Abstracts for Week Eleven
When asked about “the influence of blues and minstrel shows on The Dream Songs” in an interview for the Harvard Advocate in 1969, Berryman responded: “Heavy. I have been interested in the language of the blues and Negro dialects all my life, always been” (qtd. in Plotz, 8). Taking its cue from Berryman, this paper traces the impact of the blues upon his work, and focussing particularly on allusion to artists such as Bessie Smith and Victoria Spivey as well as his deployment of a blues idiom, explores the ways in which Berryman reveals his capabilities as a listener of the blues.
Like most other writers of the blues, Berryman exploits the tradition to express feelings of loneliness and oppression as well as concerns over money and alcoholism. These issues were particularly close to the poet’s mind during 1962, the year in which he wrote his most blues-heavy lyrics. Indeed the blues becomes a particularly apt mode of expression for Berryman, who wished to “keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in [his] aching consciousness, to finger its jagged grain, and to transcend it” (Ellison, 79). With recourse to writers such as Langston Hughes, Ralph Ellison and Amiri Baraka (as well as various well-known blues lyrics) I hope to posit some correspondences between Berryman’s Songs and other significant blues works. Finally, I will consider how Berryman’s adoption of a blues idiom – an African American dialect – allows him to inhabit what he regarded as a position of powerful alterity.
“STOP THE PRESSES: BAT-WOMEN ON THE MOON!”: Edgar Allan Poe, Richard Adams Locke’s ‘Lunar Hoax’, and 19th Century American Literary Showmanship.
While he remains most famous for his ‘gothic’ tales of terror and his early detective stories, Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) also wrote frequently and fascinatingly on the subject of science. Three of his longest fictions, ‘The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfall’ (1835), ‘The Balloon Hoax’ (1844) and his only novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838), are imaginary voyage tales which imaginatively speculate about the unfolding project of 19th Century exploration. However, as with so much of his work Poe’s scientific writings are marked by an overwhelming tendency to blur fact and fiction and to hoax their readers.
This paper shall assess this aspect of Poe’s work by focusing on the impact of one of the most significant print sensations of his day: Richard Adams Locke’s ‘Moon Hoax’. Locke’s hoax successfully convinced a generation of American newspaper readers that living beings had been observed on the lunar surface, and for Poe it served as a test of public credulity. However, Poe claimed that Locke’s hoax had stolen its basic premise from his ‘Hans Pfall.’ Aggrieved, he sought to replicate Locke’s success in further hoaxing works of his own. This paper shall connect both Poe and Locke’s hoaxes to the tradition of hoaxing in 19th Century American literature. It shall also explore the quality of literary showmanship which Poe made his own and reveal the close links between this and the practices of the other great American showman of the era, P.T. Barnum.