Russell Edson - Miniature 21st-century anti-fairy tales, wildly comic, oddly gracefully obscene and post-surrealistically absurd

Russell Edson, See Jack (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009)

«If you pick up Russell Edson's latest collection of poems, See Jack, it just might break your heart: With a carnivorous hat or with an incontinent faucet or with a plate (or a potato) with which a family desperately wants to have sex (though they heroically resist). Cellists slip into bed with their instruments, cows don slickers and boots, dogs dine out at restaurants, and men clip leashes to their collars to take themselves for walks.
That is to say, Edson’s latest collection, remarkably his nineteenth, delivers all of what his readers have come to expect: deceptively simple prose poems that sketch a surreal world in which the joke is always on all of us, including Edson. Neither humor nor absurdity detracts from the deep pathos of Edson’s figures—human, animal, vegetable, mineral or otherwise—who struggle with the basic laws of the universe, laws which evoke as much comedy as tragedy.
For the reader accustomed to Edson’s ambulatory toilets and vociferous apes or his brilliantly puerile and oedipal imagination, many of these poems will feel familiar. For some the repetition of theme and tactic may annoy. Others might find in See Jack the elaborations of an utterly distinctive mind printing over and over again the uncanny silhouettes of a life lived precariously in a state of illuminating and taxing estrangement. The world Edson has, for decades, shared with his readers operates by its own rules. Here’s the Edson we expect in “A Man Who Went for a Walk”:
There was a man who attached a collar and leash to his
neck. And, holding the leash in one hand, took himself for a
walk, lifting his leg every so often to mark his way . . .
What kind of animal is a man? Not quite a dog, it seems, though he needs a walk, an opportunity to relieve himself, and a means of marking his way through the world. In that world, the simplest actions assume a weighty and often threatening significance. Take the opening of “The Hunger”:
A man puts his head in a hat. But the hat thinks he’s feed-
ing it, and begins to swallow his head.
No, no, Hat, I’m just completing my costume!
But his hat begins to suck his head like a huge mouth nurs-
ing a breast, sucking the milk of his thoughts into its crown.
As in his famous “Ape and Coffee,” this poem continues Edson’s conversation with what should be an inarticulate universe of animals and things. Clothes should be no more than costuming, but this man feels swallowed by the world, just as the world seems animated by the desire to feed. Being devoured by the world solicits the work of the mind, but man is not enough for the world and the world is not enough for the man. This relationship of mutual need and insufficiency haunts “The Addiction”:
Two monkeys on my back. One real, the other, not. Which
one is, and which one’s not, is hard to say. And so there are
two . . .
Sometimes I almost know, but then they move.
The maddening dance of identical specters, the real and the unreal, has been the main attraction of Edson’s poetry for decades. How to know what’s true (or untrue) in a world observed by a mind for which even the most ordinary facets of that world are bizarre and uncanny? And in that world, how can we tell who is pulling the strings? “The Dummies,” opens: “A contortionist twisted himself in such a way as to be sitting on his own knee.” However potent the illusion may be, a ventriloquist’s dummy borrows its voice from a seemingly mute human. Not satisfied with uncanny reversal of ventriloquist and dummy, Edson is more interested in the way a man must twist himself into his own dummy to have the capacity to speak. Every Edson poem is a self-portrait in a mirror into which a speaker gazes, trying to tell if he’s the source of his own voice. And as readers we can’t help but watch over his shoulder, seeing ourselves in the very same mirror.
But there's also, here, something darker than in the most poignant of Edson’s previous poems, even considering the progressively mordant tone of his last few books. On the cover of See Jack a one-eyed Russell Edson, painted by Russell Edson (as most of his covers are), stares at the very small cup he grips in his hand. In the other he grasps an egg. Which comes first: chicken or egg, life or death? For the author of an early volume called The Wounded Breakfast, a simple morning meal opens up absurd vistas of contemplation. The truly novel portions of See Jack exist as a pure and concentrated instance of late style, and, as Shakespeare’s Prospero predicts of his future retirement in The Tempest, every third thought is of death. Death is referred to as “the fatal accident” in the opening poem, “Accidents.” Unintended acts seem central to the human in Edson’s universe, just as life is little more than a brief remission, a pause between fatal accidents. Hence we find in See Jack a series of poems about Humpty Dumpty and his famous fall. How many times can the pieces be put back together before utter weariness overwhelms?
