Making Poe & Poetry Accessible

Why is poetry so obscure? Why do high school students shy away from Edgar Allan Poe?

Courtesy of Dodd, Mead and Co, NY 1898 (link)

This annotated edition, intended to work as an English-language poetry anthology textbook, will help make the study of poetry more accessible to high school students. The edition as a whole would be structured somewhat like a Norton critical edition, but specifically tailored towards high school students who may be less familiar with poetic forms. Ordered more or less chronologically, the textbook would be structured by indicating movements or shifts in the history of the poetic line (i.e. the Romantic poets, the metaphysical poets). Each section would begin with a brief introduction to the movement and cluster of authors associated with that movement, or individual authors themselves.

Because Poe is such a unique poet that fuses together multiple traditions (i.e. the gothic, the ballad) especially considering his time period, there would be separate section dedicated to his works in the edition. After beginning with a brief introduction to his life, works, and literary career, there would be his collection of essays on poetic theory and composition, followed by specific poems.

Poe’s “Letter to B,” one of his early essays on poetic theory and composition would start off the section, followed by “The Philosophy of Composition”. His “Letter to B” was initially included as a preface to his collection of Poems published in 1831. For my annotation, I selected the re-published version of the text in the July 1836 issue of the Southern Literary Messenger.


This version of the text includes an editor’s note at the beginning of the essay, which is most likely to have been written by Poe himself, as he was an editor for the magazine from December 1835 to January 1837. The second print version is slightly edited from the first version, though not heavily, to improve clarity of language and Poe’s thoughts on poetic theory. The opening of his letter, included in the first print, is also edited out from the second print version. This portion seemed unnecessary for my edition, since although it may have closely replicated the letter as Poe sent it, there was no additional content that narrowed in on the crucial thoughts Poe had on poetry and did not add to the overarching purpose my annotated edition works to serve.

This textbook is intended to be widely circulated among high school English classes, and therefore the edition will be economical and have a relatively low production cost. The print version of this annotated edition will have A5-sized pages (half of a full letter size page). There are also no extraneous images reproduced inside the textbook.

In order to serve its purpose of facilitating the study of poetry for high school students, most of the annotations for the “Letter to B” expound on the numerous poetic theories that Poe himself uses, and critiques, to build the foundation of his own argument. In addition to translations and definitions of certain obscure words and phrases, the annotations focus on unpacking the poetic terminology, literary references and allusions contained in Poe’s essay. I also included references to other sections of the textbook where there would be more information on the topic (i.e. “See pg.x for more information on metaphysical poets”).

With the text on the right hand side of the page, and the headnote and annotations on the left side of the page, the main goal of the presentation is ease of use. As students read the text, they will also hopefully be able to find a list of annotations and terminology to elucidate the process of reading poetry and criticism that is sometimes obscure at first glance. The original footnotes included by Poe himself will be at the bottom of the page on the right hand side, as part of the text itself.

I hope that this annotated edition will facilitate and improve the experience of high school English classes and the way that poetry is taught to students by making the material more accessible to them, particularly at the level of language. I imagine the section on Poe to be distinct because the innovations he made to the poetic line and his conceptions of poetry were remarkably unique. By making this material more accessible to high school students, I would hope that this edition adds to his legacy. Furthermore, I hope that this edition works to increase Poe’s legacy as an innovator of poetic theory, composition, and style in addition to the image of him as a gothic writer, already so embedded in popular imagination.

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