the nihilism and so forth. And on the other hand, very ecstatic and visionary states. So that's what artists and writers focus upon.
Creative individuals pour out their best rhetoric from their guts' overflow of pain. Word-agony. And it sears into our beings, cutting us with their suffering, because we've felt it too.

Readers and writers touch. And their touch is music.

Voice of the Shuttle: "Premier Online Destination"

Voice of the Shuttle is a "premier online destination" for surfers of the web and die-hard researchers, according to Forbes. It lists VOS in its "Summer 2002 Best of the Web" directory in the category for academic research.

VOS is a database and social bookmarking site that was started by a UC Santa Barbara professor, Allan Liu, in spring 1994.

Liu structured VOS’ mission to provide an annotated guide to online resources for the humanities, sciences, social sciences and new digital media. Its audience includes researchers, students and instructors from elementary through higher education.

The site offers more than 25 categories of research links for the humanities and social sciences: art, anthropology, architecture, classics, cyberculture, dance, history, law, literature, music, politics, postindustrial business theory, religion, science, and technology of writing. Resources include: museums, journals, publishers, listservs, conferences, and travel.

What does the allusion, VOS, mean? It refers to the Greek myth of a young girl, Philomela. Raped by her brother-in-law, who cuts off her tongue and imprisons her, she weaves a tapestry that communicates, instead of her voice. Likewise, VOS communicates by its cross weave of hyperlinks that are designed to form a tapestry of commentaries.

Grace Sparks Comments

Blogger Mark Thwaite should be impressed by the number of comments he received in three days to his post for help on ReadySteadyBlog.

His post on 24 April 2007 reads:
A favour: do any readers know of a good theological/philosophical book on the (Christian) concept of grace? Any tip-offs? Thanks so much!
Thwaite received 12 comments in three days.
Grace seems to be a hot topic.

I posted my response yesterday:

I recommend Stepping Out of Denial into God's Grace Participant's Guide #1 by John Baker and Rick Warren. Warren, as you might know, wrote the mega blockbuster, The Purpose Driven Life.
The Barnes and Nobles’ site includes this quote about The Purpose Driven Life:

With over 10 million copies sold since its release in October, 2002, the book received the ECPA 2003 Book of the Year Award.

Research Moves Toward Electronic Annotated Bibliography

Comparing electronic annotated bibliography to the traditional style is like comparing an electric typewriter to a word processor—once one uses a word processor, there’s no going back to an electric typewriter. Similarly, once a person has used electronic annotated bibliography, no looking back to the old ways.

An example of an electronic annotated bibliography is called Zotero, a free service. While researching Poe, I use it to collect, manage, and cite my research sources.

With clicks from my mouse and by installing Zotero in my web browser, I save time. As an English researcher, my Works Cited page is formatted easily.

Another example is Diigo, which is my favorite and preferred method to store my notes and sources for research. Why would someone use an old-fashioned method of index cards or copy/pasting with a word processor articles and type notes, when all this can be done through Diigo. It’s also free, and I highly recommend it.

PSYART: Psychoanalytic Studies of the Arts

Created in 1997, PSYART is an online, peer-reviewed social bookmark that specializes in the psychoanalytic study of literature and any other art. The archived journal is available free.

Publication in PSYART means that each article is, in principle, available to any of the 50,000,000 people estimated to use the Internet.

Recent editions include: "Kubla Khan": Genesis of An Archetype; Literary Parallels Stemming from a resemblance in the Authors’ Creative Development: The Extraordinary Similarities between Amos Oz’s The Same Sea and James Joyce's Finnegans Wake; and Suicidal Risk in Lives of Virginia Woolf and Sylvia PlathThe journal hopes to cast its “net as widely as possible in the psychological study of the arts.”

Archived variety includes: an analysis of literary imagery in Freud's dreams; a study of sexualized relationships in the filming of Lolita; an amusing gibe at Lacan; an experimental study of the pronunciation of "picture poems" (complete with sound spectrograms).

Each article is represented by only two things: an author's abstract of 150 words and a hyperlink to the article itself. Click on one of these hyperlinks and you will be connected to a site where PSYART maintains the article you seek.

All abstracts can be searched for topics by the "Find" command in such browsers as Netscape, or Explorer. Because PSYART is a hyperlink journal, containing only abstracts, as many as 500 articles can be current in the site at one time.

The goals of the journal are to become a large repository for current work in this field and to circulate ideas rapidly.

It’s also interactive. A reader can discuss an essay with its author through the author's e-mail address included with the abstract. Or a reader can discuss the article with some eight hundred people in the field through their forum, provided the reader is subscribed, which is a simple process.

PSYART is indexed in both the MLA Bibliography and PSYCINFO. Articles are accessible through Google, AltaVista, Northern Light, and other Internet search engines. That means that literally millions of people could read your article.

The journal accepts articles that have already appeared in print (subject to review by the editors and to the permission of the previous publisher). Similarly, it has no objection to articles that appear on its site being published elsewhere.

The Black City: A Fantasy Writer's Blog

Fantasy author John Marco announces in his blog post today that he’s done—with his latest book, Army of the Fantastic. He’s offering a book giveaway contest. How cool is that!

Marco’s blog gives fantasy writers like me an idea of a writer’s life and the writing process. 899 pages. That’s how long his latest book is. And he’s already “brainstorming” on his next book—character sketches, doodling out maps, and outlining the whole plot.

However, he’s taking a lunch break to eat and watch a DVD, The Iron Giant.

After reading his blog, I’m motivated to produce more pages of my own writing. Keep blogging, Marco. I need the push.

Dana Press Blog: Vonneguit, Creativity and Depression

Edgar Allan Poe’s melancholic colors are seen in many other writers. An example is Kurt Vonnegut Jr., writer of Slaughterhouse-Five, who died on April 11, 2007.

On the Dana Press Blog, Nicky Penttila posts an interview with Nancy C. Andreasen, a long-time friend of Vonnegut. “He matched the pattern of having significant mood disorder,” said Andreasen, a neuroscientist.

Vonnegut suffered with depression throughout his life and attempted suicide in 1984. “I would say the general pattern, for him and for most creative people, is they are not very productive when they’re depressed,” said Andreasen. “They do most of their creating after they’ve emerged from feeling depressed.”

Poe described his wrestling with depression in his letters. Similarly, Vonnegut expressed his melancholy in his writing. “But, in a sense, he overcame the sadness, to write,” Andreasen said.

By writing about the ebbs and flows of depression and mania, writers increase knowledge to recognize these forces in us or others. Awareness is part of the cure.

Furious Seasons Blog: New Study on Bipolars Suggests Low Efficacy of Meds

As blogger Philip Dawdy notes in his post on Furious Seasons Blog, the media blinked. Again.

However, bloggers took notice of a 26-week study by The New England Journal of Medicine, published 26 April 2007. The findings confirm what bipolars blog about—the hit and miss effectiveness of medications.

The NEJM study encompassed 179 bipolar patients. Both groups took mood stabilizers. 27% of bipolar patients averted depression for 8 weeks by taking placebos, compared to 23.5% that took anti-depressants.

