We all love a bit of dark and twisted ideology mixed in with a midnight rant alone in a chair, but what made Edgar Allan Poe timeless wasn’t just that repetitive raven. It was his obsession with the unknown, passion for the mysteries of life and love that propelled talk of the ‘paranormal’ in literature.
I’ve just arrived home from a Spoken Word Poetry evening at my local theatre that I’m currently working at, and observed many phenomenal performances of various poems. A friend of mine, Blake, was on the bill this evening and performed, word for word, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven”, and damn well if you ask me. Now I’m already a massive fan of the Poe, so of course, with my perfect timing, right before the show, I approach Blake with gleaming eyes and ecstatic tone in my voice telling him of my love for Poe, especially The Raven and how I’m already a fan of his acting (having worked with him on a production last year called “Patient 12”). Ok I’m ranting now, but gosh darn it Blake delivered! As I sat in the darkened theatre, the stage dimly lit with a blue and white wash, a bright red velvet chair sat centre stage and the theatre fell silent! During his performance, I slowly and quietly glanced around the theatre at peoples’ reactions to the dark and intense words that echoed the theatre and not a single person moved; in a trance like state, their eyes were fixed on Blake. Poe’s choice of words, “midnight dreary, dreaming dreams, bird or beast” all of which set the scene for the dark and mysterious. Mysterious concepts we all love to ponder, but got me thinking on my way home, “What is it about the mysterious, the unknown that have almost absolutely everybody intrigued?” It’s true though; almost everyone has experienced something or heard of someone experience something paranormal or unexplained. I’ve read The Raven so many times and each time another layer of intensity is added to my imagery bank.
I was so looking forward to seeing a friend perform one of my favourite poems, but I seriously had no idea what I was in for. The feeling was intense. I was in a trance like state watching him and for those 10 minutes I felt like I had left the theatre; Poe had come to life on stage. He was in front of me telling me of his dear Lenore! For the first time I felt the raven IN the room I was in. Weirdly enough, and I mean only weird people will get this, but I felt for a moment that I was the raven. Hmm… Ever since my dear Alex introduced me to the world of paranormal investigation years ago; heading out to physically investigate the possibility of the spiritual realm, I’ve found my imagination manifesting and infiltrating all that I do. I’ve come to realise that the reason for this isn’t because I’m “looking” for things to convince myself of another realm (those who really know me know that I’d much rather more questions than answers), but more so realising that my eyes have been opened to the possibilities. By allowing myself to seek and research other peoples’ experiences, I am able to relate to others and share ideas and information.
Here at Ghosts of Oz, you may have already picked up on the fact that we thrive on sharing ideas and information that help, not hinder, the human paranormal experience. I’ve found over the years, and what’s shaped the way I approach the paranormal, is not so much expecting the paranormal to happen to me, but my role in the paranormal process. I feel that’s what it is; a process of receiving information and methods of how we process this information to shape evidence. In those few minutes of monologue, with or without intent, I felt the way I’d felt when paranormal investigating for the first time years ago; a sudden openness, and acceptance of all that was happening to me and in turn listening to how I was feeling in response. The frustration Poe must’ve been feeling was my frustration with lack of evidence from the unknown, the passion Poe had used that had driven his desire to know more was the passion I was feeling for wanting to know more about the paranormal. And finally, but most importantly, that fear that Poe felt, a fear that we all feel which is so necessary to the paranormal process. I feel that fear asks so much from us, and it is only when we face that fear that we can truly test ourselves and hence our abilities. After the performance, I felt light. It was a sort of lightness that I had felt the first time I went paranormal investigating. I don’t know what this meant but I feel I might not be the only one who has gone through this rollercoaster of emotions in the paranormal field. For me, the paranormal isn’t just when I go on ghost tours. If anything, I love the social aspect of it; the fact I get to share these beliefs and desire for knowledge with friends and making new friends along the way. I feel however that it is more of a personal paranormal journey for me; that I need to go about it alone sometimes, gather my thoughts, regain my emotional strength and then share them when I feel the time is right (pretty much like now) When we are exploring the paranormal in investigations or even ghost tours, we are exploring possibilities of another realm active the same time as ours. Using spoken words, dialogue and objects to recreate and perform certain actions that may trigger residual energy is one of the forms of paranormal investigating so who’s to say that tonight wasn’t a paranormal experience itself? I wondered for a moment that, as Blake uttered those exact words with just as much passion and drive as we do when attempting to communicate with the other side, what if we pulled out a K2 and attempted an investigation? There were so many factors that contributed to my feeling ghostly that evening; the spooky word choice, the intensity of Blake’s deliverance (took me back to the Sydney Quarantine Station Klinge Brothers’ experience in the hospital wing), the lighting (or lack of it), the sheer reference to spirit and energy. I later asked Blake some questions that were haunting my mind; questions that I was dying to ask someone game enough to perform The Raven.
