Edgar Allan Poe's poetry has often suffered at the hands of critics. This is due in large part to the complicated relationship between the poems and Poe's theoretical writings. The indeterminate quality of these latter texts—do they map a legitimate poetics, or are they instead further instances of hoaxing?—has led to a body of criticism in the United States that tends to mistake innovation for infelicity and to dismiss the poems merely as scaffolding for Poe's prose writings. In this paper, I argue that Poe's poetry, far from being the dabbling of an exemplary short story writer and magazinist, is as important to the American poetic tradition as that of his near contemporaries, founding figures Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. His poems, like theirs, not only entice and perplex us with what they have to say but also, as Jerome McGann has pointed out in The Poet Edgar Allan Poe: Alien Angel, with how they say it. Looking at “Sonnet—To Science” as one example, I show how Poe's poetry is able to remain out front of the very literary conventions—and accompanying evaluative criteria—it invokes by routinely teasing at the preferred reading those conventions are meant to authorize. The resulting disarray, calculated if at times vexing, is the hallmark of what I refer to as Poe's avant-gardism, that serious play that anticipates both the European and American avant-garde movements of the twentieth century and those wide-ranging poetries that continue to emerge in the twenty-first in response to the postmodern turn.

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