The poor media coverage of this landmark study underscores the importance of web social networks. As a society, we cannot depend on the media. It took notice, front-page, when mental illness ran amok recently, murdering and maiming. A media frenzy covered the Virginia Tech shootings.

However, Cho Seung-Hui was a victim, as well as those he hurt. He entered a mental facility on a mandatory seven-day hold, because he was in danger to himself and others. The health and school communities failed to take notice. And his neighbors failed to notice as well.

We as a community of human beings have a stake in treating the mentally ill and informing each other regarding scientific knowledge. If we do not collectively help those that have periods where they’re not in control of themselves, we must shoulder the burdens of their railings of madness.

Writers Write Blog's Interview with Martha Wells

Courage and passion are as important to a writing career as the sun is to living. These virtues shine through Martha Wells’ interview on Writers Write Blog.

Working as a fantasy writer, Wells enthuses, “I just like that feeling of a window onto another time and place. It's similar to what I like best about SF [science-fiction] and fantasy, the feeling of being able to experience whole different worlds.”

With a degree in anthropology, Wells has always liked folklore and mythology.” She creates the culture of her world-building from “elements of real cultures around the world.”

Wells full-time plunge into a writing career began a few years ago. She worked in computer support and as a programmer and web designer. However, she wanted to be a writer from an early age. Steven Gould’s writer’s workshop during college stimulated her serious thinking about writing as a career.

Major influences in Wells’ writing are Sherlock Holmes, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert Heinlein, and Andre Norton. “She [Norton] wrote both fantasy and science fiction, and she was the first, or one of the first, writers to use a lot of the concepts that are fairly standard in fantasy and SF today. I think she was very ahead of her time.”

Wells mentions these books during her interview:

  • “The Children of Green Knowe" books by L.M. Boston
  • "Jumper" by Steven Gould
  • The Three Musketeers and the other Dumas books
  • Books by Jules Verne
  • "The Bridge of Birds" by Barry Hughart
  • "Imaro" by Charles Saunders
  • "The Patient's Eyes" by David Pirie is a recent favorite
The Element of Fire is Wells’ latest book. Visit her website here.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

An Unquiet Mind

Poe’s well-known, harsh personality is typical of those who navigate the treacherous waters of the bipolar temperament. In her memoir, An Unquiet Mind, Dr. Kay Jamison describes the antagonistic temperament:

No amount of love can cure madness or unblacken one’s dark moods. Love can help, it can make the pain more tolerable, but, always, one is beholden to medication that may or may not always work and may or may not be bearable. Madness, on the other hand, most certainly can, and often does, kill love through its misbehavior, and, especially, through its savage moods. The sadder, sleepier, slower, and less volatile depressions are more intuitively understood and more easily taken in stride. A quiet melancholy is neither threatening nor beyond ordinary comprehension; an angry, violent, vexatious despair is both
As a sufferer of manic-depression, Jamison’s speaks about the familiar. But do we hear? Family members hear who have seen the descent of a loved one into madness. It's like a hurricane that ravages the mind. Unless the hurricane hits close to home, it's just another news story. Courageous sufferers of mental illness, such as Jamison, educate and enlighten.

Mental illness needs to come out of the closet. As we engage in more conversations about it, we not only support creative people, such as Poe, but others as well. Those others might live next door.

Wrestling the Forbidden Within the Unconscious Mind

In his book, Metamorphoses, Ovid states in the beginning of Byblis’ tale that it “serves to illustrate a moral:/ that girls should not desire what’s forbidden;\” (p. 322).

However, the poet also seems to imply that Byblis represents a heroic figure, because she speaks her heart’s desire, albeit “forbidden.”

Human dignity exerts itself through her voice. Thus, her plight is a universal one in which an underdog refuses to censure self.

She courageously speaks and stands alone against conventions that condemn her passion through the narrator/poet’s voice, when he says, “she [does] not love her brother as a brother,/ or as a sister should” (p. 323). Byblis’ psychological struggle to reconcile two opposing systems—whether to voice her forbidden desire or to remain silent—is a study of wrestling the forbidden within the unconscious mind.

Byblis’ struggle begins when she “at first” does not “recognize her passion” (p. 323) and behaves affectionately towards her brother Caunus, kissing or throwing her arms around him often without thinking “it wrong” (p. 323). Since she does not “recognize” her passion, the phrase implies that she is unaware that she has erotic feelings toward him.

For “some time,” she is “deceived/ by the appearance of affectionate devotion” (p. 323). The word “deceived” suggests that she consciously identifies her love toward Caunus as “affectionate devotion” but unconsciously she is no more aware of her true feelings than a typical adolescent.

However, Ovid portrays the budding embers of Byblis’ metamorphosis from an unconscious to a conscious realization of erotic passion and from adolescence to young adult. Further, the poet foreshadows her actualization: “Her feelings for him gradually changed / and not for the better” (p. 323).

Byblis’ unconscious feelings first emerge to break through to her conscious mind “when she visit[s] her brother” on a particular occasion (p. 323). She “[is] elegantly dressed,/ and anxious that he [Caunus] find her beautiful” (p. 323). The word “anxious” connotes worry and nervousness. These feelings are natural responses for someone that is near a person of erotic interest, although not usually a sibling.

Her psychological struggle to fuse her unconscious with her conscious self begins “when [she is] relaxed in sleep,” and “an image of her passion [comes] to her” (p. 323). She can see the truth in her dreams—“an image of her lying with her brother,/ that made her, even sleeping, blush with shame” (p. 323). When she awakens, she not only remembers her dream but she also “[revisits] the dream of her desire” (p. 323).

Ovid’s rhetoric captures the distinct breakthrough of her unconscious into her conscious being—the moment she decides while awake to revisit her dream. Through the mental reenactment, she identifies her “forbidden” passion.

At this point, Byblis’ speaks for the first time about her battle to reconcile her two conflicting opinions about her “forbidden” desire for Caunus. In her monologue, she attempts to discern the meaning of “these visions that appear in the wordless night” (p. 323). Words are unnecessary when the dream-image speaks for itself. She intuitively knows the meaning.

Thus, to speak or not is her predicament. Courage is required to make the leap of disclosure and to bare the soul. Therefore, the heroine’s quandary is more poignant and challenging, because she must disclose her heart to her brother.

Although Byblis “overcomes her mind’s uncertainties” (p. 325), and questions, “What slope am I beginning to descend?” (p. 325), she descends, nevertheless, and is heroic, because she bravely counts the cost and with “[h]er shaking hands [sets] down the practiced words” (p. 325). She validates her self-identity and voices her “forbidden” desire in a letter to Caunus.

Her action to end her silence is also one to regain her sanity: “I did my best…to bring myself again to sanity” (p. 326). Her letter conveys her motivation that she “would not speak unless compelled by passion” (p. 327).

