Sunday, December 9, 2012

Edgar Allan Poe, and Other Things We Don't Know

It would probably come to a surprise, to some, the great classics we've never actually read. Most people make it through high school English having read the works of those such as Bronte, Faulkner, Shakespeare, Longfellow, Hemingway, and so many more. We skipped eleventh and twelfth grade English, and by the time we finally made it to University English, well, you're supposed to be familiar with those works already. About two years ago we finally got around to dipping out toes into Emily Dickinson.

We revere the writers though. You don't have to be overly familiar with their works to appreciate the contribution to the world of reading, writing and education (and even film and art) they have made. It's just more to add to the list of things we don't know. The older we get the less we know; and the older one gets the more there is to know.

Last night we watched The Raven, a 2012 film, staring John Cusack, based on the writings of the poet, author and literary critic of the 1800's, Edgar Allan Poe. (We highly recommend watching it, if you like disturbing and bloody imagery.)

We became ashamed to have never picked up a single work by Poe. Barely familiar with his work in even a general sense, we were astounded to find the themes of his work to be so...relatable. Exciting. Intoxicating. Dark and twisted. Our perfect cup of tea, as it were.

I began to regret the path we took in high school, opting for secondary technical (college) courses in Technical Writing, in lieu of eleven and twelve grade English. At the time, having no drive or encouragement to apply to University, we figured it would be more useful than, say, reading Shakespeare. Technical writing taught us writing skills for trade work, like technical handbook writing skills, how to put forth an idea/instructions/plans in writing as concisely as possible, and résumé writing. Who needed to read Shakespeare anyway? We were top readers, had read reams and reams of books by the time we got to high school. If the plan for High School English was to make a person better at reading and comprehension then we had that down. Five years of private Christian school, sitting in a cubical desk all day reading through PACE (Accelerated Christian Education) booklets (60 PACES a year, for 5 years, at a 35 pages per booklet average) in a "self-instructional" education environment, forced one to be good at reading and comprehension. We got so good we'd finish out our year PACES weeks before the other kids, and have nothing to occupy our time with, except for moving on to the next grades PACES.

So, yeah, reading and comprehension, we had that down. Writing? We had that down, we'd been writing poetry since before we were 12 years old, and by high school we were writing dark odes. Ask us where Florida was when we entered the 6th grade public school system, forget it; ask us 5th grade maths questions, forget it. Knowledge of 5th grade history and science? How to take notes, study, and read a chalk board? What? Those were all things we struggled to catch up on. Things we didn't know.

Put us in a bible sword drill*, though, and we'd wipe the floor with you.

So, we never read the greats, we were reminded last night as we watched a man being sliced through his midsection in stages, with a giant pendulum, a huge sharp blade attached to the end, in a recreation of Poe's The Pit and The Pendulum; but the twinge of regret disappeared. There are things we don't know, that we probably should, as someone who writes, enjoys reading, and cherishes learning, but it will always be the case.

Not having read so many of the literary greats, does that make our writing less legitimate or authentic, in a world where you're not really a writer unless you have an English degree to back it up, and/or have been published? Maybe. We rationalize that this also made our writing, and some day the things we hope to write, more pure, in a slight way. Inspiration coming from within, and influence from our own life, our own experiences, our own dark recesses. So then we began to feel fortunate.

There is plenty of time to read the greats. We have started over the years, and we will read them all someday; and someday we will know more.

~ Frankie (et al)

[*A Bible sword drill is common of group religious exercises, such as during Sunday bible classes before actual church sermon started, where the teach has you place your book spine down on the table, thumbs poised at the pages and calls out a book of the Bible, chapter and verse. Whoever gets to it and starts reading it first, wins. There was usually a sticker or piece of candy to award the winner]

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