Poe at 200


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.

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.

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

7 thoughts on “Poe at 200”

  1. That Harry Clarke illustration doesn’t look much like Poe, but it’s all right. Good to see you’ve remembered his 200th birthday.
    Edgar Allan Poe is, probably, the main reason why i got interested in literature and poetry, back in my teens. I don’t know if it was a good or bad influence, what given Poe’s tragic life, but who cares nowadays? I’m going home and light a black candle in his homage right now!
    And, even thought the Raven quoted ‘Never More’, I hope there are still some going around for you, me and all Poe fans aroun d the world.
    ‘Som coeur est un luth suspendu…Sitôt qu’on le touche, il resonne’.
    All the best, John

  2. Thanks Sterf, I hadn’t seen those before although I know James Sibley Watson’s name from his having also directed Lot in Sodom. There’s a whole world of silent shorts we rarely get the chance to see. Some are lost or perished but others remain stuck in vaults, out of sight. (Like Madeleine Usher….)

    And I hadn’t heard the Burroughs readings before either!

  3. John
    I could not agree with you more in your assessment of Harry Clarke, Satty and Simon Marsden
    All of them have captured the essence of Poe. I found a copy of Clarke’s 1919 Poe years go in full leather and have treasured. I also love Satty’s work has I remember buying his books when all things psychedelic were in vogue.
    I have managed to collect several of Marsden’s books and have used his wall calendars for several years. His Poe book is stunning.

    An award-winning film produced by Camel Productions, written and directed by John J Doherty http://camelproductions.net/
    “Documentarian John J Doherty examines the life of Clarke and the controversial nature of his work, culminating in his clash with the conservative Irish Free State over his ‘offensive’ masterpiece, the Geneva Window’. Visually spectacular and poetically told, Darkness in Light is a fitting showcase of Clarke’s unique and haunting vision.” Boston Irish Film Festival
    Trailer – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ATWj10GXY7Y

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