Picture Courtesy of CityLit Project

Picture Courtesy of CityLit Project

1. Name and Occupation
Executive Director, CityLit Project
Director of Marketing and Enrollment Development, Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA)

2. What was your first exposure to Edgar Allan Poe?
Honestly, it wasn’t even via literature.  It was the Vincent Price movies, no doubt broadcast on Ghost Host Theater on Channel 45 in Baltimore in the 1970s. Most notably, The Fall of the House of Usher and The Pit and the Pendulum. Imagining yourself strapped to that table as the blade lowers closer and closer to your stomach.

3. What is your favorite Poe piece?
The oft-referenced poems and short stories are great, of course, but I am partial to Berenice. A classic Gothic tale, and one — it could be argued — with bits drawn most directly from Poe’s own life. There’s the bookish Egaeus prone to fits of obsession and his beloved cousin (and fiance), the robust Berenice whose body is decaying from some unnamed illness. What’s so great about it, in my opinion, is that the gruesome removal of teeth from the still-alive Berenice by the mesmerized Egaeus happens off the page, leaving the reader’s imagination to create the real horror.

Try not to flinch from this ending:
“He {the servant} pointed to my garments — they were muddy and clotted with gore. I spoke not, and he took me gently by the hand — but it was indented with the impress of human nails. He directed my attention to some object against the wall — I looked at it for some minutes — it was a spade. With a shriek I bounded to the table, and grasped the ebony box that lay upon it. But I could not force it open, and in my tremor it slipped from out my hands, and fell heavily, and burst into pieces, and from it, with a rattling sound, there rolled out some instruments of dental surgery, intermingled with many white and glistening substances that were scattered to and fro about the floor.”
4. How has Poe influenced your outlook professionally?
Doing what I do in Baltimore — promoting literature and frequently the work of local authors — we cannot but be indebted to the legacy of Edgar Allan Poe, the writer and the person. Baltimore-based artists today from John Astin to Laura Lippman to Steve Parke draw direct lines to that legacy. And though venues from Boston to Richmond claim part of that legacy, Poe died in Baltimore and his remains, well, remain here so I think that trumps all. It makes Baltimore people’s true pilgrimage destination.

5. What is your favorite thing about visiting the Edgar Allan Poe House?
Besides that fantastic writer’s-lair of an attic that can only be viewed the way a meerkat pops out of its den, it is definitely meeting the other visitors. On a recent weekend, I met Latino bikers from Milwaukee in town for Maryland Deathfest. They were completely knowledgeable fans of Poe and his work, and not just riffing on the master-of-the-macabre reputation. How wild is that?

One Response to What Poe Means to Me: Gregg Wilhelm

  1. david eberhardt baltimore 4 says:

    a fine commentary by one of our “beloved” writers in b more- Poe’s obssesion with teeth strikes a chord, as they say- that few current writers will acknowledge- our poetry and prose is too academic- Poe wrote about deeper concerns as we, STILL, refuse
    and so we love him

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