See Jack takes place in a twilight characterized by a mixture of tedium and the anticipation of death. “The Endless Night,” contemplates the “moment . . . who married time and sired eternity . . . who bored people to death with a usualness like those practical graves of useful holes.” Ordinary routines are as threatening here as the contemplation of mortality. Perhaps they are one and the same. In the title poem, “See Jack,” Edson breaks from his usual narrative (or dramatic) prose poem into the meditative repetitions that characterize children’s books:
Any number of positions...
See Jack asleep.
See Jack up and pacing.
Any number of cups raised, emptied and lowered any
number of times.
See Jack drinking coffee.
Life may be lived in a state of casual recurrence, but there is still only one end possible: “See Jack dead . . . Where’s Jane?” The hope is for companionship. But might we ask, also, if Edson’s surrealism was always a way of looking away from death. “Of the Night” begins with a couple struggling and failing to close their eyes:
A woman was trying to thread a needle to sew her hus-
band’s eyes to sleep.
At first the idea was that of death. And then it was less. Fi-
nally becoming just another of the things one is put to do . . .
It was his idea, he had seen enough.
The irony of this poem is that neither husband nor wife can see well enough to thread the needle that would seal their eyes shut. At the end, the needle goes to sleep, closing its eye as the husband and wife cannot. The proximity of sleep and death haunt “An Old Man Putting an Old Man to Bed,” in which an old man administers to himself forms of care richly desired and utterly impossible: “He could do everything for the old man except kiss him on his forehead as children are done before they sleep.” We die, as the saying goes, in our own arms. Perhaps companionship is as impossible as the cessation of sight.
Like the lessons of children’s books, which also rely on the music of repetition, the lessons of See Jack are so simple as to defy comprehension. The only sadness in death is loneliness. Jack seeks Jane, an old man tries to put himself to bed with gestures of care only another person can provide, and the whole world joins together as an audience seeking its ultimate ending. The final poem, “Waiting for the Fat Lady to Sing,” imagines “the longest opera ever written” (an apt description of life) in which everyone waits for death together. Many in the audience have “died in their seats,”
But others felt, what better way to die than waiting for the
fat lady to sing in the make-believe of theater, where nothing’s
real, not the fat lady, nor even death...
The business of death, be it in the “wills” of the dying or the “flies and microbes” of those already dead, matter less than the marvelous theater of the imagination.
The profundity of Edson’s genius has perhaps never been as fully appreciated as it should, in spite of his fervent following. But Edson is one of the few poets one would trust to survive an encounter with death itself and find ever new terrain for poetry. See Jack is as much the capstone of a singular career as it is a point of departure for Edson’s ongoing practice of things unattempted yet in prose or rhyme.» - Joseph Campana

"I whipped through this fascinating book at one sitting (and read each poem twice, and sometimes three or four times). It’s beautiful and accurate stylish and rich in its promiscuous and utterly elegant use of the English language. It is also wildly comic and oddly gracefully obscene and post-surrealistically absurd.
Things do unexpected things in Edson’s dynamic cosmos of unexpected forces which behave in a most contrary and defiant manner upsetting every canon of predictability and order. The Idea Of Order At Key West is turned on its nose by Mr. Edson who cracks open the new egg of the post-nuclear age of catastrophe to reveal new creatures who are pretty crazy unless you live in the child’s world of eternal imagination and hallucination—the universe obviously occupied by Mr. Russell Edson. This guy has a load (lode?) on his mind and he finds ample opportunity for his characters of all species, notably, inanimate objects, to come to life and especially engage in the multiple forms of sexual intercourse abounding in the universe with any available mate— including walls, couches, musical instruments—you name it. Everything seems to be in love or at least in hate with everything else including itself. Edson’s is a plentiful world.
There are plenty of chances for each and all to score a good lay, kill a nasty king or, in the prophetic words of Dr. Hannibal Lecter at the conclusion of Ridley Scott’s movie Hannibal, “try out new things.” Dr. Lecter was was offering that counsel to a little girl sitting next to him on the plane to whom he was also offering a sample of human brain as a snack, unbeknownst to her. Mr. Russell Edson is somewhat like that—utterly and dangerously uninhibited, erotic. Ah, French, with a slice of Descartes wedded to a piece of the Marquis de Sade throw in some shit balls from fairy tale land, add a cup of urine, and two fresh tablespoons of semen from a bull-cow or horse plus some drippings from the mons veneris of a princess walking the strip in Las Vegas. Chop, stir & shake. Put in blender: grind, blend & liquefy. Pour into glasses. Drink. Serves the entire company. Repeat with double & triple doses. Add Viagra, salt peter & latest aphrodisiacs according to individual tastes.
