On the whole, Baltimoreans identify with Edgar Allan Poe, often quite deeply. (See: local mascots, monuments, craft beer, and even The Wire.) While Baltimore’s Poe-loving community might appreciate the author’s popular titles and general mystique, many locals don’t often engage with Poe’s lesser-known works.
This is the impetus behind “DREAMS,” a zine containing three annotated poems that remain largely unexplored by casual readers. The zine is strategically designed to target a specific subset of Baltimore’s population, namely the artistically minded young (or young-ish) Baltimorean—of the sect that treasures John Waters, mentions weekly that Tupac went to BSA (Baltimore School for the Arts, for the uninitiated), hangs around Station North (an arts district), and even produces zines. Although Poe-aware poets, artists, and art-lovers comprise this group, they likely do not own many editions of Poe’s work, if any at all, given these readers’ proclivity for newer, hipper (and cheaper) publications.
The zine format is one familiar to the audience; this type of publication typically pops up in DIY scenes, commonly associated with Baltimore. They are inexpensive to produce and purchase, and they offer a new sort of Poe product—a personal, limited edition, pocket-sized version of Poe’s work at a low cost (about $5–10). The zine’s theme—dreams—also suits the young, art-centric crowd, which has a newfound interest in astrology and dream theory. (See: astrological sign-themed monthly dance parties at the Crown, for example.)
Dream-like works by Baltimore artists serve as the poems’ backdrop—not intended to provide additional information or to detract from the text, but to set the mood and appeal to Baltimoreans familiar with the works. Overall, the design is classically “zine”—cluttered, cut-and-pasted, yet strategically organized to share information with a small circle about a topic of mutual interest.
Because it is annotated, the publication, has a bit of an academic twist. But the annotations are kept relevant; scattered throughout are references to Baltimore as well as information about other works of Poe’s. As the audience is literarily inclined but might not know every in and out of Poe’s oeuvre, the annotations use the common thread of “dream” to guide readers toward unfamiliar works. Furthermore, they provide a wealth of statements from Poe regarding dreams, written over a period of several decades.
A reader who has considerable knowledge of literature might be interested in examining the relationships among Poe’s statements and wider body of work, as well as their links to the poems presented in the zine. This allows the reader to compare, contrast, and synthesize the texts, critically engaging each statement regarding dream in attempts to better understand Poe’s relationship with the subject. However, other readers might be more interested in learning of new works by, or facts about, a local cultural icon. Therefore, the annotations are intended to guide the reader toward making these connections and analyses herself, if she so choses.
In the zine’s introduction, they are presented to the reader as follows:
The zine is scattered with annotations that provide “fun facts,” if you will. They should (hopefully) add to your understanding of the pieces, or, if nothing else, give you incredibly trivial things to say during unwanted conversations with bartenders, your friend’s goth boyfriend, or that former co-worker you keep running into at the Crown. Enjoy.
Thus, though it is packed with Poe-related tidbits, the publication remains approachable and visually striking.
Furthermore, the zine centers around pieces from Poe’s earlier years; each poem was composed (or had begun to be composed, in one case) in 1827, when Poe was still an angst-ridden teen trying to find his footing. The zine, because it focuses specifically on poems from this time in his life, will present a very specific Poe—an eighteen-year-old grappling with the disappointment of reality and the meaning of truth, amidst family strife and money troubles. These themes will resonate with the readers, providing a vision of a Poe who is troubled with common and relatable worries, rather than with madness, alcoholism, and an obsession with the macabre (how Poe is usually seen).
Because of its small circulation, the impact of the zine on Poe’s legacy might not be far-reaching, but it has the potential to significantly influence the perception of Poe to those who consider him integral to Baltimore’s identity and self-understanding, as well as their own.