edgar allan poe

“The Cooping Theory” Brings Us to Poe’s Old Haunts


It’s near impossible to read any of Edgar Allan Poe’s works without connecting their dark, unnerving despair with that of his own life. Orphaned at an early age, Poe’s adulthood was characterized by debt, failure, and the deaths of those closest to him, including his wife Virginia. Two years after Virginia’s death, Poe was found delirious and incoherent in the streets of Baltimore, wearing clothes that were not his own. He passed away a few days later. His death has been shrouded in gothic mystery and controversy, and the eerie circumstances surrounding it are reminiscent of those in his writings.

This is the launching point of Poseidon Theatre Company’s new immersive work, The Cooping Theory: Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe? The year is 1949, a century after Poe’s death. Audience members are invited down to the speakeasy cellar of St. Mazie Bar and Supper Club in Brooklyn for a meeting of the Poe Society. During the hour-long dinner service (which was very tasty), the society’s three members introduce themselves to you. There’s Virginia (Caroline Banks), a scholar named after Poe’s wife. John (Jeffrey Robbs) is a psychologist financing the society and James (Gordon Palagi) is a skeptic whose opinions often get ignored.

Here’s largely where the immersive nature of the production comes into play. More Great Comet than Sleep No More, the actors interact with you and around you while you are seated, though they may pull you aside for a brief chat in the hallway. They also might give you an incensed stick to burn to purify the area. I’ve wondered in the past about what actually constitutes as ‘immersive,’ but PTC’s definition vividly appeals to all the senses.

Gordon Palagi in “The Cooping Theory.” Photo by Johannes Oberman

The society has invited a medium (Dara Kramer) to call upon Poe’s ghost to solve the mystery of his death once and for all. The title refers to the society’s best working theory: a 19th century practice known as ‘cooping’ in which political gangs kidnapped strangers and forced them to vote multiple times at different stations under different aliases, often in disguise. The victims were often drugged and beaten if they did not comply.


The medium is successful at contacting Poe, but with complications, as supernatural events are wont to have. But what follows doesn’t ever manage to raise the stakes for any drama to unfold. At its best, The Cooping Theory is an homage to Poe’s writing and a meditation on the grief mirrored in his life and his works. There are beautiful recitations from “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee,” among others. But the story never develops fully to make us invested in the society’s mission. Their plot feels doomed from the start.


That the production does do well is setting a melancholic, though inviting atmosphere for us to relive Poe’s desperate final years. This is in large part due to the music and sound design by Conor Heffernan and Manuel “Cj” Pelayo. This is a gratifying part of the immersion of the play. Their lush, surrounding sounds helped move the events of the play forward. St. Mazie itself also works wonders in setting the feel of the play. The actors note that Poe himself passed through the one-time speakeasy, and it certainly feels it. The long, gloomy, candlelit corridor stretching back to the entrance makes a perfectly spooky entry point for the seance’s host.


The Cooping Theory: Who Killed Edgar Allan Poe? is directed by Aaron Salazar and written by Nate Suggs and Samantha Lacey-Johnson. It plays at St. Mazie Bar and Supper Club. Tickets here.

Poems To Read Based on Your Favorite Musical

We’re winding down Poetry Month with recommendations specially tailored for you based on your favorite musical. You’re welcome.



  • Every song in Matilda is a wordsmith’s dream, full of puns and linguistic play. ee cummings is one of the most playful poets out there, working with format, syntax, and suggestion to create provocative and delightful pieces. Here’s Tom Hiddleston reading “May I Feel Said He.”
  • Harryette Mullen is another master wordsmith who explores the resonances and connotations of words in pop culture and politics. See “Elliptical” from her appropriately named book, “Sleeping with the Dictionary.”