Mr. Edson is a master of the refined forms. His elegant techniques lead to the Palace of Debauchery & the Temple of The Reversal Of Cosmic Habits & Attitudes. Anything can happen & does in the Russell Edson cosmos. His world is the new Metamorphoses which continues to evolve every time we turn a page. This is one of the most surprising books of poems I have seen in years. Call them prose poems. They are miniature 21st-century anti-fairy tales with a consistently rigorous intelligence at the controls. When is the last time you picked up a book of poems that you could not put down until you had absorbed the last poem in the book? Well, here is such a book.» - RL Greenfield Russell Edson, The Tormented Mirror (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001)

"When I read Russell Edson's book, The Tormented Mirror, I could not help but think of bricks and translation. That's because, in the critical/burlesque portions of my brain, are the ever-present voices of Peter Levitt and ee cummings, each remarking respectively that: "all poetry is translation," and "would you hit a woman with a child? ­ No, I'd hit her with a brick."
With Russell Edson, a.k.a. Little Mister Prose Poem, a reader receives both aforementioned quotations at full-throttle, while being verbally throttled, in a good way, of course.
Edson translates the human psyche, from a language without words into language with very specific expression. One interprets his work and truly feels as if what they're reading is some kind of condensed essence, like a distilled Borges or Gogol. Our intuition tells us that Kafka's native tongue somehow lurks wiggling in the dark corners of his poems: the presence is undeniable.
In The Tormented Mirror, Edson throws considerable quantities of brick at human consciousness which is also a brick that Edson's original brick melts into. When one says "brick" often enough, or reads "brick" too many times on paper, it stops being "brick" and becomes much more like hieroglyphics or Prekrit.
Edson, I believe, would agree that this repetition of words and phrases changes meaning, just as with the "miles to go" in Frost's "Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening." As such, he takes us fathoms beneath the surface of the human psyche, where our thoughts echo like near-meaningless pings from a submarine sonar.
The Tormented Mirror pullulates with poems like "Accidents," where Edson pushes the point that nothing is ever an accident (even the free-associations of prose poetry):
A barber has accidentally taken off an ear. It lies like something newborn on the floor in a nest of hair.
Oops, says the barber, but it mustn't've been a very good ear. It came off with so little complaint.
This poem also summarizes his life-long experiences in writing poetry and living in the poetry world, as exemplified in Edson's "way to music" with his "whole head on fire." Edson pays homage to his own cult of personality and bardic "ear," just as many of us prostrate unto his intellect.
The prose poem, or the red-headed stepchild of poetry and prose, is often filled with images like those seen in a painting by Dali or a sketch by Escher, or better yet, a magic-eye optical brain-teaser. We all must go cross-eyed staring beyond the facade of Edson's oeuvre to see its true being.
Another one of Edson's patented techniques in creating a world of reverberation is to hold a mirror up to a mirror. In doing so, the poet opens up a wormhole into the possibilities of being. Edson's poem "Sleep," permits the reader to examine some reflections of reflections beneath the mundane reflection of those who are supposedly awake and bored with day-to-day existence:
There was a man who didn't know how to sleep; nodding off every night into a drab, unprofessional sleep.
Sleep that he had grown so tired of sleeping.
He tried reading The Manual of Sleep, but it just put him to sleep. That same old sleep that he had grown so
tired of sleep-ing...
Edson also acts a bit naughty in The Tormented Mirror, perhaps another reflection, this aspect happens to reflect his age: his gonads are catching up with him, and his verbal barrier of self-restraint is failing wonderfully.
There is a certain, shall we say, horniness to Edson's latest book. This horniness is a long time coming. Edson alluded to his furtive nature in earlier poems, but more often beat around the proverbial bush rather than jump in penis first. Edson has blossomed into a full-blown word fondler, playing with salacious ideas yet remaining conscious of his inner drives. So it goes in "Bread":
I like good-looking bread. Bread that's willing. The kind of bread that's found in dreams of hunger . . .
