“[D]iscover a convergence of wonder and terror, romance and horror within its pages.” This is the introduction and invitation offered by Sara Crocoll Smith, publisher and editor-in-chief of Love Letters to Poe. In its first issue, the new gothic fiction magazine brings six short pieces together, each inspired by the life and works of Edgar Allan Poe in their own way. Launching this October, Volume 1, Issue 1 will make a fine addition to the autumnal reading lists of Poe-adoring gloomsters, spooky nerds, and seasonal readers alike.
I was lucky enough to be allowed a long sneak peek – from cover to cover and back again – before general publication next month. Today I am going to discuss Love Letters to Poe: Volume 1, Issue 1 without directly mentioning plot points, because you deserve to indulge, unspoilt, in just a few days time! Be warned though, I allude to events and make comparisons to Poe’s body of work that may be deemed ‘spoilery’ by the truly puritanical.
The first issue begins with a toast – a letter from the editor – in which Smith expresses her intentions. They are twofold: to send metaphorical love letters through history to the Gothic’s American Granddad, and to create community. Smith has, however, “been delighted to discover [that] a thriving community [of people who share a passion for gothic fiction*] exists”. As an established spooky nerd on the internet I, for one, am glad to have been found! If you don’t know my origin story, in short, it began with Poe.
(*Guys, that’s us – she found us!)
In Love Letters, the presence of Poe is palpable from the first; his tell-tale heart beats steadily throughout the collected writing. Jeremy Megaree kicks things off with ‘The Rowhouse’, which reads as a visceral tour of Baltimore. Poe is established as haunting place; the scene is set and it is indulgently Gothic.
Opening with lines of luxurious French, Charles Baudelaire, decadent poet and translator of Poe, introduces the next piece: ‘The Song of Helaine’ by J. L. Royce. The tone set in ‘The Rowhouse’ is expanded through the themes of this short story. ‘The Song of Helaine’ is sung, I think, to ‘Morella’. Royce replicates the fractured and exclamatory cadence of Poe with dashes and exclamation marks punctuating the passionate narrator’s account. Disease is explored deliciously. I think of the Red Death ‘unmasqued’, and find Royce’s characterisation to be equally unsettling and unfamiliar.
Eleanor Sciolistein’s ‘The Heart of Alderman Kane’ draws us further in upon ourselves. We are invited to consider our own darkness – the shadows that we consist of – as the narrative devolves, dreadfully, into an existential exploration. With distant echoes of ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, and the heart — ‘The Tell-Tale Heart — reality slips away…
At the midway point we are cast to sea. Memories of Poe’s Baltimore and its familiar, urban gloomth rapidly fade away. Taking its name from the opening stanza of ‘Annabel Lee‘, Troy Seate rejects the lilting, rhythmic tone of Poe’s poem; ‘Kingdom by the Sea’ is a tidal wave of terror in prose. Love – lost, found, unrequited, and abandoned – appears often in the work of Poe. It is similarly frequent throughout the Love Letters. ‘Kingdom by the Sea’ offers a lesser explored romantic angle, akin to ‘The Black Cat.’
The penultimate tale transports us to the classical Gothic setting. In ‘Thief of Eternal Delights’, Renee Cronley constructs a decadent castle populated by “[g]rotesque shadows” and “[t]he scent of decay”; it is opulent and oppressive with whispers of ‘Usher‘, ‘Morella’, and ‘The Masque of the Red Death‘.
The final narrative is filled with autumnal atmosphere, and a love-interest named, surely, for Annabel Lee. Emotional and passionate, Melanie Cossey’s narrator is “a mere outline of a once-rich painting”. His is an unexpected journey which, whilst tonally Poe, exists in the long, rich shadow of Washington Irving’s ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.’
Populated by romance, hearts, corpses, tombs, madness, gloom, lovers lost and lovers returned, this collection truly is a love letter to Poe. The inaugural issue of Love Letters to Poe sets a strong tone, sticking close to its muse. A solid addition to spooky season reading lists, I would recommend reading this – as I now approach all short story collections – sporadically, out of sequence, over time, and repeatedly. To receive Volume 1, Issue 1, for free in your inbox upon release, sign up here. And, when you’re done, be sure to let me know what you think of it!
Continue reading with my own Ode to Poe: Head Full of Horrors,
Duality: ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’, and
Identifying the Gothic: The Seven Gothic Signs.
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