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Russell Edson

Called the “godfather of the prose poem in America,” Russell Edson’s idiosyncratic body of work is populated with strange and intriguing figures: a woman fights a tree, a mother serves ape; in the poem “Let Us Consider,” there’s a “farmer who makes his straw hat his sweetheart” and an “old woman who makes a floor lamp her son.” The poems are surreal and fablelike, sometimes resembling brief plays. Donald Hall said of Edson’s poetry, “It’s fanciful, it’s even funny—but his humor carries discomfort with it, like all serious humor.” And Peter Schejeldahl pointed out that his poems have “the sustained wackiness of old Warner Brothers cartoons.”

In an interview with Mark Tursi, Edson once said of his writing process, “My job as a writer is mainly to edit the creative rush. The dream brain is the creative engine… I sit down to write with a blank page and a blank mind. Wherever the organ of reality (the brain) wants to go I follow with the blue-pencil of consciousness.”

Edson’s father, Gus, was a cartoonist and the creator of the character Art Gump. Edson studied art as a teenager, attending the Art Students League when he was 16. In the 1960s he began publishing poetry and received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. His collections of poetry include The Brain Kitchen: Writings and Woodcuts (1965), The Clam Theatre (1973), The Wounded Breakfast: Ten Poems(1985), The Tormented Mirror (2001), The Rooster’s Wife (2005), and See Jack (2009). He also wrote a book of plays, The Falling Sickness (1975), and the novels Gulping’s Recital (1984) and The Song of Percival Peacock (1992). He lived for many years in Stamford and Darien, Connecticut. Russell Edson died in 2014. (poetryfoundation.org)

I found another couple quirky poems from a poet I’m not familiar with. I’m still kind of processing them, but I loved what the poetry book printed along with them. I’ve never been quite clear on what, exactly a prose poem is, and I think Edson explained it very cool. He said:

A specialist in prose poems, Edson could have been summing up his practice in the poem “Antimatter.” On the subject of the prose poem he has remarked that time flows through prose, and around poetry. Poetry is the sense of the permanent, of time held. Prose is the sense of normal time, time flowing. And it is the two edges of contradictory time touching, fusing an unlikely combinations, that creates the central metaphor of the prose poem.

I totally get that. I’ll be curious to see what you think of his poems…


On the other side of a mirror there’s an inverse world,
where the insane go sane; where bones climb out of the
earth and recede to the first slime of love.

And in the evening the sun is just rising.

Lovers cry because they are a day younger, and soon
childhood robs them of their pleasure.

In such a world there is much sadness which, of course,
is joy.

The Fall

There was a man who found two leaves and came
indoors holding them out saying to his parents
that he was a tree.

To which they said then go into the yard and do
not grow in the living room as your roots may
ruin the carpet.

He said I was fooling I am not a tree and he
dropped his leaves.

But his parents said look it is fall.



Picture Source: Vimeo