Jennifer L. Knox:
Russell Edson has been called the Godfather of the American Prose Poem, but I don’t think that title fits. He did not create the form, nor was he the first to innoculate it with parables from the subconscious’ darkest regions. In his introduction to Great American Prose Poems, From Poe to the Present, David Lehman wrote, “It is a form that sets store by its use of the demotic, its willingness to locate the sources of poetry defiantly far from the spring on Mount Helicon sacred to the muses. It is an insistently modern form. Some would argue that it is, or was, an inherently subversive one”—hence, a form ideal in which to get your freak on, which Edson did in thirteen (stupidly difficult to find) books written from 1951-2009. He also wrote two novels, six books of short stories and “fables,” and three books of plays—a logical extension of his dialogue-driven poetry. Donald Hall said, “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.” That’s more like it: a Universe Maker—a universe of monkeys, boobs, and poop—not the Godfather nor a Champion of the form, as Edson shunned championing things. In a 2004 interview with Mark Tursi in Double Room, he said, “I don’t see poetry as editorial comment…what we can write is so much deeper and more interesting than the empty descriptions we give of ourselves” and of our writing, I’ll add. Most definitely, a Perfector—a topiary gardener, molding seething green clouds into shapes yet unknown...
Edson’s poems were rich in sport and glory. And they were singular. Despite his many imitators, it’s difficult to imagine coming across an Edson poem and mistaking it for anything other than an Edson poem. And what a thing to be! An Edson poem! A block of prose in which shadows fall into epileptic fits and corpses are dragged to French restaurants. In which old men eat spoons (and then themselves). In which husbands and wives, guarding themselves against the “hurt of the young,” stockpile guns, and lay traps, “and put bags of acid in the trees.”J. Robert Lennon:
Edson’s work is about disorganised fun, the kind that values chance and absurdity and sudden, unexpected revisions to the rules that govern physical reality and narrative sense. He was a master of the carefully chosen white space, and he loved the ellipsis—there’s as much going on in his pauses as in his words. He delighted in contradiction (‘He thought, I have no thoughts’) and recursive logic (‘then another old woman visited the first old woman, and spoke of another old woman, who had spoken of still another old woman’).
My pieces, when they work... win the argument against disorder through the logic of language and a compositional wholeness. R.I.P. R. Edson
— Alan Michael Parker (@AMPoProse) May 7, 2014