I am a writer, editor and gardener living in the Calder Valley, West Yorkshire. I have a degree and masters in Literature and Philosophy undertaken while living in London. I obtained a PGCE in English and History and taught for two years in a secondary school in England (age range: 11-18). My writing credits can be viewed here. I have had two poetry books published and am co-translator of Alain-Fournier:Poems (Carcanet, 2016). I am an editor and associate publisher at The High Window Press.
Edgar Allan Poe
My bedsit is split into two living areas; one room containing a cooker, gas fire, table, sofa and window, and a bedroom containing a small wardrobe, a sink, and shelves full of dusty books on literature and philosophy. These rooms suit my needs: food, whisky, gas fire, a sofa. Bedsitland.
I think Edgar must have seen much of himself in this shabby abode and much of himself in me, obsessively reading and drinking alcohol (he would call it liquor) to the point of oblivion, seen at a glance my failed adulthood, my broken, literary dreams, my obsessive ritualising, solitude masking self-pity and dependency and said "kindred spirit, be mine". Edgar's inhabiting me was a form of loving me.
It was a month ago Edgar first visited. I had always been aware of Poe as a strangely obsessive writer with a grotesque imagination. Like many readers over the years I had accumulated books by Poe: Al Aaraf and other poems, The Raven and other poems, Tales of Mystery and Imagination, Tales of Arabesque, and the entire tales and short stories in one collection or other. And his sole novel, typically titled by Poe Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. The stories in these books - William Wilson, The Gold Bug, The Tell Tale Heart, The Red Masque, The Pit and the Pendulum, and The Fall of the House of Usher - were tales of operatic fantasies, mysteries and mild, if not very obvious, horror stories. I perhaps marvelled at the obsessive and compulsive attention to detail of Auguste Dupin, Poe's detective in three crime mysteries, and was perhaps taken aback, if not concerned, by the notion of the splitting of the self, the doppelganger effect, in William Wilson, but that is all.
Several years ago when I worked in a bookstore, I ordered a book of Poe's Collected Letters and was shocked at groveling, begging letters to his adoptive parents, his cousins, and his friends. Poe's neediness and manipulative tone and dependency appalled me. I read the letters in one sitting and then threw the book away swearing I would never read Poe again. Years past and I kept my word, years where I have married and divorced, suffering the second of what used to be called nervous breakdown, and five years as a gardener where I read very little. In fact, nothing at all. Preferring to sit in my bedsit and drink alcohol, to reach oblivion, to forget that I was George, the gardener.
That is, until about a month ago. I was walking past a second-hand bookshop and there was Poe or, rather, his daguerreotype on the front cover of a biography by Wolf Mankowitz called The Extraordinary Poe. It was the sad plangent look on Poe's face, his beseeching, big, dark-brown, needy, piercing eyes, a look that gave human visual texture to the letters I had read all those years ago that has lead me here. I started drinking again and read Poe's stories again, but this time at night, and under the influence of whisky.
Poe visited. I still found it odd when he appeared for the first time in the mirror above the gas fire. He became Edgar to me and not Poe. You may laugh at the mirror point of entry. Very Edgar Allan Poe! But it is true, nonetheless. For three nights I had been drinking and reading Poe's oeuvre, story after story, tale after tale, only stopping to look at the photograph on the cover of Mankowitz's biography. I stood up swaying a little bit from the bottle I had just finished, turned to the mirror and there he was, Edgar, a hologram in liquid glass, a little like the photograph, but more alive, blood and veins in his countenance. At first I felt embarrassed and not afraid, the figure eye-balling me, the high, intelligent forehead, black piled up, lacquered hair, the contemptuous smile, the pained, beseeching, sometimes angry black eyes.
We swapped selves. I became Edgar and he became me. It felt like I was the younger brother in an older, stronger brother's mind and body - we weren't one and the same like William Wilson; I was being led and I saw things as Edgar that I can't repeat, ever. What he did or saw as me I have little recollection. I woke one day and remembered I had been out the night before, we in Edgar's dark coat and high starched collar, walking with a silver-topped cane to pick up liquor from a local store. I was aware of the strange and petrified looks we elicited from people.
I woke yesterday and realised that weeks have gone by and I haven't been out of my room, except at night with Edgar. I haven't been to work, nor have I been contacted by anyone. I decided to end it. I stayed sober yesterday and Edgar did not appear. I am sober today, and feel if I write this letter before dusk and refrain from drinking until then he will not appear. When he does appear this bottle of whisky and this batch of pills will kill us both.