Poe at 200

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Poe by Harry Clarke.

Happy birthday Edgar Allan Poe, born two hundred years ago today. I nearly missed this anniversary after a busy weekend. Rather than add to the mountain of praise for the writer, I thought I’d list some favourites among the numerous Poe-derived works in different media.

Illustrated books
For me the Harry Clarke edition of 1919 (later reworked with colour plates) has always been definitive. Many first-class artists have tried their hand at depicting Poe’s stories and poems, among them Aubrey Beardsley, Gustave Doré, Arthur Rackham, W Heath Robinson and Edmund Dulac; none complements the morbid atmosphere and florid prose as well as Clarke does. And if it’s horror you need, Clarke’s depiction of The Premature Burial could scarcely be improved upon.

Honourable mention should be made of two less well-known works, Wilfried Sätty’s The Illustrated Edgar Allan Poe (1976) and Visions of Poe (1988) by Simon Marsden. I wrote about Sätty’s collage engravings in Strange Attractor 2, and Sätty’s style was eminently suited to Poe’s work. Marsden’s photographs of old castles and decaying mansions are justly celebrated but in book form often seem in search of a subject beyond a general Gothic spookiness or a recounting of spectral anecdotes. His selection of Poe stories and poems is a great match for the photos, one of which, a view of Monument Valley for The Colloquy of Monos and Una, was also used on a Picador cover for Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy.

Recordings
These are legion but among the outstanding one-off tracks I’d note two poems set to music, Dream Within a Dream from Propaganda‘s 1985 album, A Secret Wish, and The Lake by Antony & The Johnsons. The latter appeared on the landmark Golden Apples of the Sun compilation and also on Antony’s own The Lake EP.

Among the full-length works, Hal Willner’s 1997 2-CD collection Closed on Account of Rabies features lengthy readings set to music from a typically eclectic Willner line-up: Marianne Faithfull, Christopher Walken, Iggy Pop, Diamanda Galás, Gavin Friday, Dr John, Deborah Harry, Jeff Buckley (one of the last recordings before his untimely death) and Gabriel Byrne. Byrne’s reading of The Masque of the Red Death is tremendous and the whole package is decked out in Ralph Steadman graphics.

Antony Hegarty appears again on another double-disc set, Lou Reed’s The Raven (2003), a very eccentric approach to Poe which I suspect I’m in the minority in enjoying as much as I do. An uneven mix of songs and reading/performances, Reed updates some Poe poems while others are presented straight and to often stunning effect by (among others) Willem Defoe, Steve Buscemi, Laurie Anderson, David Bowie, Amanda Plummer and Elizabeth Ashley.

Films
Once again, there’s too many films but The Masque of the Red Death (1964) has always been my favourite of the Roger Corman adaptations, not least for the presence of Jane Asher, Patrick Magee and (behind the camera) Nicolas Roeg. I wrote last May about the animated version of The Tell-Tale Heart from UPA. That adaptation, with narration by James Mason, is still on YouTube so if you haven’t seen it yet you can celebrate Poe’s anniversary by watching it right now.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Tell-Tale Heart from UPA
William Heath Robinson’s illustrated Poe
The art of Harry Clarke, 1889–1931

Ginsberg’s Howl and the view from the street

howl.jpgJames Campbell in The Guardian this weekend writes about the arrest fifty years ago of Lawrence Ferlinghetti for his publishing Allen Ginsberg’s paean to ecstatic drug use and gay sex, Howl and Other Poems. Ferlinghetti was arrested on charges of selling (or “peddling”, as these prissy turns of phrase always have it) literature likely to be harmful to minors, even though it’s hard to imagine there were gangs of schoolkids rushing into his City Lights bookstore to buy a volume of experimental poetry. The ensuing trial was the first in a series of cases in the late Fifties and early Sixties which finally established (in America, at least) that the law needed to try and keep its hands off literary works.

America since 1957 has managed to grow up on one level, with Howl now regarded as a classic work of 20th century poetry, and grow more infantile on the other, with And Tango Makes Three, a childrens’ book about gay penguins, being the most-challenged book of 2006 according to the America Library Association; you can still rely on the “g” word to get the would-be book-burners agitated. The growing gulf between perceptions of morality in the US versus those in Europe can be seen in the way that US librarians need to hold an annual Banned Books Week to draw attention to the ongoing war between prudery and licence while there’s no equivalent to this in the UK. Britons used to look enviously at America’s freedoms of speech but the atmosphere has relaxed considerably here over the past twenty years while in America it sometimes seems that the clock is running backwards. That said, Russ Kick pointed out several years ago how, even among freedom-loving librarians, some books are more defensible than others.

