Demetra M. Pappas, JD, MSc, PhD, correspondent
This piece, about “Edgar Allan Poe: Terror of the Soul” at the Morgan Museum and Library (October 4, 2013 – January 26, 2014), is one part art and literary review and one part pedagogical instruction. I viewed this tour de force exhibition on a day that I was dealing with hellish and rather obsessive revisions of a PhD chapter on the Chief Prosecuting Attorneys and Judges in the Jack “Dr. Death” Kevorkian trials, which I am reformatting as an article (having not learned better after writing a book recently on this history of euthanasia/assisted suicide debate). As a member of a generation that wrote briefs, articles and dissertations on yellow pads, rather than iPads, I have been carrying around sheafs of paper with inserted words/phrases, “x”ed out paragraphs, circled material with arrows.
So it was that I went to the Poe exhibition when I felt dejected and at a lack of inspiration (and that on work previously received well by peers and superiors in criminology, law, sociology, history and narrative medicine) and fled my computer and writing table (though carrying around the drafts and pads, as though that would magically reformat the piece). My natural expectation was to feel intimidated further by seeing works by this poet, essayist, literary critic and editor.
Instead, I came away inspired. Now, I fully realize that I will almost certainly live a writer’s life of perpetual doe in the headlights, rather than be a Poe in the limelight (though he underwent terribly periods of poverty and, in fact, went bankrupt at one point – inspiring enough for those underpaid, indebted students, writers, lawyers and other viewers). What immediately captured me was a hand drafted manuscript encased at the center of the room as viewers enter, “The Living Writers of America: Some Ideas and Opinions about their Literary Merits with Occasional Words of Personality,” circa 1846-1847.” There were cross outs, inserted words and phrases, arrows – in other words, there were the signs of a redrafter and reviser. I immediately made a note to tell students, colleagues and friends to look for this piece especially, no disrespect to The Raven.
Another piece which intrigued me was a scathing self-critique by Poe, of Poe, captioned, “A Reviewer Reviewed,” written under a pseudonym. All writers (and all students who have a writing requirement) should see this piece, so that they can see that the originator of American Gothic, and the first American writer to earn his daily bread in that enterprise, also effectively cringed when looking back at earlier work (and this work was reputedly only a year or two earlier). This is cause to revere Poe more, not less, and to celebrate him as reaching (and teaching) into the lives of contemporary people.
Poe’s genius is visually enhanced by the curatorial choice of Declan Kiely, Robert H. Taylor Curator, Literary and Historical Manuscripts, of mounting the exhibition against rich blood-red walls. The paint (“Caliente AF-290,” by Benjamin Moore was chosen further to “a decision based on an exhibition of Russian icons [he] saw [in which he was] struck by how well you could light that blood red color in the way that complemented the manuscript and the ink.”
Poe would not have edited this, an imaginative setting that highlights the writing and the accompanying portraits and pieces of art.
Demetra M. Pappas, JD, MSc, PhD was named the 2012 SGA Faculty Member of the Year at St. Francis College. Her book, Historical Guides to Controversial Issues in America: The Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide Debate, (Greenwood Press, 2012) (100 year study of US and UK doctors prosecuted for medical euthanasia/assisted suicide and role of media) was nominated, 2014 International Qualitative Inquiry Book Prize and was nominated and short listed for the 2013 BSC Criminology Book Prize.