Poe News!

There’s a new show at the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia. The exhibit includes a variety of original manuscripts, showing the development of Poe’s work and will feature an early version of his poem ‘To Helen.’

I visited the Poe Museum back in February during my Poe Road Trip Weekend. In February, the special exhibit was of James Carling’s wildly hallucinogenic illustrations of ‘The Raven.’ The pictures made me re-think the familiar poem. Carling delved deep into Poe’s imaginary — and dangerous, monster-filled — world.

James Carling 1857-1887 began his art career as a child ‘pavement artist’ drawing with chalk on the streets of Liverpool. Needless to say this was a tough start in life. He was basically a graffiti artist of his day. On Christmas Eve of 1865, when he was all of eight-years old, he wound up in Cheapside Jail. If this strikes you as a Dickensian childhood scene — you are not alone.

His luck changed when the authorities sent him to Saint George’s Industrial School where he learned to read and write. At 14, his older brother took him to the U.S. and in Philadelphia he went from sidewalk artist to ‘Lightening Caricaturist’ in a vaudeville troupe. Then it was on to New York where he was featured in a musical as a chalk/talk performer.

He must have been a talented young man.

From New York it was on to Chicago where he entered a contest to illustrate Poe’s poem held by Harpers Magazine. He didn’t win. Gustave Dore illustrated the volume. You’ve probably seen those illustrations. Missing that key opportunity must have been a terrible blow. But artists have to weather all sorts of rejection. He died at the age of 29, leaving behind an unpublished autobiography and some extraordinary illustrations, including his Raven drawings.

I particularly like the following lines from ‘The Raven.’ Poe’s language is specific and intriguing. He’s also expressing a timeless desire to obliterate a painful memory. (Nepenthe is an ancient potion that induces the user to forget pain or sorrow.)

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
`Wretch,’ I cried, `thy God hath lent thee — by these angels he has sent thee
Respite — respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!’
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.’

So, if you are in or near Richmond, Virginia between now and July 11, be sure to visit the Poe Museum and report to me about the new exhibit.


  1. Oh how I wish I were closer – like umpteen thousands of miles closer! We get some great exhibitions here as well but they are few and far between.

    I did a quick google on Carling and his illustrations for the Raven are amazing… and very dark. I like!

    • Candy

      James Carlings’ interpretation of The Raven is original and very, very dark! I fell like a piece of my art history/literature education was missing, having only seen the Dore drawings. You’ve got to wonder how Carling’s career might have developed had he won that contest. Anyway, so glad I caught that exhibit and wish I could wander down to Virginia for the new one.

      Few and far between in Melbourne? I would have guessed that it’s a pretty arty corner of the world.

      Ah well…