Where the body is buried.

Yesterday I got a behind-the-scenes tour of the Edgar Allen Poe exhibit at the Baltimore Museum of Art, courtesy of Maryland Citizens for the Arts.

The exhibit’s curator, Doreen Bolger, walked us around the gallery, describing not just the significance of the art included, but explaining the motivations behind the entire construction of the exhibit. It’s a gorgeous setting, with the perfect wall colors enlivening the works of art on the walls, and curtains and furnishings that have a transporting effect on the visitor.

Poe lived all over the East Coast, attended West Point and UVA, and generally didn’t settle anywhere too long until he dropped dead in Baltimore, which sort of gives the city bragging rights over him. This year is the bicentennial of his birth and Baltimore has been celebrating him for a while. This exhibit was one of those celebrations.

The first room, Doreen explained, was dedicated to French response to Poe’s work. As with film noir, French artists were the first to celebrate and remark upon the significance of Poe’s writings, and he remains–along with jazz–one of the few American imports that is squarely absorbed into French culture. Edouard Manet’s sketches of Poe, along with portraits of Charles Baudelaire, to whom Poe was often compared, line the walls of the room. Most surprising were the line drawings of Poe’s face by Henri Matisse that had been drawn for inclusion in an anthology of the author’s work. They are simple, evocative–capturing the true essence of Poe’s strange and compelling facial features.

In the exhibit’s larger hall, Poe’s literary work is explored by three themes–Love and Loss, Fear and Terrror, and Madness and Obsession. Throughout the exhibit, illustrated books of Poe’s work are visible under glass. “The Raven,” of course, takes center stage here–Manet’s illustrations of the poems stand out, as well as do more contemporary pieces that incorporate text from the poem. To the side of that, his short stories like “The Pit and the Pendulum” come to life, while the other wing of the exhibit is dedicated to things like “The Tell-Tale Heart.”

The exhibit really sparked my curiosity about Poe. When I was a kid, I tried memorizing one of his poems for school, but honestly I just failed miserably at doing it. But he was one of the first poets I remember reading on my own, and I read many of his short stories, totally disgusted by most of them, but oddly interested as well.

I guess now all I have to do is make a visit to his grave, which I hear is a bit of a tourist destination in town…

Another reason I love Mary Gaitskill

She was twenty-five. I was thirty-three. She was already editor in chief of a venerable avant-garde press, a veritable circus of caged monsters and their stylish keepers. She spoke with a combination of real confidence and its flimsy counterfeit. Monsterless, I barely knew how to speak at all, and what I could say was timid and unctuous. It didn’t matter. She wore a heavy silver necklace over her white T-shirt, under which her small breasts gave off dark, glandular warmth. Behind the bar, a mountain of green, blue, and gold bottles glimmered before a murky mirror lake. On the television above the bar, a rock star in an elaborate video drew a door in the air with a piece of chalk, smiled, and stepped through it. Jukebox music rose up, making a forest of sound, through which young girls traveled on their way to the bathroom. Above us, the fog traveled, too, laughing and quick. The bathroom door creaked loud and long; slim thighs went past, along with a swinging little wrist loaded with shining jewelry. We were hungry for this, all of this, and for each of us, “this” took form in the other. We ate each other with our eyes and, completely apart from our inconsequential words, our voices said, How delicious. We impulsively kissed, and separated quickly, laughing like people who had accidentally brushed against each other on the sidewalk. Then with a nervous toss of her head, she glided in close again. Soft heat came off her face, and then there was the dark, sucking heat of her mouth. She said, “I’d take you to dinner, but my girlfriend is expecting me.”

Mary Gaitskill, “Today I’m Yours,” Don’t Cry

Bonus points if you can name the video referenced above.

Win a Date with Aimee Nezhukumatathil!

That’s the name of the contest I won. Aimee and novelist MacKenzie Bezos (The Testing of Luther Albright) are in residence at the Piper Center for Creative Writing this week, doing workshops, Q&As, readings, and youth outreach.

They are both such kind guests! It’s wonderful to have them here. Aimee brought me a bottle of REAL Buffalo Chicken sauce. And if you know anything about me, you know that I would eat Buffalo anything. Buffalo french fries. Buffalo waffles. Buffalo chocolate. Well….

If you’re in town and looking for something to do, check these out:

Craft Q&A with Aimee and MacKenzie
Tuesday, September 18
12:15 pm – 1:30 pm
Piper Writers House

Reading & Book signing by Aimee and MacKenzie
Thursday, September 20
7:30 pm
Old Main’s Carson Ballroom on the ASU Tempe Campus

The Handmaid’s Tale

From time to time, my mind returns to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Have you ever read it? I can’t even remember why I first did; it might have been on Maria’s recommendation when we were both in college. I had never read more than a single poem of Atwood’s at that time, so this was really my first encounter with her work.

Although the plot of the book is fascinating (and: right now: timely, prescient), what is actually hypnotic about it is the lyric way in which in the events of the narrative unfold. From the perspective of a woman whose name becomes “Offred,” the hyper-religious military state of America is contrasted with fleeting memories of the time before, of an escape attempt gone wrong.

The chorus in the book: Nolite te bastardes carborundum. As I wrote to Peter on his Latin phrase post: it means, “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” This, some now forgotten woman scrawled in a dark corner of Offred’s room/cell.

The book became a movie, with the quality of a made-for-tv movie, although it does boast Adrian Quinn (hot), Faye Dunaway (cool), and Natasha Richardson (hot by lineage). The movie is not even close to capturing the book. It’s hard for me to see cinema fail, or to think perhaps I could have done this better.

If you haven’t read it, now is the time to read it.