After Caunus reads her letter and rejects her love, Byblis’ emotional suffering is horrific. At this point in the reading, Ovid’s use of sympathetic imagination evokes empathy from the reader, and he or she is engaged in Byblis’ plight: “they say, she truly lost her mind,/…sets out after her self-exiled brother” (p. 330). The women of Bibasus see “Byblis raving all across the fields” (p. 330). Although she writes her letter with the goal to regain her sanity and speak her heart’s truth, she descends further into madness.

Byblis’ battle is similar to those that labor to articulate their hearts’ minds, albeit unpopular. She wrestles with her opposing opinions and decides to ethically pursue her desire. Although she is rejected, she faces the consequences of her unrequited love—a burden of grief.

Ovid’s veiled commentary is: to procreate/create art (whether the art is love or the art is writing or any other creative process), creators must count the cost. Unlike gods/Augustan rulers that contrive laws to benefit their unlawful acts, creators like Byblis/Ovid suffer to voice their creative impulses. Ovid’s rhetoric conveys the suffering so well that readers sympathize with Byblis’/Ovid’s plights. S/he are heroic figures for those who voice their heart’s truth in a dignified way.

Moreover, Byblis represents Ovid’s refusal as a writer to censure his rhetoric. As Byblis faced consequences for her “forbidden” speech—the alteration of her consciousness into a stream—Ovid faced punishment for his “forbidden” speech in his writings—the alteration of his existence in “a Fort Apache of the Roman frontier, where, according to Ovid, showers of poisoned arrows could come over the walls at any moment” (p. xi).

Thus, Ovid's moral in Byblis’ tale warns against the repercussions that result from desiring the “forbidden,” and her metamorphosis is a premonition of his ultimate fate.

Yet both Byblis’ and Ovid’s psychological battles to resolve their inner dilemmas—whether to follow their hearts’ desires by voicing them or to remain silent—are battles that most creative individuals recognize as part of the artistic process.

In Byblis case, her impulse to procreate with her brother overcomes her objections regarding consequences. In Ovid’s situation, his compulsion to create poetry or prose that examines politics and conventions are stronger than his concern for penalties.

Poignantly, Byblis transforms into a font “incapable of running dry” (p. 331), implying an everlasting existence. It serves well as an image of Ovid’s metamorphosis of consciousness into an everlasting stream of creative words that continue to flow today through his works and are “incapable of running dry.” Ovid’s stream of consciousness speaks today, and it refuses to be silenced.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A Poe Theory

In her book, Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament, Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison discusses “artists and their voyages, moods as their ships of passage, and the ancient persistent belief that there exists such a thing as a ‘fine madness’”.

Jamison's book
is a landmark study of manic-depressive illness and “its relationship to the artistic temperament and imagination.” The professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine discusses more than 175 writers (including Poe), composers, musicians, and artists. As the co-author of the standard medical text, Manic-Depressive Illness, which was chosen in 1990 as the most outstanding book in Biomedical Science by the Association of American Publishers, Jamison knows well the furies of manic-depression, as she discusses in her 1998 PBS interview:

I have a mood disorder. I think they're interesting. I think moods are intensely human. I think they are to some extent a great deal of what defines us as humans: our ability to experience them. I think our society gets very hung up on IQ and intelligence and intellectual functioning. I personally think the capacity to feel deeply is as great a gift—and sometimes burden—as the ability to think extremely well (PBS).

She argues that the scientific data is compelling “due to the extraordinary advances in genetics, neuroscience, and psychopharmacology, much of modern psychiatric thought and clinical practice has moved away from the earlier influences of psychoanalysis and toward a more biological perspective."

Science writer, Mary Beckman, poses a question in her November 11, 2005, ScienceNOW story, titled “Driven to Create”: “Insanity and imagination often seem to go hand-in-hand, but is there really a link between the two?” In her article, Beckman reports the findings of a study by psychiatrist Terence Ketter of Stanford University and colleagues. They tested whether 40 bipolar adults and their children were more creative than 18 healthy controls and their kids.

The researchers found that the bipolar children scored higher on a creativity index than their peers who did not have the disorder. Beckman notes that the results indicate a “genetic connection between psychosis and creativity.”

Moreover, psychiatric geneticist Susan Smalley of the University of California, Los Angeles, commenting about the data says: “This is the first study to show that individuals genetically predisposed to bipolar disorder may also inherit greater creativity.”

E. A. Poe: A Study of Creativity and Bipolar

Although scientific studies in recent years connect creativity to bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness), the matter is not “settled” and controversies continue about the relationship between mood disorders and writers of prose and poetry. Edgar Allan Poe said:

Men have called me mad; but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence—whether much that is glorious—whether all that is profound—does not spring from disease of thought—from moods of mind exalted at the expense of the general intellect. They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night. In their grey vision they obtain glimpses of eternity....They penetrate however rudderless or compassless, into the vast ocean of the light affable (“Eleonora” in Bartleby).

My position explores “much that is glorious” and perceptive about the ways that the manic-depressive (bipolar), artistic temperament influenced Poe’s creative life and his rhetoric in “The Raven.” His unique stream of consciousness from the well of the manic-depressive temperament brings forth a depth of grief and euphoria that reflects the heightened states (depression and mania), inherent in bipolar sufferers.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Literature Review of Edgar Allan Poe: A Study of Creativity and Manic-Depression

Physician Lombrosos wrote about the links between “genius and madness” in 1889. His ideas continued until Lewis Terman’s data in 1925 suggested that individuals of high ability demonstrated fewer incidences of mental illness than average.

While Terman was publishing his findings, Sigmund Freud analyzed creative people, because he believed that “the study of artists’ and writers’ lives would reveal basic psychological truths in persons of heightened sensibility and talent” (Neihart 47-50).

Since Freud, more diagnostic studies support the cognitive links between creativity and madness. One ambitious study was The Life and Works of Edgar Allan Poe. A Psycho-Analytic Interpretation by Marie Bonaparte in 1933. It was translated from French into English by John Rodker in 1949. Bonaparte contends that much of Poe’s writing reflects his psychological temperament.

Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison, co-author of the standard medical text, Manic-Depressive Illness, published her landmark study of manic-depressive illness and “its relationship to the artistic temperament and imagination” in her book, Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament in 1993. Jamison discusses Poe and more than 175 writers, composers, musicians, and artists and argues that “the most creative” suffer “disproportionately from depression and manic depression.”

Jamison supports her arguments by analyzing primary sources of creative artists, allowing them to speak for themselves and by citing the “extraordinary advances in genetics, neuroscience, and psychopharmacology” (Jamison PBS).

If scientific data supports the analysis that Poe suffered from a mood disorder, what new insights can be revealed in Poe’s literature? In addition to the intensity of emotional expressiveness that writers experience, who suffer manic-depression, Max Byrd in his 1974 book, Visits to Bedlam, Madness and Literature in the Eighteenth Century,” suggests, “…This modern melancholy is essentially an enhanced self-awareness, since the ego is the pivot round which the sphere of joy and grief revolves.”

