When most people consider vacation ideas, tropical resorts normally top the list seconded only by camping. But we are not normal. Yes we have been to Florida and Mexico, but one can only go there so many times before the wallet starts complaining. Our top vacation is a trip east. We are a family of road warriors. We love driving and scenery so when my wife suggested a driving vacation to Baltimore, it came as no surprise. Not only is the scenery on the drive down there conducive to the backdrop for my second novel, Appetites, the act of driving, itself, gets my creative mojo churning. Also, for those that don’t know, Baltimore is an Edgar Allan Poe hot spot. I’ve got a pretty cool wife, eh? Feeding my writing like that.
Not only is Poe buried there, he spent most of his childhood there and his childhood home is still standing. Rumour has it that Poe spent his last days roaming the streets in a drunken stupor. That is if you believe everything you read in the newspapers. Needless to say I was anxious to wander the streets myself, walking in his historical footsteps, hoping to capture a sense of who he was.
Now here is where things start to go sideways. I am a Poe fan. I write horror. Not your standard slasher, torture or Japanese-weird-ceiling-crawling-beasties. I write what I consider traditional horror. I’m talking, fog enshrouded streets, heavy consciences, atmosphere and most of all, strong characters. I write dead-ends, red herrings, unreliable or quirky narrators and not always happy endings. I guess one might call it literary horror.
It seems natural, then, that I’m drawn to Poe’s style. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way trying to emulate him or his writing. I do not consider my writing to be of his calibre and I do not consider myself a Poe expert. In fact, I am ashamed to admit; up until I discovered my “milieu”, I had only read The Raven and A Tell-Tale Heart. I had wrongly assumed that Poe wrote only poetry.
So, I dug into Poe’s writings and history with the same zeal as I applied to my Mary Shelley research. I found that, in addition to poetry, Poe was an editor, literary critic and wrote the first Detective story. I also found out why I felt a connection to this tortured writer. It goes beyond his delving into the macabre. Turns out he didn’t like to be pigeon-holed into one genre either. He wrote Gothic when it was considered passé. He bucked the trend whenever he could. He experimented with styles and points of view and most of all he loved to write in the first person.
So to walk in his footsteps, to see the sights he saw, to maybe rub shoulders with his spirit was something I was literally frothing at the bit to do. But things didn’t go as planned.
I decided that I would write my findings in an open letter.
I walk the streets you must have walked in your last days. Although separated by 163 years of “progress” I listen, none-the-less, for your footfalls. My eyes strive to peel back the modern facades to find some hint of you. There is still a great divide between the upper and lower class and as much as new buildings have taken root, the old ones, from your time, still stand, though they wear their age poorly. For a town whose football teams bears the name of one of your poems, its streets are strangely barren of your presence.
Finally, in a quiet sanctuary surrounded by the crush of passing bodies and the rush of passing cars, I find you. I am underwhelmed. I don’t know what I expected to find. An air of reverence maybe? A solitary raven perched on your stone? A spark of creativity, perhaps?
Your marker rests in the front corner of a courtyard of crumbling brick walls desperate to either keep time out or to preserve the time within their confines. Granted there is an air of timeless quiet, a hush of spirit, among the stones and cobbled walkways nestled at the feet of the ancient church. But I don’t feel you here either. Maybe as my time is pressed, I can’t slow down and see, not with my eyes, hear not with my ears or feel not with my hands. No, I am left to take a photo to preserve the scene; to touch your marker; to breathe the stale air of death and time and exhaust.
I have nothing to give you. No flowers like what adorn your grave, no Cognac… no words, and it makes me feel like a plastic tourist. At least in my pictures I am not posing and grinning at your tomb. Instead, I write you this letter to thank-you. For without your work, your blood, sweat and copious tears, the literary world would be a much blander place. You inspire me to reach beyond, to buck the trend in favour of a good story and better writing.
I may not have found what I was looking for, but at least I can say I have been. You live on, in this humble writer’s eye, through your poetry and your stories.
Your fan and student,