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Where Thy Dark Eye Glances - Queering Edgar Allan Poe

by Kyle Thomas Smith
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Thursday Jul 25, 2013
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Among the only things that drive home the spirit of isolation more poignantly than growing up LGBTQ are solitary confinement and the works of Edgar Allan Poe. In his poem "Alone," Poe laments:

From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were; I have not seen
As others saw; I could not bring
My passions from a common spring.


Most LGBTQs can relate to these sentiments all too well, particularly in our youth. That’s right. We’re not always Jack McFarland, turning handsprings and finding new ways to jazz up a midnight dreary. There’s another side to us, "this soul with sorrow laden," which might lend itself to the macabre (and which might also explain why there’s no shortage of gays in the goth community). So, it’s about time a group of writers got together to pay homage to this aspect of our psyche. And now they have--in "Where Thy Dark Eye Glances: Queering Edgar Allan Poe," a new anthology edited by horror-fiction and Poe enthusiast Steve Berman.

Now, while this may be welcome news, it’s never a good thing when an anthology dedicated to a literary pioneer begins with its editor saying his book does not need to delve into the life, times or work of said pioneer because there’s so much written about him already, yet this is precisely what Berman says right in the first sentence of the introduction: "There have been countless studies of Edgar Allan Poe’s life, as well as...on his poetry, his prose and journalism, so I need not venture into biographical details." Reading this, one might think that the anthologist is, at best, too lazy to present a concise study of Poe’s biography and works and their relevance to an LGBTQ audience or, worse, he might not be as familiar with his subject as he lets on. Either way, "Where Thy Dark Eye Glances" (a phrase from Poe’s 1833 poem, "To One in Paradise," a namesake unmentioned in the anthology) suffers as a result of its editor’s failure to note specific ways in which his authors have built on, "queered," and revived the life and (specific) works of Poe. This means that, if you’re unfamiliar with Poe, you’ll be at a loss as to which works most of the writers are riffing on.

If you’re Poe fan already, you’ll discover hidden jewels if you dig for them.

Curiously, though, contributing writer Richard Bowes picks up the slack later in the book by demonstrating Poe’s relevance to modern gay history in "Seven Days of Poe," a cogent personal essay where he discusses how select Poe stories that he found in his youth eerily resonated with various encounters he’d been having concurrently with much older men in the public toilets and bars of 1960s Boston. In fact, by far the strongest part of this 285-page volume is a section called "Reading Poe," which contains deeply personal memoir pieces, stories and confessional poems about what the works of Poe meant to the writers as they came of age as outsiders. The pieces in "Reading Poe" are straightforward, candid and without the turgidity of so much of the anthology’s earlier fiction. Unfortunately, this section does not come in until page 189.

Now, to be fair, Poe is a tough act to follow and it takes a lot of guts for any writer to attempt to reimagine his works for a gay audience--which some installments do brilliantly. Tansy Rayner Robert’s "The Raven and Her Victory" is as delectable as an Edith Wharton story as her female protagonist pines for a poetess who holds sway over the east-coast literati at the fin de si├Ęcle. Satyros Phil Brucato’s "The Lord’s Great Jest" should go down as even more of a classic than the piece it’s based on, Poe’s "Hop-Frog." Terra LeMay’s "Two Men in a Bed Chamber, as Observed by the Ghost of the Girl in the Oval Portrait" calls to mind Virginia Woolf’s wistful "A Haunted House." Yet there are other pieces that are so plodding and loaded down with sepulchral language--calling to mind death rockers or gamers trying to sound like intelligent goons or employees at haunted mansions, holding flashlights under their chins to look scary--that they make Poe himself look breezy.

If you’re LGBTQ and wanting to find out if Poe’s for you, this might not be the first place to look. If you’re a Poe fan already, you’ll discover hidden jewels if you dig for them.

"Where Thy Dark Eye Glances: Queering Edgar Allan Poe"
Queer Dark Fantasy Anthology
Edited by Steve Berman
Lethe Press
ISBN: 978-1-59021-334-6
$20

by Steve Berman

Kyle Thomas Smith is author of the novel 85A (Bascom Hill, 2010). He lives in Brooklyn with his husband and two cats.

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