by Edgar Allan Poe
illustrated by Ryan Price
Published by KCP Poetry
48 pages, 2006
Reviewed by Lincoln Cho
Once upon a midnight dreary,
The opening words of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Raven" are among the best known in the English language. As well, the work is, arguably, the best known American poem. First published in The Evening Mirror in 1845, "The Raven" has frightened generations of readers, even when not illustrated.
I've read the poem several times since high school when, even when it was assigned reading, I was transported by Poe's imagery and passion, following his narrator's frightening flight towards insanity.
Since I'm a fan of Poe's work, it was a delight to come across this newly published illustrated version, the latest in the Visions in Poetry series from Kids Can Press. As beautifully executed as the last book I enjoyed and reviewed in this series, Casey at the Bat, if anything, The Raven works even better in this format than the Ernest L. Thayer poem did. That's saying a lot, because I really enjoyed that book.
It's difficult to imagine there could have been a better pairing for Poe's dark poem than fine artist and printmaker Ryan Price's sepia-toned images. Ryan's illustrations look loose and effortless. On reading about them, however, you realize that they're not. The copyright page informs that they were rendered "in a medium called 'drypoint printmaking.' Drypoint is similar to etching, but involves working an image with various tools (instead of acid) onto a copper plate, which is then inked and run through a printing press." The result is... well... beautiful and dark and detailed and... perfect. Price's bio page describes part of his challenge:
To make the poem more immediate and compelling for the twenty-first century reader, Price emphasized the most frightening elements of the verse, such as the narrator's slide into dementia, culminating the final terrifying illustration of narrator imprisoned within the raven-like shadow he has scrawled around him.
Words can't do it justice, however. If the illustrations here sound at all intriguing, I advise you to do whatever you need to in order to see this work for yourself. It's simply that good.
Appropriately, Poe gets a bio page here, too. The final line of that bio is one I'd like to borrow for the end of this review: "Will there ever be another poem that haunts the imagination as powerfully as Poe's "The Raven"? The answer, surely, is "Nevermore." | October 2006
Lincoln Cho is a freelance writer and contributing editor to Blue Coupe magazine.