He builds us an upside-down world brick by brick, dropping the occasional brick upon our toes. Here Edson obviously cannot help himself, yet in the last line he at least acknowledges the consequences of his compulsive bite. The phrase "(I sometimes do this to keep my knuckles in shape)" again points to Edson's awareness that his sexuality, and being, are no longer that of a young buck. These little self-checks become a necessity of those persons in the throes of middle age. Some write the prose poems, others buy red corvette convertibles or take a lover. Thankfully, Edson chooses to write.
One ingests his prosaic verse and goes flying down the rabbit hole alongside Edson where they can expect to find walrus carpenters, talking clams and/or reasonable facsimiles. In The Tormented Mirror, there are in fact lots of other holes on which Edson seems to fixate, such as Madam's pubic delta in "The Alfresco Moment," the moonlit rectum from "Nocturne," and the belly button in "The Antiques Shop" to name a few of the many apertures.
Edson's prose poetry stands the world on its head and spins us away from our typical axis at a dizzying 660 miles-per-hour. Occasionally we fly off the edge of the universe, into a realm that we all recognize but seldom speak of. This is Edson's domain, a Freudian house of pain, incoherent jibber-jabber and joy.
In reading his work I am constantly reminded of Harold Bloom's expostulations on poets' prepubescent self-centeredness, an outright refusal to become another cog in the warped wheel of existence. Bloom indicates that the some of the strongest poets are those poets who cling onto their center for dear life. Edson is one of those poets, and it explains his Freudian penchant for pee-pee and doo-doo. After all, what is prose poetry if not a dialectic between the free-wheeling imagination of youth and the adult mind's mobius strip.
Edson has bravely jumped down the rabbit hole of his being, the place that holds "the secret which hides the final message." He deciphers that message with delicacy and grace.
From the abyss, Russell Edson's The Tormented Mirror confirms that "the password is nonsense," with notes tied to imaginary bricks that seem to fly up from nowhere, braining us when we least expect it.” - Noah Hoffenberg
Russell Edson, The Rooster's Wife (BOA Editions, Ltd., 2005)

"To make it in this new world, you're going to need a copy of the Bible and The Rooster's Wife. Bible optional. This is a place of our own making, consequences no more damning than the original decisions. The Rooster's Wife is a lessonbook in responsibility/accountability. "Now that each stair is whacking you back, breaking your calcium tree, you would have thought then to have walked more carefully…" ("The Way")
Consider it a cruel father of a reading. Whereas earlier Edsons often found their central character caught in some unsuspecting, often surreal situation, 2005 finds them trapped in a box of their own folding. Sometimes, they marry that box — after habitual opening and closing of a box, the son is confronted by his father:
"…His father said, Why don't you get married so you don't have to be doing that with that box?
But I am married, this is my wife, said the man.
Congratulations, said his father, But why didn't you tell us you were married?
Because I thought you might be a little disappointed that I didn't marry the girl next-door, said the man.
But there's no girl living next-door, said his father.
I know, that's why I didn't marry her. I hope you're not disappointed.
Not at all, said his father, It's just that box is a little disappointing…
We should all live life by such hard edges. Things don't seem to spill on their own, as in previous Edson works. Everything is nicely contained, until we begin playing with the scales, we begin scratching at the paint. In The Rooster's Wife, a man plays a violin too hard and is left with "hands full of kindling and gut"; the Jacks from children's rhymes (Horner, Sprat, et al.) have been left behind only to drink and reminisce; and an old man has broken his cane and brought it to Doctor for repair. The punchline? "My wife, said the old man, Her head is uncommonly hard…"
Cause and effect, cause and effect. Here it's boiled down more than ever. Perhaps with good reason. This isn't Edson sailing through uncharted territory, this is Edson responding to our current situation. The prose-poems in The Rooster's Wife are blunt, lessons harsh. It couldn't be more American or more appropriate. A country awash in its actions of the last two terms continues to sink in its own unsettling consequences (we've already faced its absurdity). And we can say we told you so, even while we're busy picking up the mess. Suck it up, America. We're no longer the Hollywood of the World. Happy endings have found a new home, but we're still getting their mail. Oooh, look, a copy of Maxim.
They took the mirror but they left us with The Rooster's Wife. So let's take a look, see what we've got. A home with clean corners and dusty centers. Skeletons wearing flesh costumes. Masturbation as respected an institution as marriage. It's not that things aren't what they seem; they're simply more than they seem. Edson's wor(l)d is one of extended shadows. Back to back cul-de-sacs. Try as you might, there will always be a remainder. No erasing will undo it.