Passing Strange

  • James Baldwin would definitely identify with the young protagonist’s quest to live in a country that reflects his principles, and his struggle to stay true to himself. Baldwin explores the intersections of race, religion, and sexuality in his poems, essays, and novels. Check out “The giver”
  • Claude McKay is a prominent Harlem Renaissance writer whose work exposed the contradictions of the American Dream. Check out “America,” and basically everything else he’s written.
  • Rumi’s poetry is all about self-healing and finding authenticity in the noise of consciousness. See these selections.
  • Also, make sure to check out Muriel Rukeyser’s “Orgy” “…that’s right all three of them”




  • Part of Hamilton’s genius is its blend of history and popular music, making the oft-treated history of American independence feel fresh, accessible, and even subversive. But Lin-Manuel’s not the first wordsmith to put politics and cultural sounds together. See poet/activist Amiri Baraka and Yusek Komunyakaa, both fascinating intellectuals concerned with race, American politics, and its effects on daily life.
  • Puerto Rican writer Martin Espada was a tenant lawyer working with largely immigrant communities. His poetry draws on themes of law and activism, historical Latin American rebellion, and what it means to exists on the fringes of society.
  • Make the Schyuler sisters proud with feminist poetry from Dominican author Julia Alvarez and Puerto Rican Julia de Burgos.


  • On the precipice of marriage and adulthood? Gregory Corso’s “Marriage” probably won’t leave you feeling any wiser, but you’ll definitely get a laugh.

Avenue Q

  • Funny, accessible, sprinkled with deep musings on life? Billy Collins makes it happen.

Next to Normal

  • The Goodman family should really sit down together and read some Sylvia Plath, not only because of Plath’s own struggle with mental illness, but because so much of her writing deals with family problems and finding fortitude in ourselves.
  • Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art” is one of my personal favorites, a superbly structured meditation on loss that holds no emotional punches.
  • I hear a lot of Muriel Rukeyser’s “Book of the Dead”  in many of Kitt’s and Yorkey’s lyrics, particularly in “I Miss the Mountains”


Sunday in the Park With George

  • Seurat abandoned realism for his signature style of pointillism, preceding even more artistic experimentation in the early 20th century. Check out T.S. Eliot’s “The LoveSong of J Alfred Prufrock,” which is also rife with themes of masculinity, failed relationships, and artistry.
  • Painting complex images with simple dots is similar to what Wallace Stevens, Ezra Pound, and Williams Carlos Williams do with perception in their condensed, haiku-like forms.

Sweeney Todd and/or A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder

  • A penchant for the dark side, have you? Satisfy your taste for morbidity with Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Conqueror Worm
  • Edgar Lee Masters wrote a collection of prose/poems called The Spoon River Anthology. Each poem represents one person in the local cemetery. Cheery stuff.
  • Edwin Arlington Robinson had a similar approach to his poems “Richard Cory” and “Miniver Cheevy,” which whimsically recounts two men’s fateful demise.
  • For a more hopeful look at death, read William Cullen Bryant (what’s with the three-namers in this century?). His “Thanatopsis” got me through many a funeral.

Into the Woods

  • Sondheim’s not the first to love a good, dark, modern take on a classic fantasy. Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shallott” is his most well-known, though I tend to go for “Ulysses” more often.
  • More takes on the Ulysses myth: Dorothy Parker’s “Penelope” and Margaret Atwood’s “Siren Song.” Both entrancingly subversive from a woman’s POV.
  • Christabel” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge is a fantastic fairy tale poem about a young princess who competes for her father’s affection with a young, wild forest woman. It’s full of sexual (queer?) innuendo and lots of speculation.


  • “La Vie Boheme” is definitely inspired by Walt Whitman’s ode to Americana “Leaves of Grass,” which in turn inspired “Howl” by Allen Ginsberg.
  • Sonia Sanchez’s “Wounded in the House of a Friend” plays out a spat between two lovers. It’s passionate, often hilarious, like watching your favorite soap.
  • Claudia Rankine is writing extraordinary poetry defining the 21st century. First with a multimedia reflection on post-9/11 America “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely,” and recently with the much-lauded “Citizen,” a provocative book on race.

This list could go on indefinitely. Feel free to comment with more suggestions!





T-Shirt Alert: Edgar Allan Poe and other Clever Bastards

nevermore_large is having a sale of OneBluebird’s “Master Minds and Evil Geniuses” series. Some of the usual geeky graphic t-shirt suspects are featured (Sherlock, Doc Brown, Voldemort), but my personal favorite is his intricate print of Edgar Allan Poe. Can you catch all the literary references in the design?

For more info on OneBluebird, check out the artist’s Facebook page.

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