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The City Lights bookstore is located at 261 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, and by coincidence I’ve spent the past couple of days exploring that locale using Google’s remarkable Street View facility which is now a feature on their San Francisco map, together with those for New York, Miami, Las Vegas and Denver. Not all the streets in these cities have been photographed yet but it’s fascinating to not only see places you’ve already been to but then turn down a side street and see the places you missed. If you want to know what it’s like to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge then here’s your chance.

Continue reading “Ginsberg’s Howl and the view from the street”

The art of Stephen Aldrich

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Take Me to Your Leda (2000).

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The City at the End of Time (2005).

I wrote about the history of the engaving collage in Sandoz in the Rain: the Life and Art of Wilfried Sätty, an article for Strange Attractor #2 (2005). I hadn’t come across Stephen Aldrich’s work at the time, if I had I would have mentioned him as being one of the artists continuing in this style after Sätty. You can see more of Aldrich’s work at the Foley Gallery, New York, and on Artnet.

Stephen Aldrich was born in Westfield, MA in 1947. In 1989 Aldrich began to explore the possibility of making collages from 19th Century illustrations and (Fredrick) Sommer, always one to “master the advantages”, asked Aldrich to cut engraved illustrations from text books in anatomy. This made it possible for Sommer to create hundreds of collages, and the medium became his principle form of artistic expression throughout the last decade of his life. During that time Aldrich continued to make his own collages with Sommer’s enthusiastic support and encouragement, and joined in a collaborative partnership with photographer Walton Mendelson to produce “collagraphs” (collages photographed) which were first exhibited at Turner/Krull Gallery in 1992. The partnership with Mendelson ended in 2002.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The fantastic art archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The art of Shinro Ohtake

Strange Attractor Journal Three

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The wonderful and essential Strange Attractor Journal will be with us again next month.
The previous number (now sold out, I think) included my essay about psychedelic artist Wilfried Sätty.

CONTENTS

Contra Genesis—Catherine Eisner
Unusual cases of extra-genital conception, extra-uterine
gestation, and other anomalous exits.

Burmese Daze—Erik Davis
In which the author submits to the pleasures of a transgender spirit possession festival.

Adventures in the Fourth Dimension—Mike Jay
A Victorian time machine and history’s first theme park ride.

Ego in Exotica Sum—Ken Hollings
In memoriam Martin Denny, crown prince of the exotica sound.

A Psychoactive Bestiary—Richard Rudgley
The joy of zootoxins, from the ant to the giraffe.

Liberté, Légalité, Éternité—David Luke
Some notes on psychonautic misadventures in time.

Kandinsky’s Thought Forms—Gary Lachman
The occult roots of modern art.

Magic Words—Steve Moore
Virgil the Necromancer in mediæval legend.

Abu’l-Qasim al-Iraqi—Robert Irwin
12th century Arab alchemists on the edge
of knowledge.

The Electrochemical Glass—Richard Brown
A slow-evolving artwork from a living alchemist.

The Man Behind the Screen—David Rothenberg
Hans Christian Andersen’s greatest and least-known work.

The Mole of Edge Hill—John Reppion
Joseph Williamson, Liverpool’s tunnelling philanthropist.

La Maison de Poupées—Robert Ansell
A photographic study of a magnificent compulsion.

The Dirty Thirties—Alexis Lykiard
From Arthur Koestler’s Encyclopædia of Sexual Knowledge.

Paint it Black—Stewart Home
Autohagiography of an artist.

Redonda and Her Kings—Roger Dobson
The island life of early science fiction author MP Shiel.

Magic in Paris—Phil Baker
Demons of the opium den in Thirties Paris.

The Dark Man’s Dreams—Doug Skinner
An introduction to Xavier Forneret, Surrealism’s lost poet.

Ghosts: A short Story
by Lady Vervaine.

Plus original artworks by Alison Gill, Josephine Harvatt, Betsy Heistand, Katie Owens, Arik Roper.

Editor: Mark Pilkington.
Print Design: Alison Hutchinson.

Strange Attractor celebrates unpopular culture. We declare war on mediocrity and a pox on the foot soldiers of stupidity. Join Us.

Strange Attractor Journal Three available now from Strange Attractor Shoppe and all good bookshops.

£14 inc p&p by mail order or £13.99 in UK shops.