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When questioned on Poe, most laymen speak solely of bells, ravens, opium, and alleyways. The lettered consider all his poesy and his narrative. Some even teach his criticism. But, in all honesty, we have to face facts. Far too many, in both camps, allow the shrouds of time and ancient speculation to blur reality. It's a shame, really, the way one of America's greatest writers has been reduced to a drug legend.
Rant mode off. That's not why we're here.
See, back in 1849 there was this week where Poe sort of…disappeared. On September 27th he boarded a boat for Baltimore. On October 3rd - he was found zoned out in a public house. He was transferred to Washington College Hospital, where he passed away four days later. He never fully regained consciousness while in medical care.
Gone for one week. One week? Hardly something to get up in arms about. Especially for a widower with a taste for liquor (that one's not a rumor). Still, that week has garnered more attention, more dissertations, and more conjecture than even Paul McCartney's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Heart's Club Band disappearance.
This is where Trey steps in. He gives us back that one, lost week. And that's it, really. VEIL OF THE SOUL is just a week in the life of E. A. Poe. But it's that last week. That vastly-rumored lost week.
While being familiar with the background made me appreciate this chappy all the more, it wasn't necessary. The story stands alone. It starts with Poe, in a hospital bed, hallucinating about dead women. Not dead women in general, but very particular dead women. Women important in his life. Poe sings to them.
Over the space of 50+ pages, Barker slips you in and out of Poe's mind, his song, and his history. He steps through his life and all his loves. He tests the rhythm of a poetical dirge. His mother is there, Eliza. Starting with her, you see how women influenced Poe positively and men negatively. That should assist you in uncovering the roots of his poetry. That all of these important women, Eliza, Mrs. Allan, Virginia, et al, died with Poe still lost in the folds of their attentions - does that speak to his fascination with death? With loss?
Lucidity, and its absence, is a tool that the gifted Barker works well. He shifts us from the hospital bed to a past memory, then to another past memory, then back to the bed. It works, informing and disturbing the reader as the narrator loses himself between history and consciousness. All in all, the most sympathetic and authentic treatment of Poe's final days I've ever read. And I've read a few.
Some words on the package. First off, it's a small press chapbook. Bubblejet print on a cardstock cover and SOP copy paper inside. Stapled. The cover art, a gothic, deep south silhouette by Mary Bullock, is stunning. I think, perhaps, that it portrays the flavor of Poe's "Lenore" or, maybe, "Bridal Ballad." The text editing is something to brag about, considering the generally deplorable text editing in many small press operations these days. The chappy, as a whole, is easily worth the $6.00 cover charge.
So give it four BookWyrms, Eddie, before I start reciting "The Bells" at you and stick it in your head forever.
(FeoNote: Too late, Mikey. THE BELLS have been in my head forever. I even did a techno-rap song about it when I was younger. Pretty catchy too! It was a two sided 45 that I saved up to make. The other side was a techno-rap of THE RAVEN. Hey! I know I was young, but Edgar would have wanted it that way!)
This review copyright 2002 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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