Letter (7) — The Poe Inquisition
Photo by Laura Chouette on Unsplash
To Mr. Deep Freeze:
It all began with the swing of a pendulum.
To this day, I do not know if Edgar Allan Poe falls within the parameters of a normal American sixth grade curriculum. It became apparent quite quickly that gothic tales of horror were not approved by the missionary parents who enrolled their students in the deeply conservative, faith-based owned and operated academy in which I was student and you were teacher.
What I remember most about sixth grade is reading — a lot of reading. We read individually. We read in groups. We read aloud. You were my first teacher, there in the mid-1980s, to recognize and address that students of the same age are not all reading on the same level — not merely the words themselves, but the comprehension of those words.
Combined with my parents, who never limited my reading…
Adult Beth: You know there was a lot of sex and violence in that Wagons West series you let me read as a kid, right?
Librarian Mom: Yes, but there was a lot of history in there too.
… you recognized that for me to grow, I (and 2-3 fellow classmates) needed more challenging reading options than whatever we were supposed to be assigned.
You also enjoyed reading aloud to the class, introducing new-to-us authors and genres.
Enter, again, Librarian Mom — deeply conservative yet simultaneously loath to condone censorship.
I only know of the Poe Inquisition because the other parents wanted Librarian Mom to be their champion — and she declined.
I do not know the extent of the protest or how wide a spread the kerfuffle had on campus.
I do not know which of my classmates went to a parent in… fear… horror… disgust… or whatever emotion was stirred in their sheltered souls.
I do know the pontifical pendulum of censorship missed your neck that year.
“The Inquisition was in the hands of its enemies.”
You finished reading “The Pit and the Pendulum” aloud to us and I loved every word.
Poe was my gateway drug into the deeper realm of gothic classics by Shelley, Stoker, Radcliffe, Stevenson, Wilde, du Maurier, the Brontës and more.
Beyond Poe, you were the unconventional teacher in an environment that praised convention and evangelicalism over education and acceptance. You were the catalyst of my literary renaissance.
I thank you.
PS – Apologies for the nickname. Originality was lacking at age 11 and we were very much into derogatory homonymistic (I’m going to make that a word.) monikers. Our fourth grade teacher was known as Miss Sour. Same premise. We’re adults now and I respect your privacy.