Posted on April 25, 2012 - by nshaw
During the NRHC Regional Conference in Baltimore, Maryland (April 12-15), attendees were introduced to the latest conference agenda addition: Faculty-Led Creative Workshops that took place following on Friday afternoon following the City as Text adventures.
Students could choose among four choices:
1. A tour of the American Visionary Arts Museum
2. A guitar music jam
3. “Walking on Sidewalk Gratings,” a workshop devoted to breaking habits and overcoming obstacles
4. “Poe Poetry,” a visit to Edgar Allan Poe’s gravesite and discussion of his poetry and literature
John Parkes of the Community College of Allegheny County attended “Poe Poetry” and wrote a response on his experience. Parkes writes, “The cemetery itself was rather small, but it was a beautiful day (unless you are of the morbid, Poe-esque sort such as myself), and even my cell phone managed to capture some wonderfully sharp images thanks to the natural lighting. The groups wandered, divided, and merged into each other, an amorphous mass of awestruck and curious faces flowing across the tiny landscape. Further back were the graves of Poe’s family, as well as his original grave, complete with an impressive stone (which rivalled the monument at the entrance) that may well have been even more recent than the ‘new grave’s’ marker, as evidenced by the erosion of nearby ‘contemporary’ stones. ‘And what would be Poe without mystery,’ said the cemetery to the observant…” (Click “More” to read the essay in full.)
NRHC: The Poe Poetry Workshop
An overview by John Parkes
Community College of Allegheny County
This workshop turned out much better than anticipated. The description led one to believe that participants would visit Poe’s grave and listen to readings of Poe’s stories and poems. Only part of that turned out to be true.
The participants were encouraged to read “Ligeia” beforehand. This was, by Poe’s own account, his greatest work and an ironic prediction of his own fate many years later. The workshop began with a brief biography of the man behind the work, then turned to an examination of “Ligeia” as an example of a first-person narrative.
The story was not read in full; excerpted lines from its body were examined as examples of how each piece of the story formula was pieced together. These pieces were not in chronological order, instead favouring an approach flowing from main components to supporting statements. The participants were simultaneously charged with filling in these categories on a blank page, beginning with the most central event, then the resolution, the opening, and finally the supporting material in between. At the end, everyone had a unique story in the same format as “Ligeia.”
Everyone was then broken down into groups by last name. This, sadly, was the one hiccough in the entire workshop, and several in my own group never found our group leader, instead banding together for the long walk to the cemetery. The walk itself was pleasant for most, and allowed us all to see a bit more of Baltimore. Upon arrival, we then proceeded into the narrow entrance beside the newest (purportedly) marker of Poe’s grave and entered one group at a time to maximize photo opportunities.
The cemetery itself was rather small, but it was a beautiful day (unless you are of the morbid, Poe-esque sort such as myself), and even my cell phone managed to capture some wonderfully sharp images thanks to the natural lighting. The groups wandered, divided, and merged into each other, an amorphous mass of awestruck and curious faces flowing across the tiny landscape. Further back were the graves of Poe’s family, as well as his original grave, complete with an impressive stone (which rivalled the monument at the entrance) that may well have been even more recent than the “new grave’s” marker, as evidenced by the erosion of nearby “contemporary” stones.
“And what would be Poe without mystery,” said the cemetery to the observant. Tucked close behind this beautifully-carved tribute to the underlying Master was a small, badly age-blackened and eroded gravestone which fit well with the times in which Poe died. One could not see to whom it belonged, but its location and position only a few scant inches behind the massive Poe gravestone suggested that this, not the fore-standing, was the original marker for Poe’s once unmarked grave. The questions raised by the two Poe monuments and this tiny, forgotten, raven-black marker would have given Poe enough material for a small novel. Perhaps they shall one day inspire just such a masterpiece.
As for the readings, participants were not obligated to read their works, but those who did gave incredibly diverse (and often very Poe-ish) stories. Some were biographical, some romantic, and others (such as one man’s “accidental” reflection on his own conception due to “I was borne” being his key event) were pure, light-hearted romps. (For those who may be asking, I declined to read my own despite the temptation).
The trip back to the hotel was full of chatter and pleasantries, and there was no wrap-up involved. In its own way, the experience was much like one of Poe’s works: there was a rising suspense as the mystery of the strangely numbered pages came to fruition, the visitation of death (albeit in the form of seeing his handiwork more than a century after the fact), more unanswered questions hiding between the lines for those who dared to look, a reflection into the psyche, and a trailing departure, dooming the observer to wonder what happens next forevermore…