Knowing Poe

By , csmonitor.com

The inventor of the detective story. A pioneer of science fiction. The father of the modern American short story. Oh, and that guy who wrote "The Raven." If your grasp of Edgar Allen Poe is limited to parroting the word "Nevermore," Knowing Poe can give you an impressive online introduction to one of America's great literary figures.

Created primarily for middle and high school classrooms by Maryland Public Television's LearningWorks, Knowing Poe offers a series of interactive presentations, each accompanied by a RealVideo introduction given by Poe himself (as played by actor John Astin). An opening animation sets the scene with references to two of the writer's best known works: "The Raven" and "The Telltale Heart," both familiar to the current generation largely thanks to "The Simpsons". It concludes by tossing a pair of documents onto a virtual writer's desk while making various other objects on said desk "active." (You'll need to have JavaScript on for the visit.)

The first document, "The Bells," nicely illustrates the site's interactive approach, as it demonstrates the advantages of hearing a poem as opposed to simply reading it. Visitors are invited to play various audio versions of the piece (male or female voice, with or without emotion) while manipulating such atmospheric variables as background music and sound effects.

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The second document leads to a second-person (yes, this means you) investigation into Poe's appropriately mysterious death. (Both these features can also be found within the main body of the site - and the other active objects on the desktop are also mirrored in the three main categories available through an index on the left of each page.)

Poe The Writer adds to "The Bells" interactive with the writer's own thoughts about The Poetic Principle, his interest in ciphers and cryptograms, and an experiment in changing the point of view of one of his short stories. Also included is an exhaustive annotated exploration of "The Raven," with a glossary, notes on technique, and interpretations of the work through history. Poe the Perfectionist investigates his rewriting process, using his poem "The Lake," with revised versions released two, and then eighteen years later.

Poe the Person complements the earlier investigation of the writer's death with some details about his life. These include virtual tours of a family residence and of his hometown of Baltimore during the early 19th century. (The latter also points out city landmarks that have survived to the present day.) A Timeline links Poe's life to literary milestones and local and American historical events.

In addition to a collection of his poems and short stories, The Poe Library offers letters, photographs, and such documents as the cadet's court-martial papers from West Point. His continuing impact on modern culture is also briefly explored - from the NFL's Baltimore Ravens to musical connections including Blues Traveler and Iron Maiden. Finally, after learning that Poe was much more than the author of "The Raven," visitors can still return to that best known work with a RealVideo version of the poem read in its entirety by John Astin. (Eventually, Talking About Poe will be activated as an online forum.)

This site may have been created for Maryland English students, but the material, like the author, has a much wider appeal, and while you certainly won't leave the site as a Poe scholar, you'll know more than you did coming in - and might even feel inclined to pick up a Poe or two on your future travels.

Knowing Poe can be found at http://knowingpoe.thinkport.org/.

Jim Regan is a graphics artist, writer, photographer, and humorist. He lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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