This quote is from Raymond Klibansky and colleagues' book, Saturn and Melancholy. By interpreting some of Poe’s works that reflect an “enhanced self-awareness” about the universal “sphere of…grief”, my research attempts to emphasize the unique ways that Poe’s rhetoric engages the reader through passages of loss, such as abandonment, alienation, and grief.

Moreover, when analyzed through the lens of Freud’s observation that “melancholia sharpens the ambivalence of the love relationship as it disposes the mourner to self-punishment,” George Kennedy believes that Poe’s rhetoric has not been examined significantly for its psychoanalytic, literary interpretations and its benefits for human understanding. In his essay, “The Violence of Melancholy: Poe against Himself,” Kennedy contends that Poe’s fiction can be understood within the mind’s “twisted relations.”

Additional literature support Kennedy’s views: Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-Ending Remembrance by Kenneth Silverman; “Paul Bowles and Edgar Allan Poe: The Disintegration of the Personality” by Wayne Pounds; Midnight Dreary: the Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe by John Evangelist Walsh; and “Poe and the Powers of the Mind” by Robert Schulman.

On counterpoint, Poe is trivialized by some experts. In F. O. Matthiessen’s famous classic, American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman, Poe is barely mentioned. Moreover, Wilt Napier argues in his essay, “Poe’s Attitude toward His Tales,” that Poe’s desperate financial straits stimulated him to “reduce to a formula” writing that would sell in popular magazines. Napier also criticizes those that “lean too heavily on the now fashionable ‘psychological’ method of biography” to analyze Poe’s literary work.

Poe writes about his struggle with manic-depression in his book Marginalia and in letters and notes that are included in Jamison’s book. She explains, “writers and artists themselves have been particularly forceful about the relief that their work can bring.” Her example is Anne Sexton, who said, "Poetry led me by the hand out of madness" (Jamison 122). By studying Poe’s writing through a multidisciplinary, theoretical approach, his rhetoric has the potential to lead people “by the hand out of madness” to process the pangs of unbearable suffering.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Ten Summaries for Poe Research

Bookmark A: "Knowing Poe, The Literature, Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe…In Baltimore and Beyond". Maryland Public Television © 2002.

A dramatic raven with sound effects welcomes viewers and acts as a motif to connect web elements. With creative interactives, readers explore Poe’s literature through academically researched resources and articles. An added novelty is a realplayer video with John Astin as Edgar Allen Poe.

I obtained this bookmark from, post on 2007-01-05. "Knowing Poe, The Literature, Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe…In Baltimore and Beyond" was funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Education Ready To Teach program. It was especially created for Maryland students in middle and high school to understand Poe the person, the writer, and the library.

A team of educational specialists and researchers developed the site’s content. Maryland Public Television spearheaded the project and provided the site’s professional appeal, copyrighting it in 2002. Bean Creative, Inc. delivered website design and programming. The advisory board were professionals from Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library (Charlottesville, VA), The Johns Hopkins University School of Arts and Sciences, Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum (Baltimore, MD), Maryland Historical Society, and Booker T. Washington Middle School (Baltimore, MD).

For Poe research, this site is rich with primary source documents and research links. It can be used by academia, students, and families as a launching pad for Poe studies.

Bookmark B: Giordano, Robert. Home page. " An Exploration of Short Stories by Edgar Allan Poe". 01 July 2005. 04 March 2007

Robert Giordano’s love for Edgar Allan Poe, as a literary artist, is evident throughout his site, An Exploration of Short Stories by Edgar Allan Poe. The site provides a wealth of resources--academic and personal. Giordano seeks to develop more discussion about Poe by providing discussion forums and links to other places for comments. I obtained this bookmark from

Giordiano created the site simply because he has a personal interest in Poe’s works. The site’s main resources are: E. A. Poe Society of Baltimore, an eclectic collection of links, and an EServer for Poe’s complete works. At least one link is included with each story in this extensive collection.

Other features of the site are summaries, quotes, biography, timeline, and annotations to Poe’s works for educational reading. For links, the site rivals any other academic one. But what makes the site unusual is the compilation of all things relative to Poe. To exhaust the eclectic mix of fascinating links would take several long days or possibly a week.

The author’s view is that Poe’s literary greatness was not recognized in his day because people were not ready for his writing—“original, imaginative, and ingenious.” He believes that many modern books and movies have ‘borrowed” Poe's ideas.

Giordiano’s site is useful for Poe research, because it has an eclectic variety.

Bookmark C: "The Work of Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849)". 05 March 2007.

"The Work of Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849)" is a database, maintained by the moderator It is a catalog of more than 120 of Poe’s short stories and poems and include collections of his articles and criticism. The creators of the site dedicate it to Poe’s work, who they assert is “one of the most gifted writers of American literature.” I obtained this bookmark through

The database classifies links through these major headings: Who was E. A. Poe; A short biography, including bibliographical references and links to other biographical projects on the net; The Work of E. A. Poe, and the collection contains all on-line-accessible works of Poe; and Tales of Mystery and Imagination.

The online resource also contains The Ingram Collection. John Henry Ingram (1842-1916), a Poe biographer, assembled this comprehensive, ever-growing collection of Poe material. It is now stored at the University of Virginia and can be accessed on line.

Novel features of the site include: The Alan Parsons Project that began in 1976 with an album inspired by Poe’s work (song texts and sleeve notes are available). With a Q & A forum, many questions and answers appear about the life and work of Poe. In the forum, people can ask questions or write responses.

Since the database can be searched, it is a convenient place to mine for Poe research.

Savoye, Jeffrey. “Two Biographical Digressions: Poe's Wandering Trunk and Dr. Carter's Mysterious Sword Cane.” Edgar Allan Poe Review: 5:15-42. Fall 2004.

After more than 150 years, debate continues regarding Edgar Allan Poe’s cause of death. Although the purpose of Jeffrey A. Savoye’s essay, “Two Biographical Digressions: Poe’s Wandering Trunk and Dr. Carter’s Mysterious Sword Cane,” is not to examine the evidence surrounding the cause of Poe’s death, Savoye, nevertheless, threads the controversy throughout his paper. His thesis examines the relevance of two of Poe’s possessions—his trunk and Dr. Carter’s cane—to shed light on the facts or fiction surrounding Poe.

Poe’s trunk is significant, asserts Savoye, because it contained, in Poe’s words, “papers and some manscripts.” When Poe died, the trunk was missing. Before it was located, “a kind of tug of war ensued” between Poe’s sister, Rosalie, and Rufus Wilmot Griswold, who had agreed to edit some of Poe’s works in order to financially benefit Maria Clemm, Poe’s mother-in-law.

Savoye tracks the “wandering” trunk and those who possessed it by using primary sources, Poe’s and others’ letters and papers. His examination illuminates Poe’s literary habits and behavior. Savoye methodically unfolds the literary contents of the trunk, and as each document is revealed, the author argues whether the item contributes to myth or fact based on evidence.

