Fear in Writing: Art and the Muse of Travel

Today in Literary History

Today in Literary History...December 14, 1907: Rudyard Kipling receives the Nobel prize for literature, the first English-language writer to do so.ud

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Art and the Muse of Travel

What better way to get the writing juices flowing than to take a trip? Add into that trip a stop at the Edgar Allan Poe House, a few hours in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (featuring an exhibit by Arshile Gorky), and plenty of time wandering the boutiques in Old City and it's a wonder I made it home before tackling my keyboard.
I wish I could write of every nuance, every type of architecture, every accent overheard, everything that made my mother, sister & I giggle. I wish I could wrap Poe's anguish, Gorky's depression, and the city's triumph into one twisted mystery. I wish I could sit in a picture window writing as I look out over the bustling "Filth-adelphia." For all its dirt, it is beautiful.

But I am home and my fingers can't seem to get the words out that I have in my head. The history is colliding with the meaning. And I am saying nothing. So I'll break it down.

Edgar A. Poe House. He barely lived a year in the house and the city makes no pretense that it meant more to him than that. Instead of filling the rooms with furniture of the period, they have stripped even the paint and wall-coverings away, leaving pitted cement and patched ceilings. It is a cold house that is small enough to give the idea of comfort. In the basement is the setting for Poe's tale The Black Cat. The crumbling chimney and central stair beckon the imagination and send chills up the spine. Information cards like "this is where Poe worked" and "this is where Virginia slept because of the tuberculosis" bring humanity to the barren walls. It is a house. But it is Poe's house. It is sad as Poe was sad.

Arshile Gorky. An Armenian immigrant who lost his mother to genocide, the painter struggled to find himself in his art for nearly thirty years. But he created masterpieces that crossed genres - from surrealism to abstract expressionism. He believed his paintings were never finished, just set aside for a while. He killed himself in 1948. Gorky's work was fantastical, violent, even sexual, and sometimes subdued and very personal.
Philadelphia. This one I can't even pretend to tackle in one post. The city is of course Independence Hall and Betsy Ross, Benjamin Franklin and the Liberty Bell. But it is also a city of numerous boutiques, fabulous independent restaurants, outdoor markets and the great Reading Market (pronounced "red-ing"). It is a city of young people, gay people, straight people, Italians, blue collar, right wingers, Marxists, and tech startups. It's a city. And it has beautiful architecture.


  1. "The Black Cat" was one of Poe's spookiest (and, maybe, grossest!) That's so cool that you went there! I'll have to get up there some day.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  2. I didn't expect much from the Poe house, but I wanted to pay homage. But the parks guide working there was VERY into his job. He quoted Poe's poetry and prose and gave a magnifcent tour, replete with literary comment and criticism. I was impressed.

    I'm halfway through "Pretty Is As Pretty Does." I love Myrtle! Better get to bed so I get some reading time tonight!