So go ahead, hammer away the once-accepted shape of things. Build yourself a steel drum only you can play. We're going to need a soundtrack in the new world. A land where sex organs are treated as they should be: playthings. Not as oddities locked in a curio cabinet. Science and experience may want to shed light on the subject, but some things are best left to the dark. Anyone who's surely been to the farthest reaches of the human body understands this. Edson reached the edge of the map, and rather than returning with news of civilization, or instilling fear with the rumor of monsters or dropoffs, he penciled in the call to arms: "Here There Be Wonders."
And last we knew, strange winds still fill sails.» - Corey Johnson

"((Groucho Marx + Charles Bukowski)/Baudelaire) = Russell Edson
Kudos to Nicholas Allen Harp for finding a way to aptly describe Edson’s poetry: “Edson has built his own trademark hallucinatory narratives — short (usually not longer than a page), sparsely punctuated, mostly third-person tales with a kind of once-upon-a-time approachability (though they can be dense) and a startling, sensual, and often persuasive intimation of subconscious order.”
The problem that I have with Edson’s poetry is that some of it so good that the rest seems utterly disappointing. He’s not a poet for every sensibility either, with tales of men running around in women’s underwear, pregnant dead men and a rat trying to get dirty with an old woman. Still, some of these I find really catching, like the poem called “Monkey Gas:”
…But, as I was picking ape out of my teeth, and belching what I thought were ape flavored belches, I discovered that I was actually belching monkey gas.
I said to the waiter, Why am I belching monkey instead of ape?
You’ve probably got a case of monkey gas, he said.
Monkey gas? But the menu said, ape.
It’s the octopus, he said. He ran out of ink, and had just enough for ape. Though monkeys are smaller, they take twice the ink…
(Edson ends his poems with ellipses, but that wasn’t the end, just an excerpt.) Yeah, it’s a bit “yuk-yuk” but it’s fun to read (and a restaurant near me has “monkey-gland sauce” on the menu, so it caught my eye) and fairly indicative of the playfulness that Edson never lets go of.
Since I had not intended to write anything on this book and Mr. Harp did such a thoughtful job, I’ll give you a piece of his concluding paragraph:
The best poems here work autonomously; their force creates an experience so unusual and evocative as to suck all other reality out of the room. Occasionally, though, Edson’s poems rely too much on the consistency of their creator’s method, working less as independent utterances than as conventional features in the poet’s familiar (and admittedly virtuoso) corpus.
I first found Edson through an anthology that included his poem “The Optical Prodigal:”
A man sees a tiny couple in the distance, and thinks they
might be his mother and father.
But when he gets to them they’re still little.
You’re still little, he says, don’t you remember?
Who said you were supposed to be here? says the little
husband. You’re supposed to be in your own distance; you’re
still in your own foreground, you spendthrift…
It goes on and by the end it’s a pretty wry, thought-provoking piece. It’s really one of my favorite light poems and certainly my favorite prose poem. I bring it up to show that there is more to Edson than what I might have suggested above. And although as Harp says, many of the poems in The Rooster’s Wife are “instantly forgettable,” I would add that like a witty, well-timed joke, they also speak some truths that might not get said any other way.
Read widely, think well, and write often." - Bud Parr

«[Russell Edson] is notorious for his inventions in the same way Robin Hood was for his crimes–it all depends on your vantage whether you think him more on the hero side, or more as outlaw. Here’s my vote for Edson the hero, and I’m indebted to Charles Simic’s remarks for helping me think about this: Edson’s work puts comedy in the same distinct circle of high cultural import as tragedy, if not above it. We are clearly better for this, even if Edson will never be the Poet Laureate. Comedy need not be polarizing in our poetics – and the more I think about Edson, his work, and hearing him read, the more I admire his continued insistence, book after book, that comedy is just as important a poetic mode of operating as tragedy, just as apparent in our everyday lives and interactions as the spectrum of tiny and not so tiny tragedies: the coffee on my shirt, the ambulance flying past taking someone to get help who needs it, the major opportunity now passed, now acting like an octopus in a tank. I suppose tragedies happen in Edson’s poems too, but I bet people only cry because they can’t stop laughing.
What does this mean? Edson operates, even with the high-profile supporters around him at this particular recent panel (James Tate, Simic, and Robert Bly), in the margins. And while the mainstream may prefer a poetry that feels more rarefied, precious, and noble, I advocate space for Edson, the humanist. We need his poems, and we need what they teach us–that comedy in poetry shouldn’t be a ticket to the ghetto of the margins, but rather recognized for what it is–a tool that permits us to delight in the emotive force of a poem.