Dr. Carter’s cane that Poe held on his last day of life, asserts Savoye, has been used to “debunk the possibility that he [Poe] was physically attacked or robbed.” Savoye tracks the cane’s journey through primary sources and concludes that the cane was left behind in Richmond—end of story. Other references to the cane are embellishment and “myth-making” states the essayist.

the salient aspects of Savyoe’s essay are his accounts of Poe’s behavior, based on primary sources. Other unique facets of the essay are detailed descriptions by first-hand witnesses that found Poe on a street in Baltimore. These aspects of Savyoe’s essay support scientific studies of habits and actions of mentally ill people. These primary sources will support the argument that some of Poe’s work reflects a person who knows well the tempo of depression.

Reilly, John E. “The Lesser Death-Watch and ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’”. The American Transcendental Quarterly II (2nd Quarter): pp. 3-9. 1969.

In the 1969 essay, “The Lesser Death-Watch and ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’,” John Reilly argues regarding the ongoing debate in Edgar Allan Poe’s, “The Tell-Tale Heart”: the source of the sound that drove Poe’s mentally ill narrator to murder an old man and later confess the crime to the police. In the story, while the narrator believes the sound originates from the old man’s heart after he has died, most commentators identify the sound as either a hallucination or the narrator’s misconception of his own heart beat.

The mystery about the source of the sound that provokes Poe’s narrator, says Reilly, raises larger questions about the “artistry of the tale itself.” If the narrator heard the sound outside of him before he murdered the old man, as the text states, “came to my ears,” and the sound was other than his own heart, what was it? Reilly debunks the hallucination argument by stating that Poe advocated economy in the short story. If the sound was only a hallucination, why did Poe detail the narrator’s acuteness of hearing throughout the text?

Reilly identifies the source of the sound in the “The Tell-Tale Heart”:
Death-watches are insects that produce rapping sounds, sounds that superstition
has held to presage the death of someone in the house where they are heard.
The essayist explains that the scientific literature described “death-watches” as beetles that made audible noises within wood houses. Poe was not the first to use “death-watches” in literary works. Many other writers used “death-watches” to refer to the beetles’ sounds and to infer the superstition that their noises heralded Death. Joseph Addison, John Day, Jonathan Swift, Oliver Goldsmith, John Keats, and Henry David Thoreau are writers that Reilly cites to support his assertions.

Further, Reilly believes that the evidence in the story “points to the likelihood that the narrator is a victim of paranoid schizophrenia.” By using the modern day term, “paranoid schizophrenia,” Reilly’s conclusions support my research that the psychological musings of some of Poe’s characters reflect mental illness from the inside/out. Thus, Poe was able to use his bouts with mental illness to psychologically process his suffering through his writing. Reilly’s findings will support arguments for Poe’s mental wanderings.

Kennedy, Gerald J. “The Violence of Melancholy: Poe against Himself.” American Literary History Vol. 8, No. 3 (Autumn, 1996): pp. 533-551.

Gerald Kennedy’s essay, “The Violence of Melancholy: Poe against Himself,” provides background into the origins of Edgar Allan Poe’s banishment to the periphery of American literature. His exile, Kennedy analyzes, was because Poe “assailed” those in the literary community through his hostile personality and because Rufus Wilmot Griswold wrote an “acidic memoir” that portrayed Poe as an “amoral lunatic.”

Poe’s writing, says Kennedy, cannot be neatly categorized within the American tradition. In F. O. Matthiessen’s 1941 classic, American Renaissance: Art and Expression in the Age of Emerson and Whitman, Kennedy notes that Poe is barely mentioned, while Matthiessen extols his preferred authors: Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Hawthorne and Melville. In addition, Poe’s fiction is not mentioned in R. W. B. Lewis’s 1955 classic, The American Adam: Innocence, Tragedy, and Tradition in the Nineteenth Century.

Kennedy cites several other books that support his argument that on a “subliminal level” Poe denied death and rejection. Poe’s mother, his boyhood friend’s mother, his foster mother, and his wife died, and Poe was rejected by his foster father. “As if Poe [was] pondering his own tenuous self-control, what his characters deny or repress or project uncontrollably erupts,” is a quote from Kenneth Silverman’s book, Edgar A. Poe: Mournful and Never-Ending Remembrance. Kennedy refers to Silverman’s book often to argue that psychoanalytic inferences clarify themes in Poe’s works—“the idea that what has been buried in the past or hidden within the self must return.” In other words, psychological repression and denial within Poe’s characters return to the surface of their conscious awareness and behavior.

When analyzed through the lens of Sigmund Freud’s observation that “melancholia sharpens the ambivalence of the love relationship as it disposes the mourner to self-punishment,” Poe’s fiction can be understood in a new way, says Kennedy—within the mind’s “twisted relations.”

Kennedy’s essay supports my research that Poe, “the bad boy of the antebellum literary world” is an author whose rhetoric has not been examined significantly for its psychoanalytic, literary interpretations and its benefits to human understanding. Moreover, my research echoes the essayist’s claim that Poe draws readers “into the abyss of the unconscious.” Thus, my assertions--that the mental awareness of the unconscious mind is more acute with those that suffer mental illness, such as melancholy (depression), and that these individuals have extraordinary abilities to depict mental landscapes--are supported by Kennedy.

Building on this essay, one can illuminate how Poe’s rhetoric expunges mental anguish from sufferers today. By arguing for the psychological context that Poe imparts to his characters, research can assert the relevance of his words—people still struggle to escape the grief-maze of depression.

Shulman, Robert. “Poe and the Powers of the Mind.” ELH Vol. 7, No. 2 (June 1970): pp. 245-262.

In his June 1970 essay, “Poe and the Powers of the Mind,” Robert Schulman states that Edgar Allan Poe’s best fiction exemplifies “acute insights” into the mysteries of the human personality. Criticism of Poe has centered on his cosmology and aesthetics, missing the psychological revelations of his works. Poe is a living force, and his concern is with the powers of the mind, says Schulman.

While a psychological study of Poe examines his fiction as an “unconscious” projection of Poe’s problems or as an “unconscious confirmation of orthodox Freudian categories,” Schulman believes that Poe’s best stories illustrate his “genuine understanding of unconscious processes and imaginative powers.”Although Schulman affirms Poe’s imaginative prowess, the essayist argues that Poe’s models of the mind in his critical essays do not mesh with the “dark, hidden chambers” that his fiction suggests. The split occurs in Poe’s theory versus his practice of his creative art.

Schulman illustrates his arguments through textual analyses of excerpts of Poe’s fiction: “the mind attempts to preserve itself from its own forces and by assuming that the threat is external when in fact it is internal.” Poe succeeds in his fiction when he illuminates the interior of the self—the destructive and irrational powers—and his quality declines when he consciously matches his story to his theory.

The conclusions in this essay resonate with critical approaches to Poe’s works that emphasize his “precise, profound, and disturbing revelations of our shared mental powers.”

Napier, Wilt. “Poe’s Attitude toward His Tales: A New Document.” Modern Philology Vol. 25, No. 1 (Aug.): pp. 101-105.

In the essay, “Poe’s Attitude toward His Tales: A New Document,” Wilt Napier’s criticizes those that “lean too heavily on the now fashionable ‘psychological’ method of biography” to analyze Edgar Allan Poe’s literary works.

