Because Edgar Allan Poe’s poems and short stories pervade pop culture and are taught in middle school they are considered by some to be among the lower rungs of the literary canon. That’s a shame. He was the first major American writer to attempt to make a living at writing, and he invented the detective story genre. Some of my favorite writers and thinkers dismissed Edgar Allan Poe. Yeats and Huxley both reportedly called him “vulgar” and upon reading “The Raven” Emerson said, “I see nothing in it.” But Arthur Conan Doyle got him. He said, “Each [of Poe’s detective stories] is a root from which a whole literature has developed….Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?” Poe originated the detective genre in his short story “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” with the character C. Auguste Dupin who solved crimes in Paris before the word “detective” had been coined.

 Edgar Allan Poe invented some of the major characteristics we know and love in mysteries today—the bumbling police sergeant representing the by-the-book authority figure as opposed to the creative, eccentric but analytically brilliant detective, the first-person narrative by a friend (Watson to Holmes), and the gathering of the suspects together to announce the identity of the murderer that we love so much when Poirot calls everyone to the drawing room.

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I don’t advocate marrying one’s 13 year old cousin, but I have been deeply moved by Poe’s love poems to his wife Virginia, especially one written after her death, probably his most famous poem, Annabel Lee. I read this poem for the first time when I was a young romantic pre-teen. In fact, my mother brought me to visit Poe’s Cottage in the Bronx for my twelfth birthday.

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At that age the over-the-top portrayal of his love for her (“But we loved with a love that was more than love”) thrilled me. The idea that he missed her so deeply that “And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side/ Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,/ In her sepulchre there by the sea—/ In her tomb by the sounding sea.” Was her tomb really next to the sea? Did he really go and lie down next to it at night? Whether he did or not, this stirred my imagination, they were like Romeo and Juliet. Then, it seemed sweet and romantic, but in my youth I didn’t fully comprehend his suffering. As an adult I do, and I am slightly embarrassed by his angst displayed so openly. But I still love the poem.

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I saw the Annabel Lee original manuscript on display when my family visited the Edgar Allen Poe exhibit at the Morgan Library in New York a few months ago.

 As we stood before it, I tormented my teenage son by reading it aloud to him (I knew most of it from memory). Embarrassed, he eyed a man standing next to us within earshot. The man saw what was going on and said, to our surprise and my delight, “My mother used to recite that poem to me all the time when I was young. I loved it.”

In one of the displays at the Morgan I saw a sample of Poe’s signature. I had never examined it closely before, but this time I noticed the circular curls in the way he wrote the letter “E” and rejoiced at the realization that Peter Lo Ricco, who designed the cover for Cinnamon Girl, my mystery novel, unwittingly channeled Poe in his choice of font. I think we’ll keep that font for the Annabel Publishing logo. Yes, the company was named after the poem. And after a beloved cat who was named after the poem.

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