Where Thy Dark Eye Glances – Steve Berman, ed. (Lethe Press)

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Queering Edgar Allan Poe is such a wonderful idea I can’t believe no one’s thought of it before, but at least Steve Berman is on the ball. And, as wonderful as the idea itself is, the product is even better. Where Thy Dark Eye Glances is one of the most consistent and consistently imaginative anthologies I’ve read in quite a while.

Before we get to the good stuff, however, comment needs to be made about the entire package. Niki Smith’s cover is  stunning, capturing not only the essence of Poe, but a hint of queerness along with themes of masquerade and “otherness” that pervade the stories and poems inside. Even the typeface and the layout are all of a piece with its themes, and for that, kudos must go out to the inimitable Alex Jeffers.

Inside? Oh, what wonders you will find inside. The first section is “Poe the Man,” which has stories and poems featuring Poe himself, including Seth Cadin’s atmospherically erotic “The City and the Stranger” about Poe’s brief yet meaningful stay in New York City after he left West Point, Daniel Nathan Terry’s poem, “Matthew Brady, the Gallery of Illustrious Americans,” about Brady’s daguerreotype of Poe, and Steve Berman’s own pastiche of Poe’s works, “Poetaster.”

The second section, “Poe’s Writings,” comprises the meat of the book and contains some quite marvelous re-imaginings of Poe’s work as well as some straight-ahead queering where the storyline is the same but some genders are changed. One of my favorites in the latter category, Satyrus Phil Bucato’s “The Lord’s Great Jest” recasts Trippetta in perhaps my favorite Poe tale of all time, “Hop-Frog,” to stunning effect. However, it’s difficult to resist Peter Dubé’s surreal (or hyper-real) “Corvidae,” Ray Cluley’s magnificently rendered “The Man Who Was,” Clare London’s marvelous “Telltale,” or Christopher Barzak’s take on William Wilson’s other half, “For the Applause of Shadows.” Shorter, but no less powerful, are Tansy Rayner Roberts’s “The Raven and Her Victory,” which sees a poet nicknamed the Raven enshrining her one lost love over and over in her work, and L.A. Fields’s “The House of the Resonate Heart,” which puts an even creepier layer over the already creepy “The Fall of the House of Usher.”

“Reading Poe,” the last of the three parts, contains stories and poems about Poe’s audience, with pieces both personal (Collin Kelley’s heartfelt “The Demon and the Dove” and “fellow Virginian” Jeff Mann’s poem “The Death of Beautiful Men”). The standouts for me here are Richard Bowes’s “Seven Days of Poe,” which finds a young queer boy working in a library, coming to terms with his sexuality as he reads Eddy, Alex Jeffers’s “A Portrait in India Ink by Harry Clark,” about two boys, an illustrator, a migraine, and a first sexual encounter, and John Mantooth’s outstanding “The Chicken Farmer and His
Boy,” a fascinating between-worlds glimpse of a boy’s coming out to his father.

But these are only my highlights of a volume I’m sure you will enjoy if you have the slightest interest in Poe. Where Thy Dark Eye Glances is a delicious book to be savored and ruminated over, much like the master himself.

©, 2013, Jerry Wheeler

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