One of Napier’s arguments is that Poe’s desperate financial straits stimulated him to “reduce to a formula” writing that would sell in popular magazines. Second, a letter written by Poe reveals his attitude: “To be appreciated you must be read.” By citing this letter, Napier attempts to establish that Poe’s main writing objective was to have popular fiction that would be widely read.

Since my research argues for the relevance of Poe’s writing today in understanding human emotions, Napier’s essay counters with “the greatest care should be used in reading into Poe’s…details a reflection of the horror and morbidness of his own mind.”

In critically reading and writing about Poe’s works, I do not aim to “read into” Poe’s details; however, although Poe wrote with financial considerations in mind, my research will examine his musings of mental wandering. Napier’s essay is narrow-minded but, nevertheless, asserts another point of view.

Pounds, Wayne. “Paul Bowles and Edgar Allan Poe: The Disintegration of the Personality.” Twentieth Century Literature Vol. 32, No. 3/4 (Autumn – Winter 1986): pp. 424-439.

Wayne Pounds asserts in his 1986 essay, “Paul Bowles and Edgar Allan Poe: The Disintegration of the Personality” that Bowles’ early fiction reflects Poe’s influence. Pounds illustrates his thesis by citing examples of both authors’ works that include a protagonist that “confronts a violent destiny” and “becomes the prey of the primitive forces.”
These struggles, in addition to the external forces, are “internal, aroused from the repressed areas of…psyche.” Pounds highlights similarities between their stories, but especially noteworthy are the obsessive themes and “concern with the registration of extreme states of consciousness.”

Although Pound examines views of Poe criticism, the essayist states that the thesis of the divided self in Poe’s work “has not lost its critical acceptance.” Pound’s position is that the divided self is an image of Poe that is “part of the literary tradition whose heirs…make it new.”
Pound depicts Poe as a precursor of the modern understanding of the “disintegration of the personality” that many of Poe’s characters undergo. The essayist’s view is that the artist that can separate his thinking from his feeling can replicate those “sundered faculties to distinct characters.”

Pound quotes W. H. Auden's assessment of Poe’s “Pym”:
The typical Poe story occurs within the mind of a poet; and its characters are
not independent personalities, but allegorical figures representing the warring
principles of the poet’s divided nature.
Pounds explains a few of the allegorical meanings that weave into some of Poe’s stories, and the essayist’s interpretations are new to me, as I have not read, thus far, similar stances from others.

Although much of the essay is devoted to Bowles fiction, the analysis of Poe’s story “Pym,” the allegorical interpretations, and some of the comments by literary scholars supports my research.

Nealon, Jean. “Edgar Allan Poe’s Richmond.” 28 Feb. 2007

Jean Nealon’s article, “Edgar Allan Poe’s Richmond,” summarizes Poe’s life in Richmond and the city’s establishment of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum.

Nealon comprehensively narrates the main events in Poe’s life that occurred in Richmond and includes the poignant details of his death. However, there is a major, glaring error in the article: “A few of his literary descendants are Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Hawthorne, Melville, Faulkner, and Stephen King.” Hawthorne and Melville were not Poe’s “literary descendants” but fellow writers of the time. Hawthorne and Melville both hold their respective places within the American literary tradition, as does Poe.

Although this article summarizes well Poe’s life in Richmond, I will not use it for my research. Since the author has made an egregious error, her article is not one that I want to cite in my research. I wonder what other facts are erroneous?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Poe's Incomparable Melody

In his poetry, Edgar Allan Poe shines best as a master-craftsman, writes professor of English Killis Campbell of the University of Texas in his essay, "His [Poe] Creed and Practice of Poetry." Campbell sums up the best of Poe’s poems as “a melody incomparable so far as the western world is concerned; and he has achieved an all but flawless construction of the whole in such poems as “The Raven”….”

Campbell’s superlative assessment of Poe’s poetry is accompanied by specific examples, such as: “While in 'The Bells' he [Poe] has performed a feat in onomatopoeia quite unapproached before or since in the English language.” Another example that Campbell notes is Poe’s “perfection of phrase” and a “vividness of imagery, that it is difficult to match elsewhere in American poetry.”

According to Campbell, the disparity is wide between Poe’s “best and worst verse.” One can argue that, considering Poe’s struggle with clinical depression, his work would reflect the ebbs and flow of poor health. It could also account for his narrow range in ideas, which Campbell remarks is “narrower than that of any other American poet of front rank.”

Although “most” European critics distinguish Poe in first place among American poets, Campbell asserts that most American critics “have hesitated to accept their verdict.”

Poe's best poems, says Campbell, stem from his “never-ending revisions." He cites “The Raven” as one of Poe's best, because it underwent a dozen variations. Poe’s final version was “scarcely recognizable” from some of his earlier renditions.

Campbell contends that some of Poe’s poems “approach too near to the melodramatic; and that, with many readers, his verses must suffer by reason of their somberness of tone.” Again, if one overlays the template of debilitating depression over Poe’s writings, the “somberness of tone” is reflective of the lens of melancholy.

To the hundreds of thousands of people that experience depression, Poe's literary depictions of its dark shadows demonstrate the veracity of his rhetoric.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Critique of The Elegant Variation's Visual Delivery

Weighing in as one of Guardian’s top 10 literary blogs, The Elegant Variation is a visually successful blog. The key to its success is its “zen” simplicity in visually emphasizing one key literary event or news and subordinating the other news around the star visual.

Today, Mark Sarvas, publisher of TEV, communicates his most important literary news by depicting an oversized, vermin-like caricature that announces his top news item. Sarvas places his cartoon character at the top, center position of his blog with the header, “Vermin on the Mount.” The weasel-like mammal grabs the audience’s attention immediately.

With the backdrop colors of red, pink, black, and grey, the text is simple and easy to read. His message is: “A night of irreverent readings in the heart of Chinatown.” The rest of the information is reduced to bare essentials of date, time, and cross streets. "Free" is etched in big letters, and a large heart hints of a romantic evening.

With Valentine’s Day occurring three days after the Sunday literary reading, Sarvas capitalizes on mixing literary news with the upcoming day's symbol—a heart. The images left in the readers’ minds are vermin and heart, implying an “irreverent” literary event, doused with romance and intrigue.

TEV’s background color is dark olive, complemented by white lettering. This color palette is muted to allow the visuals to take the foreground. With this visual strategy, the audience views the dominant article first, such as the “Vermin on the Mount.” Next, the other subordinate images are noticed.

On the left-hand side of the blog, the background information and online resources are organized with text only. Consequently, news articles are placed in the middle and right-hand side of the site.

Noteworthy is the publisher’s placement of images on the right column. All images on this side are set flushed to the left. This simplicity allows for a continuous reading flow for the shorter book reviews, contained in this section.

The center, main column, has more images than the other two. Each book review article is accompanied by an image of the book’s cover. If the article is about an author, the publisher will accompany his story with a photo of the author as well.

