Russell Edson is a scoop of your favorite ice cream in your hands while you fall from the edge of a cliff after ether.
c. l. schrey
Russell Edson's surreal, distinctly American poetry glides carefully along the razor's edge between the flash fiction and prose poem genres. His pieces are short, often funny, mostly narrative in a vague sort of way, and given to an intensely convulsive deployment of language along the model of William Carlos Williams and Garcia Lorca. In the last few years, much of Edson's work—often difficult to find given his fringe status and association to the experimental postmodernists who followed in the footsteps of Jerome Rothenberg and his Deep Image poetics—has been collected and re-issued, and WetAsphalt recommends you get your hands on as much of it as you can.
The Rothenberg paintbrush is an association that's well deserved, of course. Peel back the surface on a Russell Edson poem and you're likely to find layers of weight and meaning hidden behind the sometimes childish images he uses. A sensitive reader can't help but feel the weight of these pieces, the sense that there is something darker and more serious lurking beneath the humor and childlike glee of his humor and subject matter. In this he is a close ally of such children's writers as Lewis Carroll, Shel Silverstein, and J.M. Barrie who frequently had at the heart of their writing a dis-ease with the idyllic myth of childhood. I think that Russell Edson has kept some of that ambivalence towards the fantasy of childhood as well, and I think any reader that cares to look can find it there.
A good place to start is The Tunnel, a thick selection of Edson's poetry from the seventies and eighties published in the mid-nineties. I find it interesting to note that according to Amazon.com, only 2 percent of customer's ultimately buy The Tunnel after viewing items like it, and 76% end up buying A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I don't know what that means, I just thought it was worthy of note: Dave Eggers. Really.
[Editor's note: Information on the "Duende" mentioned in the title can be found here.]