Gaiman on Poe: read him aloud!

Barnes and Noble's published a new Edgar Allan Poe edition in honor of the man's bicentennial. Neil Gaiman wrote a great intro to the volume, with some sage advice for appreciating Poe -- read him aloud. Damn straight. Neil recommends the excellent Vincent Price/Basil Rathbone Poe CD set, and I second that advice. I named my kid after Poe(sy), I should know!

Poe isn't for everyone. He's too heady a draught for that. He may not be for you. But there are secrets to appreciating Poe, and I shall let you in on one of the most important ones: read him aloud.

Read the poems aloud. Read the stories aloud. Feel the way the words work in your mouth, the way the syllables bounce and roll and drive and repeat, or almost repeat. Poe's poems would be beautiful if you spoke no English (indeed, a poem like "Ulalume" remains opaque even if you do understand English -- it implies a host of meanings, but does not provide any solutions). Lines which, when read on paper, seem overwrought or needlessly repetitive or even mawkish, when spoken aloud reshape and reconfigure.

Some Strangeness in the Proportion: The Exquisite Beauties of Edgar Allan Poe.



  1. well…
    I’m a high school English teacher. Teaching Poe, almost any Poe, to 9th graders really makes you think about accessibility. I understand: Poe used 131-word sentences to create tension in the reader; I learned that while getting my MA in English. However, that doesn’t seem to matter when I have to explain every single word, with comments like-
    “well, no, that isn’t a real word. He made that up; liked the sound of it, I guess…”
    “Yes, Juan, that IS the ninth time he’s mentioned that. Good counting. Let’s keep going.”
    “See, right here, where Usher has put his dead sister’s body into a room in the house? And Usher’s going nuts? Now, as a good friend, wouldn’t you read aloud from an obscure novel instead of going and finding out what’s making all that noise???”

    I admire Poe for inviting the detective story. I admire him for inspiring millions of writers all over the world…but I have found…
    I can admire Poe from a distance.

  2. LOL, I’ve been reading “The Raven” aloud for years. Ever since I realised I wasn’t ever again going to able to read it silently without hearing Bart Simpson saying “nevermore”. Bloody Treehouse of Horrors ;-)

  3. And here I thought you named her Poesy because you were a scribbler, and maybe had a particular appreciation for structured verse.

    Of course, there’s nothing that says you can’t have chosen the name for its dual significance, is there?

    Or would that be per verse…?

  4. Poe had a wicked sense of humor, and could mix the comic with the macabre like no other American author of his time.

    My favorite comic short story by him is “The Devil In the Belfry.” It was included in a Scholastic Book Services collection called something like Thirteen Before Midnight. I didn’t get into it then, because of Poe’s prose, and expected it to be scary. Now, of course, I appreciate it as a lampoon of the Dutch (I live in Amsterdam) and it’s funny as hell.

    My second favorite is “Never Bet The Devil Your Head.”

  5. Reading spooky stories aloud is a Christmas tradition that is well worth continuing.

    My other half hosts ghost story nights at this time of year. We sit round in front of an open fire, eat mince pies, drink port, and take turns to read aloud (usually published short stories, though a few people have read their own stories, and there have been poems and songs).

    A local independent library also hosts tremendously popular ghost story readings, where local authors read stories that they’ve written especially for the occasion. The last few have been in a fantastic wood-panelled Edwardian lecture theatre.

  6. Reading aloud is also the best way to experience Shakespeare. The rhythm just does not appear when reading it silently. Though you do need to learn how to pronounce some of the old words.

    My cat used to come running whenever I read certain things aloud, one being Old Will.

    The only Poe I have read aloud is the Raven, because it is so obvious to do. But I do not recall reading anything else of his aloud.

  7. All Poe’s work can be downloaded for free, or picked up second hand. Anyone interested has this already, probably several times. Add an intro by Neil Gaiman and you have a new product. Extra track and a tacky badge.


    In fact it’s a satire of New York. As a lampoon of the Dutch, it’s crap as hell.

    Almost all “Dutch” words he uses are German. I bet you never bothered to learn Dutch. Also the people are more like catholic Germans or Belgians. It was written to make a point about an american president, and spouts the prejudices of the time, confusing German with Dutch.

  8. Thankfully my flatmate’s wife has agreed to buy him that volume for his birthday so I get to enjoy it without the cost, albeit temporarily. Many books can be enhanced by being read aloud, I remember often reading stories from Richard Brautigan’s ‘Revenge Of The Lawn’ to an ex-girlfriend and it could lend the stories a whole new dimension.

  9. To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
    From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
    Bells, bells, bells,–

    The very essence of alliteration and onomatopœia.


  10. If you can find a copy of the 2-CD collection _Closed On Account Of Rabies_ – it’s worth it. People like Iggy Pop, Gavin Friday, Marianne Faithful, and Christopher Walken reading Poe. Oh yes.

  11. God, I haaaaate Poe. He never got out of that “I hate my life” teenager stage, I SWEAR. So morbidly annoyingly depressing and those stupid bells. NO MORE BELLS.

    I will concede he’s has a knack for creating precise tangles of tongue and sound. It’s the content I have problems with.

  12. Ack! I also meant to say that that cover is totally sweet. I like a nicely designed cover (I’ve bought multiple copies of books to have different covers) and that one is mighty fine.

  13. I used to get a lot of pleasure from reading the Raven aloud in my gravest voice. Still do, although I don’t remember much beyond the first verse. It is definitely written to be read aloud.

  14. #15 The man was an orphan, an alchoholic, and he was living in Boston during the tail end of the industrial revolution. His most famous poem, “The Raven” was an instant success, but he was only ever paid $9 for it. Pardon him for being grim.

  15. I didn’t read Poe until high school, and it bored me then. What didn’t bore me was listening to Christopher Lee reading some of the stories on this old tape my Dad would play in the car sometimes on long drives.

  16. ”Poe didn’t need the bird … Poe didn’t want the bird … Poe didn’t dig the bird … It was a bird sent to bug him!”
    —Lord Buckley

  17. i have always enjoyed poe’s writings. i recently read “The Beautiful Cigar Girl” a detailed look at the true murder mystery which influenced poe’s tale “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt”. as well as detailing the murder, its aftermath and poe’s take on it in his story, the book is also a biography of poe. he was born into a tragic life and died even more tragically.

    until i read this fairly complete biography of him i didn’t realise where his grim writing came from. he was an orphan who never wanted by those who fostered him. he was always told he was a failure. i suspect that contributed to the self perpetuation of his subsequent failures in business.

    his words when spoken aloud are compelling. i like the poem “annabelle lee” and the story “the narrative of arthur gordon pym”.

  18. Howdy,
    For the next few days, you can listen to audio versions of 3 Poe tales on the BBC. I’ll give you the commands to play each one. They expire this Saturday. In each case, put the command all on one line.
    The Gold Bug –
    mplayer -playlist

    The Pit and the Pendulum –
    mplayer -playlist

    The Tell-Tale Heart –
    mplayer -playlist

    There is a fictional investigation of his death also available by:
    mplayer -playlist

  19. And on top of that all-the Poe book pictured is one of the best collections of Mark Summers art you’ll find. On top of his normal woodcut style, there’s a range of experimentation from sketches to inkings to paintings. I know this is all about the audio versions, but really a remarkable set of pictures in the book well worth checking out.

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