A Ghost Story and a Love Letter: Haunted by Poe
She’s lost. And these shadows keep on changing.
There is a singer/songwriter from the 90’s I feel you need to know about, if you don’t already. Chances are, you don’t. Because she’s a ghost.
She’s called Poe, and although she’s still alive, for all intents and purposes, she’s a ghost who has been haunting her fans for decades.
She came in on the wave of female singer/songwriter powerhouses in the 90’s, and although she didn’t become as famous as the likes of Alanis, Fiona, or Tori, she made a huge impact on a relatively small fanbase. And these fans are devoted. Obsessively devoted. Despite the fact that Poe only released two albums - Hello in 1995 and Haunted in 2000 - our fandom hasn’t wavered. And our hope for new music hasn’t either. Poe has unfinished business.
First off, I want to tell you why I feel the need to talk about Poe to my readers. In fact, I’m going to get all Type-A on you, and make a list. You might love Poe if…
You love poetry. Her lyrics are beautiful and clever.
You love music that empowers you and encourages you to be yourself.
You love alternative rock with electronic elements. For example, if you love the band Garbage, you’d probably love Poe.
You’ve gone through something hard. Whether it’s a breakup or a death, Poe’s album Haunted in particular has helped many of her fans feel less alone and understood. Myself included.
Or you love a good ghost story.
Because that’s what Poe’s second album, Haunted, is. It’s a ghost story. And decades later, it’s especially poignant because all along, Poe was destined to be our ghost.
I keep referring to Poe as a ghost for a couple reasons. One, because after some legal troubles with her record company not long after Haunted’s release, she basically disappeared from the music world. It was as if the ordeal of having the music business machine suck the creative joy out of the act of making music left her artistically hollow. Perhaps even destroyed. Two, I’m suspicious that she is consciously intending to be perceived as a ghost. As if her disappearing act for the last couple decades is in itself a piece of performance art to her. She’s always had a thing for ghost stories.
Now, from time to time, this apparition of a songstress materializes on social media to tease her fans with a glimmer of hope for new music. She’ll come out with a mysterious, performance-arty video on Instagram or footage from the studio on Periscope. But nothing ever comes of these appearances. She simply manifests for a brief moment to haunt her fans, then disappears to another world, leaving us yearning to have her back. But I fear she’ll never return to us. Is it time to accept our loss?
That’s really what Haunted, at its core, is all about: navigating loss.
Here we are, as fans, feeling the loss of Poe from the music scene, while Haunted was Poe’s own personal story of loss in the wake of her father’s death. Each song seems to serve as a stage of the grieving process, a hurdle that must be crossed in order to proceed to something resembling acceptance. Poe travels through her personal haunted house, each song being a different room, a different issue to be resolved.
And probably the most haunting aspect the album are the sounds clips of her father’s voice taken from tapes he had made when he was alive. These recordings woven throughout the album make it feel as though you are listening to an actual ghost, as though Poe wasn’t the one who mixed the clips of her father’s tapes into her songs; rather, they mysteriously appeared in the music by the will of his ghost.
The idea of Poe’s father posthumously inserting himself in his daughter’s music on his own accord almost seems plausible, as he was Polish director and acting teacher Tad Danielewski. Between his assumed flair for the dramatic and certain lyrics from Poe herself, such as “Mother’s are trails on stars in the night / fathers are black holes that suck up the light”, it’s presumably clear that he was a commanding, if not all-consuming, presence in the family.
Not only did Poe create an album as a means to explore the loss of her father, but author Mark Danielewski, Poe’s brother, wrote the acclaimed horror novel House of Leaves as his own interpretation of the loss. The union of album and novel between sister and brother is yet another piece of how innovative Haunted really is. How many albums out there also have a corresponding novel (which is innovative in its own right) interpreting the same experience?
Here’s the music video for “Hey Pretty”, in which Mark Danielewski himself weaves a passage from House of Leaves throughout the song:
Haunted, in partnership with House of Leaves, is an excavation through the haunted house of the grieving process. And like a fellow ghost hunter, the listener accompanies Poe on this journey to the dark corners that lurk within us all.
I know it sounds morbid, but this is perhaps the greatest service done by the album; we’re all lonely and haunted by something, and Poe’s music curls up next to you and sings to you that you’re not alone. She takes your hand at the start of the album, and allows you to accompany her in confronting her demons.
As a result, she guides you through your own personal exorcism of your demons and you emerge at the end feeling a sense of relief and comfort. Because not only have you faced your own darkness, you’ve also made a friend in Poe. The best kind of friend: the one who travels through the darkness with you.
But our friend has been lost for years now, only to sporadically jump out of nowhere from the eerie depths of the internet before disappearing once again thereafter. Social media is Poe’s haunted house now, and as a fan, I’m always braced for a sudden appearance, however rare they may be. And those times when she emerges from that unearthly realm, I’ve come to expect to feel more confused and enchanted each time. Ghosts behave in mysterious ways, after all.
One of the things that prompted me to write this post in the first place is the fact that we are currently experiencing one of Poe’s reemergences on Facebook and Instagram.
Hell, when I took a quick Facebook break from writing this post today, I saw on my newsfeed that Poe had “changed her address”. Fans will undoubtedly read something into this. We always do. Just a couple weeks ago, Poe uploaded several white squares to her Instagram page, each with a cryptic caption like “I like this feeling” and “I can’t get #comfortable”. It’s as if she knows these small actions on social media will rile up and mystify her fans. And it’s true, it always does. All you have to do is look at our comments to see that we all practically start frothing at the mouth whenever Poe does something on social media.
And that something is always a perfectly crafted, mysterious, and poetic ghost story, carved into dozens of tiny pieces, and spread across the internet over time.
I have a few hopes in publishing this post: that I will create some new Poe fans out of my readers, that I will connect with existing fans (I see you, and I’m here with you), and that maybe Poe herself will see this and be reminded that she is loved by her fans. Unconditionally. And if she never releases new music again, we’ll be able to cope with the loss. Because Haunted taught us how.
Any other Poe fans out there? Reveal yourselves in the comments section below!
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Hey there! I’m Steffi, creator of Moda Misfit - a lifestyle blog that aims to inspire you to embrace who you are and express your creative self through decor, fashion, & music. We're all Moda Misfits here!
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