Reading Sarvas’ blog is like reading the Book Review section of a Sunday newspaper—professional with plenty of images of books and authors. Since he reviews many good reads, the mosaic of different book covers is amazing.

For his longer articles, Sarvas displays two images, usually one photo of the author and one of the book cover. The audience has a visual rest in between long passages of text. His use of block quotes for long passages of text aid the reading.

The publisher separates each post with white, outlined boxes with the date included inside each box. This visual strategy easily separates each post but is not distracting, since the colors are muted. The reader can easily peruse the boxes to find other interesting articles.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

The Raven's Wanderings

Some may criticize Edgar Allan Poe’s writings, but they can’t criticize his gift for conveying intense suffering on a page. Not all people suffer from clinical depression as Poe—but to be human is to suffer. Like a raven scavenges for food, the unconscious mind wanders in our psyches during bleak times, scavenging for meaning and solace. Raven’s tracks are scattered throughout Poe’s writings.

When we read insightful literature, we enter into another state of consciousness. One in which our muted beings reveal themselves through the characters depicted within a story. In this safe, vicarious experience, we commune with our muted selves and explore our deepest feelings of anguish through the engagement of mental conversations (wanderings) between literary works and our wounded beings—dialogues that are as real as talking with other people.

As we process our daily experiences, there are other stories going on within us. They’re the inner, muted stories of our deepest selves. Often, these beings are silenced, because our emotional barometers reach mental-anguish overload--too unbearable to consciously feel. Thus, when we read about characters in a story that are experiencing similar waves of agony, these characters beckon our muted selves to feel and see what they’re experiencing. When this accord occurs, we connect with these characters in brotherly or sisterly ways, because we share their pain. They help us purge intense feelings and integrate them into our waking beings. Our inner ravens bear witness to the transcendent truth that literary characters reveal about our true selves.

Poe immortalizes the mental wanderings of many of his characters. Through them, he’s able to convey his inward turmoil, especially as he battles depression, which numbs his senses. Poe is a literary great, because he didn’t bow down to his infirmity but arose to write about his demons. And he wrote in a way that evokes intense feelings. When we write about him or other similar authors, we honor them and the significant prices they pay to celebrate their art. Their words are alive each time we write about them. And each time we do, we benefit from the mental wanderings.

Poe articulates his transformation as a writer when he pens in Marginalia:
There is…a class of fancies, of exquisite delicacy, which are not thoughts,
and to which, as yet, I have found it absolutely impossible to adapt
language. I use the word ‘fancies’ at random…but the idea commonly attached
to the term is not even remotely applicable to the shadows of shadows in
question. They seem rather psychal than intellectual. They arise in the soul
(alas, how rarely!) only at its epochs of most intense tranquility.
During one of my readings of "The Raven," I experience what Poe coins as "psychal" rather than intellectual, experiences that "arise in the soul." My perception meter rises, and I discover the "psychal" overlays imbedded in the poem's text. They pierce through my cemented, emotional marrow, and the speaker of the poem whispers to my muted being. Ticks of the clock fast forward, and after a few hours, I have only read the first two stanzas. Hours seem like seconds. I enter the speaker’s world.

The first stanza of "The Raven" reads:

ONCE upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,/ Over many
a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,--/ While I nodded, nearly
napping, suddenly there came a tapping,/ As of some one gently rapping,
rapping at my chamber door./ “Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my
chamber door;/ Only this and nothing more.”

While I read, I feel as if I am teleported to the speaker’s bedroom. Imaginatively there, I see him sitting on a comfortable, wing-backed chair with his head tilted to one side. As he reads, his mind wanders. Dozing in and out of consciousness, he ponders a “curious volume of forgotten lore.” In the speaker's sleepy state, this "curious volume" consists of his muted being’s mysterious “lore” of past memories. Ruminating, he’s interrupted: “nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping…rapping” at his chamber door.

The speaker doesn’t want to rouse himself, because he’s intrigued by the silhouettes that emerge through the dense fog of his ruminations. He grasps for what he’s forgotten and dismisses the annoying tapping with his mutterings: it’s only “some visitor…only this and nothing more.” He yearns to submerge himself within his mental wandering--to peer through the impenetrable fog.

Current research in neuroscience reveals the psychological benefits of what the speaker of "The Raven" experiences as a result of his mental wanderings. “Creative insights often happen during these episodes [mental wandering], says psychologist Jonathan Schooler, as reported by Greg Miller in Science magazine’s online daily news site, 18 January 2007, “Peering Inside the Wandering Mind.” Schooler adds, "A lot of the time, people are thinking about worries or problems that they need to work out.”

Miller’s article summarizes the findings of a 2001 research study at Washington University. One of the researchers, neurologist Marcus Raichle, says that the findings suggest that mental wandering “makes an important contribution to our inner life.” Poe’s speaker in “The Raven” seems to be in the throes of a breakthrough in his “inner life.”

The second stanza of "The Raven" reads:
Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December/ And each separate
dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor./ Eagerly I wished the
morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow/ From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore,/ For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore:/ Nameless here for evermore.
The speaker seems to have peered through the dense fog of his unconscious. He remembers the details of a particular midnight, as if it's etched in his memory, and refers to the time as “bleak December." The speaker says that he “distinctly” remembers “each separate dying ember [work] its ghost upon the floor.” Moments of mental suffering are often seared into our submerged memories.

The description of the dying embers suggests an image of the speaker’s face with a trance-like gaze, watching each dying ember as it casts a foreboding, ghost-shadow upon the floor. The speaker "eagerly” says he "wish[s] the morrow." Although he wants the next day to come, it doesn't seem to come as quickly as he'd like. He longs for a balm to relieve his “sorrow for the lost Lenore” and attempts to realize that by reading.

The reader can tap into two levels of perception at this point of the reading. One is the conscious reading of the words about the "forgotten lore” within the context of the story, while the other is the symbolic rendering of the "forgotten lore" through one’s muted being. As the reader discerns that the speaker remembers his “forgotten lore”, the reader reflects and remembers, as well, his or her “forgotten lore” of past grief. In addition, as the speaker's muted self describes Lenore as a “rare and radiant maiden," a person worthy of being named by angels, the reader’s muted being processes distinct past memories.

The reader understands that Lenore is “lost” to the speaker when he refers to her as “lost” Lenore. But the questions arise in the reader's mind: Did Lenore die, marry another, or move away? Did the speaker commit an unpardonable offense that caused Lenore to leave? The reader doesn’t know why Lenore has left. However, the reader understands that the speaker’s loss is so great that uttering her name engulfs him in immeasurable sorrow.

Meditating on these stanzas, my mind wanders to a loss in my own life—the “Nameless here for evermore.” My muted being identifies with the speaker’s sorrow and is reminded of a similar loss of epic proportion. It must be borne with shallow breaths. The psychological processing of a lost relationship, as felt by Poe’s speaker, is done by degrees. I speak to my muted self: Be patient—breathe. Mourn the “loss” by degrees. Vomit out the pent-up sorrow.

