Remembering the Positively Poe Conference at the University of Virginia

I first published this article on the Edgar Allan Poe Museum Website (www.poemuseum.org) on 7/28/2016. It is being republished here on Litchatte.com with the permission of the Museum

In 1818, the Virginia Legislature authorized the building of the first state college in Virginia. The then retired President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson set out to design the buildings and campus in Charlottesville, Virginia, near his home in Monticello. See a depiction of Jefferson’s plans on the featured image of this story. The college was built in a few years and started enrolling students in 1825. According to the UVA Website(aig.alumni.virginia.edu), “Edgar Allan Poe enrolled at the University on February 14, 1826, the 136th of 177 students registering for the second session. He attended classes in the Schools of Ancient and Modern Languages, under Professors Long and Blaetterman respectively. Although not known for spending long hours at his lessons, Poe was already remarkable for his brooding, lonely genius. His excellent memory allowed him to read ahead in class and recite correctly even when utterly unprepared. In his final examinations, he took top honors in French and Latin and was cited for excellence by both professors.” Chris Semtner, Poe Richmond Museum Curator, noted that Poe often watched the construction of Jefferson’s Rotunda as it was being built and that he attended Jefferson’s funeral. Although Poe’s stay at the college was short, it is still notably marked around campus with a bust in the library and the preservation and public display of his college dorm room. During my three days of attendance at the Positively Poe Conference at the University, in July 2013, Poe’s Room, right across the street from where the conference was held, appeared to be the most visited site on campus.

I fondly remember three wonderful days in the summer of 2013 at Jefferson’s University, as they were my first immersion at a major international Poe gathering. The Positively Poe Conference was organized by the Richmond Poe Museum and it’s then Board President, Harry Lee (Hal) Poe, and by Gorky Institute of Moscow Professor, Alexandra Urakova. As I was beginning my Master’s Thesis on Poe’s book, Eureka: A Prose Poem, I was accepted by Hal Poe to deliver a workshop proposal on that topic. It was a most inspiring experienced for me, as it initiated me into the modern world Poe community.

The program began on Monday evening, July 24, 2013, in the Rotunda Room, which was undergoing extensive renovation. The main speaker was the scholar, Ben Fisher, and a “Poe Performance” of the “Imp of the Perverse,” by Rob Velella.  I offer a summary of the program that was offered below. In a future Blog, I will discuss what I presented during my electrifying workshop.

From the Positively Poe Program Brochure:

About the Conference

Over the last few years, we have seen several notable additions to the number of film and television adaptations of Poe and his works. They are notable for having large enough budgets to have no excuse for doing such a bad job of treating Poe. In this dreary cultural context, the idea for this conference grew. We wondered what would happen if scholars were invited to reflect on the positive aspects of Poe and his work. Poe’s reputation as a tortured, tragic figure, melancholic poet and the “master of the macabre” has fueled his popularity for over a century and a half, while debunking stereotypes and myths associated with that reputation has always been an essential part of Poe criticism. Going beyond the debunking of the popular caricature, we would like to discover the “positive” side of Poe’s life and work. Just as his life had its ups and downs, his writing, too, reflects a wide range of experience, not exclusively the dark and dismal. We have been gratified by the response to this little boutique gathering set at Poe’s university at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains he so loved. In planning this conference, we considered the setting to be of major importance, and we hope the conferees can find the time to enjoy Mr. Jefferson’s university and the mountains around it.

The Poe Museum

For over ninety years the Poe Museum has strived to preserve and advance the legacy of Edgar Allan Poe. Located in the Old Stone House, the oldest residence in Richmond, the museum stands in the midst of the neighborhood where Poe lived as a child before his foster father came into his fortune. The museum preserves the largest collection of Poe artifacts and memorabilia in the world which includes such items as Poe’s childhood bed, the walking stick he left behind in Richmond on his last fatal trip, the chair he used at The Southern Literary Messenger, his trunk, and many items from his boyhood home. In addition to a collection of first editions of Poe’s books and first appearances of his stories, poems, and articles, the museum also has a large collection of rare and unique images related to Poe, as well as a large library of secondary works on Poe. The museum hopes that Poe scholars will find its holdings useful to scholars as they continue to explore the body of his work in the third century since his birth.

