Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809 in Boston. He was born just blocks from the Common, where Poe Square sits (aptly on the same block as Emerson College and Grub Street, both home to strong writing programs), inaugurated in 2012. He published his first book, entitled Tamerlane and Other Poems, at a publishing house on Washington Street. “The Tell-Tale Heart” was published here, as were some of his last poems. Yet Poe is most known for being associated with Baltimore and Philadelphia. Why?
Because Poe hated Boston.
Paul Lewis, an English professor at Boston College and the chair of the Edgar Allan Poe Foundation of Boston, writes in his Boston Globe article “Quoth the Detective”:
Where others saw a “flowering of the New England mind,” however, Poe saw something else: “the heresy of the didactic.” From 1845 on, he called our writers “Frogpondians,” perhaps because he regarded them as so many croakers who used literature not to delight and move readers, but to argue and preach—as well as to enrich one another.
In his 1845 essay “American Poetry,” Poe railed against “the machinations of coteries in Boston” that had been conspiring with “leading booksellers” and publishers to provide newspaper editors with positive reviews of local writers. Adding charges to his indictment, Poe called this conspiracy both “blackmail” and a “system of petty and contemptible bribery.” In another review written around the same time, he characterized Boston’s literary elite as a “knot of rogues and madmen.”
Ok, so Poe had some things to say about Boston writers, and got very specific in his leveraged accusations (sorry, Mr. Hawthorne and Mr. Emerson). But those of us here in Boston won’t forget what the poet’s true roots were. Edgar Allan Poe Square was officially named in 2012, and according to Boston.com, “The Edgar Allan Poe Foundation of Boston announced Monday that a life-size statue depicting Poe striding through Boston--trunk in hand, a raven at his side, a heart and papers trailing behind him--has been chosen to stand in Edgar Allan Poe Square, a tree-lined, brick plaza at the intersection of Boylston Street and Charles Street South, two blocks north of where Poe was born in 1809.” The statue is built, and is beautiful, if you haven't seen it yet.
So, like some ironic plot of a Poe short story, the city that the poet shunned still haunts him like a raven perching on the bust of Pallas just above his chamber door.