Every time I read “The Raven,” I identify with my grief-brother, the speaker of the poem. I commune with his gut-wrenching rhetoric, and it's as real as if I'm conversing with another sympathetic human being. That, my friend, is the power of Poe’s art. His words are personal and immortal. They express the universal groans of sorrow.

Now it’s your turn. Read and write. Heal thyself.

Evaluation of ReadySteadyBlog

ReadySteadyBlog is a literary site that seeks to foster independent book reviews of British and American literary fiction, poetry, history and philosophy. Its Technorati rank is 42,988, and with daily posts, it has 161 links from 97 blogs.

Fifty-two writers, across disciplines, are contributors to ReadySteadyBook, and its link, ReadySteadyBlog. Both sites are managed by founder Mark Thwaite, a librarian by profession. He has been working on the Internet for about ten years.

The weblog is one of the Guardian Unlimited Books’ top 10 literary blogs. Publisher and writer Dennis Loy Johnson said it is: “one of Great Britain’s truly great blogs.” Writer Anthony Rudolf called RSB: “a significant contribution to serious writing about serious writing.”

The site complements Poe’s Unconscious blog’s purpose--to bring a convergence of writers with similar chords to dialogue about literature.

This site has a rich variety of commentary on various themes of literary texts from classics to contemporary. It also solicits any literary-related news or press releases.

Examples of the wealth of literary information are: latest book reviews, articles, and commentaries; interviews; books of the week and month; extensive blogroll; substantial savings on literary subscriptions; and rss feeds.

For a knowledgeable update on what’s selling in the publishing world and for commentary on a wide-spectrum of literature, ReadySteadyBlog offers that and more.

Online Resources for Research on Literature , Writers, and Mental Illness

Although Plato and Aristotle spoke about the association between genius, madness, creativity, and writing, Sigmund Freud advanced knowledge about these relationships. Moreover, within the last forty years, scientific studies confirm links between creativity and mental illness.

However, Internet searches on psychoanalytic studies of literature do not produce sufficient results. While science advances knowledge to heal our bodies, literature has the potential to heal our mental landscapes in ways that are similar to music, art, and drama.

Poe's Unconscious is a portal to bring together wanderers that seek to traverse the terrain of Edgar Allan Poe's writing through the convergence of literature, psychology, biology, history, culture, music, and drama. Although the purpose of this site is for academic research, any mental wanderer will benefit from the healing virtues of Poe’s literature.

After a preliminary search, PsyArt was discovered. It’s a free, peer-reviewed online journal that provides a fascinating variety of critical essays. Each essay includes an author’s e-mail to enable a reader to contact him or her for further discussion.

Two other online resources provide understanding about the brain’s mental wanderings into the arts. One is Dana - The Site for Brain News and the other is Mental Health America. Both sites are funded by nonprofit groups.

Mental Health America, established 1909, is a movement to help all humans “live mentally healthier lives.” This site supplies information about mental health topics and offers referrals for those experiencing mental crisis. Dana – The Site for Brain News, originating in 1950, is funded by The Dana Foundation. Its interests are brain science, immunology, and arts education. As a gateway to brain information and research, the link connects to validated sites, relating to more than 25 brain disorders.

These other online resources were found: Bartleby Great Books Online, The Collected Poetry of Edgar Allan Poe, Poe Museum, The Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Poe Studies Association, and the Poetry Foundation.

  • Bartleby Great Books Online is a free-of-charge Internet publisher of literature and reference books. The literary resources are comprehensive and include the Harvard Classics.

  • The Collected Poetry of Edgar Allan Poe is an EServer that was founded in 1990 at Carnegie Mellon, as the English Server. It is now based at Iowa State University and offers texts by great authors and provides “an alternative niche for quality work, particularly writings in the arts and humanities.”

  • The Poe Museum provides rich historical links that include a timeline, family tree, and explanations of various theories about Poe’s death. The site has links to a selection of Poe’s works and has educational resources for teachers and students.

  • Poe Studies Association is an Internet forum for scholarly dialogue about Edgar Allan Poe, his life and works. It was established in 1972 and currently has 330 members. The PSA meets twice a year for conferences: in December at the Modern Language Association and in May at the American Literature Association.

  • The Poetry Foundation, established in 1912, features a poetry tool that enables users to search thousands of poems by subject, occasion, or author. The site links to reading guides and publishes a poetry magazine.

Blogrolls found:

  • The Dana Press Blog provides a forum for conversations about brain science immunology and arts education. Posted categories are arts education, authors, books, brain, consciousness, events, immunology, journals, media, neuroethics, and news. Recent posts include “Resolve to be good to your brain too,” “Wandering corridors, wandering minds,” “Mis-perceptions,” “Basal ganglia and more,” and “Rediscovering the brain.”

  • ReadySteadyBlog seeks to foster independent book reviews of British and American literary fiction, poetry, history and philosophy. With daily posts, 174 blogs link to its site, according to Technorati.

  • One of Guardian’s top ten literary blogs, Grumpy Old Bookman is spirited by Michael Allen, writer and owner of Kingsfield Publications, a small press based in England. In March 2004, Allen set up the blog to discuss books and publishing, aiming for both readers and writers. Posted on the blog is a daily commentary and Technorati ranks it 7,645 (l,055 links from 359 blogs).

  • Writers Write and Readers Read Blog are both published by Writers Write, Inc., a publisher of a network of book, publishing and writing websites. Based in Dallas, Texas, the company specializes in new media and has links to reference resources and science and health sites that writers might want to visit. Writers Write Blog brings together the world of writers: fiction writers, students, journalists, screenwriters, business writers, technical writers, medical writes and poets. Readers Read Blog covers the latest book news, including excerpts, bestseller lists and trends.

  • The Elegant Variation is one of Guardian’s top 10 literary blogs. It’s also a Los Angeles Magazine’s top Los Angeles blog. Mark Sarvas publishes TEV and his credits include: screenwriter, short story writer, novelist, book reviewer, and newspaper editor.

  • The Literary Saloon offers commentary on literary matters, as well as literary news and links. It’s generally updated daily by M. A. Orthofer and Elizabeth Morier. Individuals that post articles are identified. The blog has been online since 11 August 2002.

For easy access, these favorites are linked to this site:

  • Blackbird is a partnership between the English department at Virginia Commonwealth University and new Virginia Review, Inc. It’s an online journal of literature and the arts.

  • Nature is one of the world’s weekly scientific journals, founded in 1869. It publishes peer-reviewed research and news.

  • Science magazine is my favorite of the world’s top journals of original scientific research, global news, and commentary. I especially find their daily news site, ScienceNow, helpful.

  • Technorati tracks 66.6 million blogs, covering a rainbow of topics, published by the people! It’s an invaluable search engine for who’s talking about what current topic in any field.

  • The Free Library by Farlex offers free, full-text versions of classic literary works, established in 2003. It’s an invaluable research tool and is one of the quickest ways to locate information on any literary topic.

  • The New Yorker is a magazine that covers a variety of topics that are usually researched well by excellent writers.

Cheers to happy wandering!