Roethke, a poet I will always love, famously said in a famous poem that we think by feeling. I like to think this is why we are so good at making mistakes. If writers of great consequence make pieces of writing that produce feelings in a reader, feelings that in turn help us think about the world – then Edson the Populist is worthy your readerly attention. He teaches us to prioritize delight. Humor is not esoteric, and they way Edson does it, is not elitist. He’s a great poet of the people. Could I read all Edson, all the time? No way. But I could absolutely stand to read more of him, and so could my abs.» - Tyler Meier

«A somewhat lesser (less spectacular, less perverse) American version of early Michaux is Russel Edson. With a view of the way "Conceptual Writing" seems to have been manufactured as topic of academic study, and fit so neatly into current academic study, it's interesting I think that Edson has been such a profoundly influential and popular poet over the past 50 years (and just recently received a handsome collected in Swedish translation), and yet he never seems to be discussed at academic conferences or in academic journals. (in difference to Michaux, whose work is discussed in book after book, and who gets mentioned by Deleuze and Guattari with some frequency)
What makes that even strange is that two of the most famous contemporary American poets - Simic and Tate - are hugely influenced by him. In fact the now somewhat dreadful genre of "the prose poem" seems almost entirely to be written in the astrological sign of Edson. In the 80s and 90s there was a poetry journal called The Prose Poem that was pretty much a monument to Edson's influence.
(Come to think of it: when was the last time I saw an article or went to a paper that treated either of those two, Tate and Simic, very famous and influential poets?)
It was kind of gross, the monotony of that journal. And maybe that's partly the answer to my question. Neither Edson nor his hordes of followers seem to develop - they're in a state of arrested development. Edson has been writing the same poem for decades. Prevalent notions of poetry seems to demand development, evolution etc. Usually I'm opposed to that arch-obsessed view of art (related as it is to Hollywood movies having characters who change, or are changed by some important event). But in this case there may be a point; so much of the followers are just so incredibly repetitive.
But I also think his view is fundamentally incompatible with academic appreciation in various ways: the violence is problematic. He can't be turned into a feel-good idea of progress or social critique. Etc.» - Johannes Göransson

«So what's right about Russell Edson?
Well, I do think he wrote many great poems. Especially when he combined the strange with the lyrical. Some of the poems are tender and "deep." Not just bizarre ape story poems.
What's wrong about Russell Edson?
Distinctive poets often have a very bad influence on their followers. Most Edson disciples write lesser and paler versions of Edson's best poems (and perhaps we can count later career Edson among those disciples.) And you can spot these Edson-derivative poems a mile away. If you've read one you've read them all.
I think the best think re Edson is to buy his Collected. Read some of the middle third and then put the book away for a long time. Perhaps even then, for better or for worse, the ape will find its way into your thoughts and poems. - Rauan Klassnik

"Michel Delville suggests that one of Edson's typical "recipes" for his prose poems involves a modern everyman who suddenly tumbles into an alternative reality in which he loses control over himself, sometimes to the point of being irremediably absorbed - both figuratively and literally - by his immediate and, most often, domestic everyday environment... Constantly fusing and confusing the banal and the bizarre, Edson delights in having a seemingly innocuous situation undergo the most unlikely and uncanny metamorphoses...
Russell Edson is one of the most important and unique poets of the later part of the 20th century. He is certainly one of the preeminent writers of the prose poem in America today. His work is widely anthologized as both poetry and fiction, and seems to rest on the point of the pendulum, the slash between pp/ff. On one hand, his work is densely narrative and foregrounds “the telling of a story” and the events of a world in miniature. On the other hand, they exhibit an almost maniacal linguistic journey that is disjointed, fragmentary, and indeterminate. To understand or at least create a relationship with an Edson poem is, in some ways, to understand what is unstable, irrational, and illogical about human consciousness, thought, and behavior. Donald Hall says this of Edson: “whatever his method of writing, (he) makes surreal poems. Few poets have ever written as Edson does, out of a whole irrational universe - infantile, paranoiac - with its own small curved space complete to itself, impenetrable by other conditions of thought” (American Poetry Review , 1977).
Morton Marcus writes that Edson is the “sleight-of-word trickster, the prestidigitator of the soul who pulls not rabbits but meanings out of the darkness inside the hat we call the universe”. -