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04 December 2006

France's Adoration for Edgar Allan Poe

Poe deserves every kind of attention we are able to give him as a poet and as a pioneer, including a pioneer in lifestyle as related to one man's artistic production. The Poe I learned in public school did not teach me this. What made me think about Poe's importance and the esteem French poets since Baudelaire have held him in for a century and a half was a couple of puchases I made in book stalls today.

I am not blogging on Poe to name drop or to lay out a lineage of French poetic influences related to this early 19th century American poet (nor to influence my Quebecois readers; I'm addressing American English speakers if anyone). Today I found and purchased one Poe book and a single 33 1/3 vinyl recording of two poems by Poe.

In front of me on the stand with my mouse is the "Golden Treasury of American Verse". This is a "Spoken Arts" recording (Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: R61-382). On the record, the Poe grooves fall between Oliver Wendell Holmes and Walt Whitman. The readings are by Alexander Scourby, who offers listeners with a turntable his fantastic interpretation.

Listening to Scourby, the vowel sequences in the lines, the way he works the enjambements, his subtle vocal rhymes and how he quickly continues unrhymed expressions of connected thought -- all of this goes far beyond the classroom obsessions our readings gave to those hard-line endings with "never-more" as we intoned The Raven.

Scourby's reading of Poe softens the American accent so much it enlightens me as listener and makes me ready to better comprehend the absolute unqualified admiration that the French literati has shown down through time for everything Poe wrote. (Including the other poem on the Scourby "Spoken Arts" recording: To Helen.)

One might think that I'm hanging everything on the fact that Baudelaire bothered to translate Poe (while enthusing over the man). Or that Mallarme' adoration of this American predecessor has unduly influenced me. Or that I am, perhaps, in awe Poe's poetics (I am not). Oh, maybe a little I am.

But let us turn to my other purchase in the book stalls today (which cost me 49 cents minus the 50% reduction "one-day-only" in the discount store).

With this book buy, I discovered that Paris-Match puts out a hardbound collection of Classics; a "numero culturel 'hors serie'". (No comment about the usual crap 'en serie' that Paris-Match puts out every couple weeks in the normal run of their magazine!)

Well, American compatriates, remember how in the school system they offered us Edgar Allan Poe as the poet between Oliver Wendell Holmes and Walt Whitman? In the pedagogical review of poetry as taught, Poe got little more than equal treatment with Emily Dickenson, as we worked up the timeline toward Robert Frost. (One must wait until University before studying the 'American' T. S. Eliot and then the confessional poets ((if we were lucky))- who may include, in more advanced studies, Allen Ginsberg with a couple of Haiku thrown in . . . for the extremely accellerated student). Wait for graduate school for Ezra Pound and maybe Robert Creeley or Ann Carson . . . (Shit, I DID end up dropping names; and Canadian ones at that; SORRY).

Where was I? Denis Levertov? Livesay? Acorn? Earle Birney? No, no. Paris-Match. P-M has no, zero, awareness of Canada nor even Quebec poets of the stature of Gilbert Langevin.

So forget all this name-dropping of Northern poets.

Point being: Paris-Match and all the Parisian media DO fall in the line with their permanent fixation upon Edgar Allan Poe! And rightly so.

In the Paris-Match "collectors' series of special edition in deluxe bindings" the list includes 16 "Giants" of World Literature. POE is the only author listed in all capital letters, and he falls between Victor Hugo and Baudelaire in the magazine's list of the greats. (All of these deluxe books are beautifully illustrated titles that run about 140 pp -- all with copious illustrations in color.

This is a reflection of the regard and exsteem accorded Poe in that country. The featured authors include Dante, Cervantes and Shakespeare, to only name a few in a list that includes Voltaire and Goethe.

Maybe I will blog a bit more on Poe later. I will attempt to receive copyright clearance to upload an MP3 conversion from the Spoken Arts recording as well. I believe that there is a goldmine here for North Americans to better help them understand this fascination that some Europeans retain still for the "original" sources of North American culture . . . and how the 'marginal' in American culture will remain central to what has world appeal around the globe.

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