Talia Pura talks about Edgar Allan Poe during the October 19 meeting of the Rotary Club of Los Alamos. Photo by Linda Hull
BY LINDA HULL
Rotary Club of Los Alamos
“Dark and brooding,” began Santa Fe actor and author Talia Pura as she described Edgar Allan Poe, regaling Rotarians at their October 19 meeting with tales of the poet, author, and literary critic considered by many to be “the first professional American writer and the founder of the short story form.” He is also credited with developing detective fiction.
During his short life, 1809-1849, Poe was described first, as Pura said, as a “precocious child and excitable.” Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Poe, whose mother and father were both actors, was an orphan by the age of three. He was taken in by wealthy foster parents, John and Frances Allan, who cared for, but never adopted, him.
At the age of 17, Poe was accepted into the University of Virginia (UVA) where “guns, drinking, and gambling” took priority over his studies. Unable to support himself, “he resorted to burning furniture for firewood” when foster father Allan refused to pay his considerable debts. As a consequence of his restless and unpredictable behavior, Poe did not receive a degree from UVA.
On a whim, saying he was 22 years old when he was, in fact, merely 18, Poe enlisted in the U.S. Army with a five-year commitment to the First Regiment of Artillery. After serving in Massachusetts, South Carolina, and Virginia, he earned the Regiment’s highest rank, Sergeant Major of Artillery. Abruptly, though, Poe left the Regiment and sought appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. This would be the last time John Allan interceded on Poe’s behalf, using his own personal wealth and political influence to secure the appointment for him.
Poe saw his popularity rise among his classmates as he wrote frequent satire about his experiences and his military superiors and professors. Although he “liked an audience, he was at heart a loner,” commented Pura. When Poe intentionally provoked his own court martial and was expelled from West Point, he was also written out of his foster father’s will.
Adulthood found Poe “melancholy,” but bolstered by a “healthy ego.” Over time, his stories were recognized, especially after receiving an award in 1833 for a story published in a Baltimore newspaper. After being introduced by a prominent resident of the city to the editor of Southern Literary Messenger magazine, Poe was hired as an assistant editor and over several years continued to hone his skills at other magazines as an author, poet, and literary critic.
Pura continued that Poe was strongly influenced by the social trends of the times: “Darwinism, French symbolism, and mesmerism,” a practice that produced an “alternate, trance-like state of mind.” As the fear of being buried alive haunted the popular psyche in the first part of the 19th century, Poe “carefully calculated the effects his writing would have on his readers.”
During his lifetime, Poe loved many women—and lost them. Among them were his mother, Eliza Poe; his foster mother, Frances Allan; a friend’s mother, Jane Stanard; and his young wife, Virginia Clemm Poe, the 13-year old cousin he married when 27. These deaths were crushing losses, inspiring Poe to align Death with Beauty, writing, “The death of a beautiful woman is unquestionably the most poetical topic in the world.” Childhood friend and fiancée Elmira Royster outlived Poe, but broke his heart when she married another man.
Poe died under mysterious circumstances in early October 1849. He was found delirious in Ryan’s Tavern in Baltimore wearing another man’s clothes. It is commonly held that he died from binge-drinking, having struggled with alcoholism much of his life. In fact, Poe was described by one friend as “a fine gentleman when he is sober,” suggesting that he often turned to drink. Others speculate that, instead of the character which is still pervasive today, he was mugged or suffered from any number of other diseases of the body and mind. Some even speculate he had rabies. Today there is still no conclusive cause of his death.
Among Poe’s most famous works are the poems “The Raven”, “Annabel Lee”, and “A Dream Within A Dream”; and the stories “The Fall of the House of Usher”, “Murders in the Rue Morgue”, “The Black Cat”, “The Purloined Letter”, “The Tell-Tale Heart”, and “The Premature Burial”.
In closing, Pura advised Rotarians not to read Poe’s macabre writing “when you are home alone on a dark night.” And, please don’t answer should someone come rapping at your chamber door!
Talia Pura is a Santa Fe based stage and film writer, actor, director, designer and producer. Her plays, films and aerial dance performances have been seen around the world. Her theatre company, Blue Raven Theatre, is focused on producing comedies and dramas by and about women. Productions have included annual festivals of new plays by female playwrights called Fearless Female Voices. Pura organizes the annual Theatre Walk Santa Fe with Theatre Santa Fe, where she serves as president of the board. Another passion is sharing her brand of devised theatre, which she has done internationally for many years. Pura enjoys encouraging other local playwrights as the New Mexican ambassador for the Dramatists Guild. She also serves on the local board of SAG-AFTRA, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Pura has published numerous plays, two drama-teaching resource books, and a picture book, Alexia Wants To Fly. She has also co-written, with Joyce Storey, two books of monologues for actors. Pura holds a BA and BEd in Theatre Arts and an MA in Creative Writing. Pura and her artist husband, Bill, are busy raising their three-year-old grandson, Oliver. To learn more about Talia Pura and her many talents, please go to https://www.taliapura.com/
The Rotary Club of Los Alamos meets in person Tuesdays, 12:00-1:00, in the Community Room, Cottonwood on the Greens, at the golf course. A Zoom option is available by contacting Linda Hull, Rotary Club vice-president, 505-662-7950. Hull is also happy to provide information about the Club and its humanitarian service.