Poe Knows Philly

In this week’s Philadelphia City Paper, Edward Pettit makes a stirring argument that Edgar Allan Poe really belongs to Philadelphia – not Baltimore. Why? The bulk of his work was written in Philly. He brought his wife and mother to live in the city for several years. And there were business reasons, too:

Poe originally moved to the city because it was still one of the

publishing centers of the country. Aspiring writers needed to be near

the publishing houses that edited and printed the nation’s books and

magazines. Philadelphia was still the leader in magazine publishing,

although soon it would be overtaken by New York City. “Poe’s first

engagement in Philadelphia [was] a part-time editorial job with Burton’s Magazine,” continues McKenna-Uff. “He parlayed that position into becoming editor for Graham’s Magazine,

one of the most successful magazines in the country. Between his

reputation for writing imaginative fiction and withering reviews, his

writings were sought after by many other periodicals around the

nation.” Poe’s initial successes in the city diminished by 1844. Poe’s

irascibility and drinking problems, exacerbated by his wife’s

tuberculosis, began to alienate the editors whom Poe needed to court

for work.

However, while living in Philadelphia, Poe wrote the bulk of his greatest work.

Laura Lippman, however, begs to differ:

What have you done for Poe lately, Philadelphia? We named our

football team the Ravens. (Unfortunately, some illiterate named the

snack bars in the stadium the “Craven.”) We have a Poe room in our

Central Library. We even have a housing project called the Poe Homes,

no small tribute in Baltimore. And it is here, every Jan. 19, that the

Poe Toaster comes to pay his respects. Granted, the memorial to Poe

gets his birthday wrong, but it was the 19th century, before Google

made fact-checking so much easier.

Look, Philly, Baltimore didn’t back down when Virginia tried to make

Poe its official poet, and we’re not going to fold just because you say

he belongs to you. What’s next, a crab cake hoagie? FYI, the best crab

cakes — those would be here — don’t need no stinkin’ bread. We’ve got

the body. We’ve got two graves. Paraphrased the Raven: Nevermore pick this fight, Philadelphia, nevermore.

I gotta say, I hope this literary smackdown keeps going on with multiple parties involved. Be it resolved that Edgar Allan Poe belongs to every city that could possibly have some tenuous claim on him: go!

(Also, since it’s the Books Quarterly, there are plenty of fiction and non-fiction reviews contributed by Cameron Hughes, Jen Miller, A.D. Amorsi and yours truly.)