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15. From the City of Frogpondians

Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) is one of the most famous Antebellum American authors.  Of course, his contemporary men of letters like Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-64) and his disciple Herman Melville (1819-91) deserve the name of the canons of world literature. And yet, unlike their works, which would be hard to decode without the knowledge of American cultural and intellectual history, Poe’s opus has consistently appealed to children, young adults and even professional readers. Highly readable, his works cannot help but attract a wider audience. Even in Japan, Poe might be well-known through Hirai Taro (1894-1965), the father of Japanese detective fiction, the five ideograms of whose pseudonym Edogawa Rampo (江戸川乱歩)were carefully selected to mimic the pronunciation of “Edgar Allan Poe,” decadently suggesting one “staggering drunkenly along the Edo River.”  

Despite the transnational framework, however, Poe’s poems and stories embrace within themselves a kind of deep structure that could not have been constructed without the American context, as I explained in Headmaster’s Voice #3 “The Short Happy Life of the Broadway Journal.” Thus, the more often you reread Poe’s texts, the more tangible they get.  

For instance, in order to understand his Southern aristocratic mentality it is indispensable to comprehend the extent to which Poe hated Boston, the center of the North American Universe, although the very city is the birthplace of the genius. He once stated as follows: 

The Bostonians are very well in their way. Their hotels are bad. Their pumpkin pies are delicious. Their poetry is not so good. Their Common is no common thing - and the duck pond might answer - if its answer could be heard for the frogs. (Poe, Broadway Journal, November 1, 1845). 

Mocking the Frog Pond in the Boston Common, Poe called the local swells “Frogpondians,” their moralistic and didactic works sounding like the croaking of so many frogs. Furthermore, he described the residents of the city having no soul: ““Bostonians are well bred ? as very dull persons very generally are.”

Now let us recall the "Longfellow War" of 1845, which took place exactly between 1842 and 1847. Poe waged war on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882), who was in those days an "American Institution." Poe had in fact time and again criticized Longfellow after reviewing the latter's first novel Hyperion (1839).  The point disputed in the war was that of plagiarism versus originality, one of Poe's favorite topics in his quest for the literary independence of America. However, the war turned more and more to Poe's disadvantage, particularly because some of Poe's accusations of plagiarism turned out to be completely unfounded.  

Therefore, the completion in 2014 of Stefanie Rocknak’s beautiful bronze statue of Poe near the Boston Common signals the new era of reconciliation between the city and the poet (for more detail, see Kathalyne O. Seelye’s New York Times article “Edgar Allan Poe's Feud with Boston? Nevermore”:https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/05/us/edgar-allan-poes-feud-with-boston-nevermore.html). Hence the 5th International Edgar Allan Poe Conference “Poe Takes Boston” held at Omni Parker House Hotel in Boston from April 7th through 10th, immediately before I settled in Purchase, New York.

Despite the hybrid system, thanks to past presidents of the Poe Association Richard Kopley, Paul Lewis and Amy Branam Armiento who made every effort to produce this conference, more than 150 attendants gather together in person to celebrate the birthplace of the great author who renovated and/or created literary subgenres we are familiar with today: gothic romance, science fiction and ratiocinative tales among others. We all enjoyed discussion at various panels, chatting at coffee breaks and Guest of Honor Marilynne Robinson’s special address at Friday banquet (April 9th: our table members include Mr. & Mrs. Ozawa and Ms. Maria Ishikawa, Ph.D. candidate at University of Massachusetts, Amherst). Yes, this conference is a great success.

Unlike the past international Poe conferences, this time I was involved with the program committee from the beginning. Thus, last year, at the request of Philip Edward Philips, current president of the Poe Association, I perused a bunch of proposals for panels and individual presentations. What is more, I delivered my original paper on Transnational Paranoid space “The Purloined Voice: Poe, de Man and Nixon” at the panel “Poe’s Detective Fiction” with Richard Kopley as moderator (9:00-10:15, April 8), and chaired a couple of exciting panels: “Poe and Illness” (10:45-noon, April 8) featuring Dean Casale’s “Poe, Violence, Perverseness and Betrayal Trauma” and Rene Van Slooten’s “Poe and Carbon Monoxide: From Cradle to Grave, “ and “Poe and the Senses” (10:45-noon, April 9) featuring Scott Peeples’ “Listening to the Maelstrom,” Barbara Cantalupo’s “When the Devil Takes Over: Illustrating Poe’s ‘The Devil in the Belfry’” and John Edward Martin’s “Of Semblance with reality: The Character of Poe in Comics.” Although some panelists are too lazy to e-mail me their PPTs beforehand, I have to admit that even these slackers’ presentations turned out to be so illuminating as to attract many professionals. 

Let me also note that at the Friday banquet my friend Emron Esplin, editor-in-chief of Poe Studies, received this year’s J. Lasley Dameron Award for his co-edited collection of articles Anthologizing Poe (Lehigh UP, 2020) to which I contributed a chapter on Japanese editions (see his photo with me and Harry Lee Poe!).

Thus, this conference reached a climax in the moment of group photo of past and current presidents of international Poe associations.