So I asked Blake why he chose The Raven of all poems.
He replied: “It was a combination of wanting to perform such a famous classic dramatically in front of a crowd, whilst also wanting to challenge myself to learn such a large amount of dialogue without a script. I’ve seen a few readings of ‘The Raven’, but not many dramatic interpretations, so I wanted to self-direct the performance and approach it with fresh eyes. Okay look….confession….when people YouTube ‘The Raven’ in future, I want my name to come up just under Christopher Walken and The Simpsons’ interpretations (as I recorded the performance). Not gonna lie.”
I’ve got to admit, I love his honesty. I proceeded to ask what he was feeling when he attempted to venture into the mind of Poe?
“As much as ‘The Raven’ features such stylised language, it’s still easy to follow and understand for a newcomer, so I instantly was able to connect and imagine the visuals Poe was trying to convey. It’s hard to avoid the imagery of blackness, due to all the references of the poem in pop culture, but apart from the obvious theme at hand, it was interesting to discover all the nuances that built up to such a dark climax. When performing, I felt the character go through four different emotions: Contempt, Confusion, Rage and Fear. It made it easier to section the play off and remember lines more clearly as you could link what you were fearing to a certain collection of stanzas.”
OK, so that was creepy. Remember how I was talking about my rollercoaster of emotions when it came to the journey of the paranormal? I’ll just leave that there for you to ponder. So I asked Blake why he thought people found eerie and mysterious literature so exciting. “Anything that is out of the ordinary intrigues people. Whether it be ghosts, magic, or the existence of other species in outer space, to quote The X-Files, they ‘want to believe’. I think the combination of classic language and a vivid imagination used by poets and authors - who lived in a world much different to our current, internet-laden world of today - create a unique outer worldliness for current readers, as it’s a style that is hard to mimic today.”
Ah Blake, I couldn’t’ve put it better myself: “…who lived in a world much different to our current…” So Blake isn’t much of a paranormal investigator (and probably wasn’t even thinking about anything paranormal during rehearsal) but my interest always lies in what non-investigators take from such intense experiences, and what it really reveals about them as a person.
So I asked, “What did you take from performing The Raven?” “Confidence to perform long monologues without a script, maintaining focus, understanding and appreciation for classic text, self-direction and bringing poems (that weren’t written for the stage) to life in a dramatic fashion.”
Confidence. Something I definitely lacked entering the field. And that word field, is quite limiting. Sure there’s an industry, but the field is all around us. I think we are doing ourselves disservice by using the term ‘field’; as though there is a fence and when you live your everyday life, the paranormal is put on “hold” until you get out K2 Meter and start asking the Ghost Box questions at midnight (which is hella fun also!). So those instruments assist the journey, but aren’t solely the paranormal experience (in my opinion at least).
So the final question to Blake: Have you ever had a late night paranormal experience where you second guessed yourself?
“Unfortunately not. But okay, so like when Paranormal Activity was released on DVD, myself and 4 other friends drove to a secluded swamp land next to an old girl scouts building and watched it on a portable DVD player - in order to possibly RESURRECT freaky occurrences, like a ghost or movement in the trees. But unfortunately the only thing we got was this massive praying mantis chilling on my windshield. Kind of disappointing - still a cool night nevertheless.”
Well Blake, praying mantis can be quite creepy…what with their long legs… and… and suspicious hand clasping. Ok better luck next time. So it’s getting late and all this creepy talk is making me question these sounds in this house. Is this room getting smaller? What was that? Oh it’s just a bird on my window sill…never mind. (Nevermore)
Danni is a Drama and English High School teacher by trade, but Danni also enjoys her time frolicking in the forest of the Dandenong Ranges looking for anomalies, writing spooky poetry, Directing theatre and eating wild berries.