Workshops Offered

Tuesday, July 25, 2013

9:00    a.m.       Session One – Poe Makes Friends

Chair – Stephen Railton, University of Virginia

Richard Kopley

 “Edgar Makes a Friend”

Chris Semtner

“A Young Girl’s Recollections of Edgar Allan Poe”

Philip Phillips

“Yankee Neal and Edgar Poe: The Fruits of a Literary Friendship”

John Gruesser

“Poe, Whitman, and Melville in New York and Beyond”

11:15  a.m.        Session Two – POEtic Effect

                  Chair – Jerome McGann, University of Virginia

Jerome McGann,

“Poe’s ‘The Bells’ as a Musical Mirror of a Discordant Age”

Stephen Rachman

“From “Al Aaraaf” to the Universe of Stars: Poe, the Arabesque, and Cosmology”

Emron Esplin and Margarida Vale de Gato

“‘Excellent system(s) of positive translation(s)’: Why Poe’s Translators Have Neither Been Invisible nor Ephemeral”

1:45   p.m.       Session Three – Poe and Art

                  Chair – Bonnie Shannon McMullen,  Independent Scholar, Oxford (UK)

Scott Peeples

“Poe in Love”

Sonya Isaak

“‘When Music Affects Us to Tears’:  Poe’s Silent Music – Divine Aspiration and Lasting Inspiration”

Anne Margaret Daniel

“Bob Dylan: ‘like being in an Edgar Allan Poe story’”

Tuesday, June 25, 2013 (cont.)

3:30  p.m.         Session Four: Collecting Poe

Susan Jaffe Tane and Harry Lee Poe

6:00 p.m.      Picnic – The Ragged Mountain

Beth Sweeney: Readers’ Theatre Boston:

 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

All paper sessions in the Harrison Institute/Small Special Collections Library auditorium

9:00   a.m.        Session One – The Comic Side of Poe

                  Chair – Richard Kopley, Penn State University

  1. Barbara Cantalupo

“‘A little China man having a large stomach’:  Poe’s Homely Details in ‘The Devil in the Belfry’”

  1. Alexandra Urakova

“‘Shreds and patches’: Poe, Fashion, and Godey’s Lady’s Book

  1. Elina Absalyamova

“A Comic Poe: European Success Story”

11:00  a.m.       Session Two – Tales: Rethinking the Gothic

Chair – Margarida Vale de Gato, University of Lisbon

Bonnie Shannon McMullen

“The ‘Sob from the ebony bed’: The Reanimation of the Gothic Tale in ‘Ligeia’”

Susan Elizabeth Sweeney

“Positive Images: Poe and the Daguerreotype”

William E. Engel

“Jaunty dialogs with the non-human: a Closer Look at Dogs in the Works of E.A. Poe”

1:30 p.m.           Session Three – Poe and Ethics

                        Chair – Bill Engel, University of the South

Gero Guttzeit

“‘Constructive Power’: Poe’s Mythology and Ethics of Authorship”

Katherine Rose Keenan,

“You Can’t Escape Yourself”: Poe’s Use of Moral Doppelgangers”

Shawn McAvoy and

Heather Myrick Stocker

“Selective Symbolism: Poe’s Romantic Theology”

Wednesday, June 26, 2013 (cont.)

3.30 p.m.     Session Four – Poetry, Science, and Eureka

Panel Chair – Harry Lee Poe, Union University

René van Slooten

“The Facts in the Case of Eureka”

Murray Ellison

“Judging Edgar Allan Poe’s Eureka after the Author’s Death”

Ironically, as I began the last presentation of the conference on Poe’s strangest and most enigmatic work, Eureka: A Prose Poem, the lights in the University of Virginia’s Special Collections Library began to flicker. This show from Nature was followed by some of the most powerful lightning and thunderclaps I ever remember experiencing. Not surprisingly, after these impressive  events, our lights were lost and flickered to the minimum backup generator dim-strength. The electricity, which was supposed to illuminate my  PowerPoint presentation on the difficulties of evaluating Poe’s, Eureka, left the building! If scientists at the University of Virginia would have argued that the power failure was caused by the energy of the Poe enthusiasts in the room, I would not have disagreed with them! I will explain how I handled the situation and what I said about what I thought would be needed to conduct a proper evaluation of Eureka in my next Blog.

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 Murray Ellison received a Master’s in Education at Temple University (1973), a Master’s of Arts in English Literature at VCU (2015), and  a Doctorate in Education at Virginia Tech in 1987. He is married and has three adult employed daughters. He retired as the Virginia Director of Community Corrections for the Department of Correctional Education in 2009. Currently, he serves as a literature teacher, board member, and curriculum advisor for the Lifelong Learning Institute in Chesterfield, Virginia, and is the founder and chief editor of the literary blog, www.LitChatte.com. He is an editor for the “Correctional Education Magazine,” and editing a book of poetry written by an Indian mystic. He also serves as a board member, volunteer tour guide, poetry judge, and all-around helper at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond Virginia. You can write to Murray by leaving a Comment or at ellisonms2@vcu.edu

                                                                               

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