A Path Shaded by Miniature Fables
Remembering Russell Edson
The problem of opportunism is that it feeds on but never creates or provides. Edson’s problem was sort of the opposite: capturing the creative gust. His holding cell was the paragraph, outside of which the winds whip. These winds are also creative gusts, perhaps including the very gust he thought he’d captured, now escaped and ripping the branches from a fir tree.
I believe that Edson taught me one of the first principles of art: that as soon as a figurative relationship is made, it takes on a life of its own. Or is it that art is the usual process of creation reeling out of hand—parenthood, for example—accelerated? His early poem “A Stone Is Nobody’s” begins:
A man ambushed a stone. Caught it. Made it a prisoner. Put it in a dark room and stood guard over it for the rest of his life.
Later, his mother remarks:
A stone is nobody’s, not even its own. It is you who are conquered; you are minding the prisoner, which is yourself, because you are afraid to go out.
She’s right, at least in the context of this conversation, and her son can’t help but admit it. And even though we are aware that neither of them is really talking about a stone, we might admit the same. For this reason, I invited a few of our contributors to pay a brief tribute to Russell Edson, who died on the 29th of April, 2014. —Lucas Bernhardt
A Walk for Edson
The wind-up toy has a turtle scar. Its shell can be whatever you want: good place for a sandwich, third-hand passport. That’s one way I described his poems to my student the other day, a sculptor interested in “miniscule devised habitats.” The morning I learned he died, there were, oh, new shapes to lock bikes to outside my office. Pliant spirals. Also, a pair of shoes, with a man at a surprising angle (a kind of inversion of Max Jacob’s “The Beggar Woman of Naples,” I mean my reaction was). And a protest—promotion?—I couldn’t understand outside the diner. Folks marching with signs reading “Do Not Eat / Here You’ll Never / Eat at Home / Again,” but with the “Do Not” crossed out on half the signs. A taxi driver passed me, singing or loudly listening to a vocal track of a taxi driver singing. Loudly listening? I’ll take it. They say his face was at least three kinds of wood, all of them green.
I am not a home to you, said his house. —from “The Unforgiven”
Everyone in Russell Edson’s poems is a mother, a father, a husband, or a wife. Usually they’re a combination of two or more of these, often all four, and they stick together and come apart with a creepy, primeval violence, like they do in children’s games. All the love is cannibalism; all the sex is masturbation. They remind me of Pee Wee’s Playhouse, the vast imagination of someone habitually without company. They are what the world is like when you’re lost and tired, and even your imaginary friends eye you with contempt while you eat or speak or watch television or try to puzzle your way out of your circumstances.
Thank You, Russell
Russell Edson is the only poet I’ve ever observed being asked to cease his reading. I think it’s safe to say that everyone in the audience enjoyed the first thirty minutes of his reading, maybe even the first forty-five minutes. But around an hour, a discernible quiet panic had come to permeate the room. It wasn’t the duration, which for a featured visiting poet wasn’t yet truly excessive, but the sense he projected that he might actually very well go on for another hour. Or two. He shuffled here and shuffled there among pages, with no apparent awareness of time or place (an absence of awareness emphasized at first endearingly and then maybe a little forebodingly by his wife, who wore a shirt with a picture of the two of them on the front, like a coffee mug someone’s aunt had printed at the mall in 1994), and we in the audience laughed frequently but with increasing nervousness, and waited, powerless, as he turned pages between poems. Finally, as he began to promise another series of poems and indicated aloud (looking around for confirmation) that he might have another thirty minutes remaining, Dean Young stood up and waved his hand and said “Thank you, Russell,” and that was the end of the reading. It was probably the most memorable reading I’ve ever attended.
Lucas Bernhardt is Propeller’s Poetry Editor. Zach Savich, Wendy Bourgeois, and Andy Stallings have each contributed poems to the magazine.