I was in the seventh grade. Priscilla Zwitzer, who taught at my school, was a friend of my family’s and a neighbor. Priscilla and her husband had an exquisite collection of classical music and spoken word LP recordings.
Priscilla and Martin had no children. Educated, well-traveled, and sophisticated, they were the parents I thought I should have been given. They let me have unsupervised access to their LP collection. I enjoyed countless hours of listening to classical music performances and poetry read by actors who created magic with their voices.
James Mason’s “Annabel Lee” was dark, morose, and appealed to my moody adolescent sensibilities. The tone and rhythm of the poem and the images of “high-born kinsmen” and “sepulchres” by the sea captured my imagination. “What’s a sepulcher?” I asked Priscilla. She smiled as she handed me a dictionary.
My seventh grade drama class introduced me to Poe’s short stories. We were given literary passages to prepare as dramatic readings. When I was handed the opening paragraph of “The Fall of the House of Usher,” I could not have been more pleased. My hours of practicing to sound like James Mason paid off despite the effect of puberty on the male voice. “That was very well done,” said Mr. Edwards, my drama teacher. “Dennis has set the performance standard,” he announced to the class.
It was many and many a year ago in a place beside a phonograph where I lived with no other thought than to be transported worlds away by the delights of poetry.
From the seventh grade to today, poetry has given me great joy and pleasure. Priscilla and Martin passed on years ago leaving me with the legacy of an incomparable gift.