Russell Edson

b. 1935
Russell EdsonFrances 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 has said of Edson’s poetry, “It’s fanciful, it’s even funny—but his humor carries discomfort with it, like all serious humor.” Peter Schejeldahl has pointed out that his poems have “the sustained wackiness of old Warner Brothers cartoons.”

In an interview with Mark Tursi, Edson 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; since then, he has 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 has lived for many years in Stamford, Connecticut.
 
 

Career

Poet, playwright, and novelist.

Bibliography

POETRY

  • Appearances: Fables and Drawings, Thing Press (Stamford, CT), 1961.
  • A Stone Is Nobody’s: Fables and Drawings, Thing Press, 1961.
  • The Boundry, Thing Press, 1964.
  • The Very Thing That Happens: Fables and Drawings, New Directions, 1964.
  • The Brain Kitchen: Writings and Woodcuts, Thing Press, 1965.
  • What a Man Can See, Jargon Society (Highlands, NC), 1969.
  • The Childhood of an Equestrian, Harper (New York, NY), 1973.
  • The Clam Theater, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 1973.
  • A Roof with Some Clouds behind It, Bartholomew’s Cobble (Hartford, CT), 1975.
  • The Intuitive Journey and Other Works, Harper (New York, NY), 1976.
  • The Reason Why the Closet-Man Is Never Sad, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 1977.
  • Edson’s Mentality, OINK! Press (Chicago, IL), 1977.
  • The Traffic, Red Ozier Press (Madison, WI), 1978.
  • With Sincerest Regrets, Burning Deck (Providence, RI), 1980.
  • Wuck Wuck Wuck!, with a linocut by Richard Mock, Red Ozier Press (New York, NY), 1984.
  • The Wounded Breakfast: Ten Poems, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 1985.
  • The Tunnel: Selected Poems, Oberlin College Press (Oberlin, OH), 1994.
  • The Tormented Mirror, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2001.
  • The Rooster’s Wife, BOA Editions (Rochester, NY), 2007.
  • See Jack, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2009.

OTHER

  • The Falling Sickness (plays), New Directions (New York, NY), 1975.
  • Gulping’s Recital (novel), Guignol Books (Rhinebeck, NY), 1984.
  • The Song of Percival Peacock (novel), Coffee House Press (Minneapolis, MN), 1992.
  • Tick Tock: Short Stories and Woodcut, Coffee House Press, 1992.

Plays, poetry, and parts of novels have been published in anthologies and in Nation, Chicago Review, Prairie Schooner, Seventies, Kayak, Dragonfly, Beloit Poetry Journal, Chelsea, and other periodicals.

Further Reading

BOOKS

  • Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 13, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1980.
  • Contemporary Poets, seventh edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.
  • Edson, Russell, Edson's Mentality, OINK! Press (Chicago), 1977.
  • Edson, Russell, The Tormented Mirror, University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 2001.

PERIODICALS

  • American Book Collector, March, 1985, review of Wuck, Wuck, Wuck!, p. 32.
  • American Book Review, December, 1995, review of The Tunnel: Selected Poems, p. 27.
  • Atlantic Monthly, October, 1977, review by Donald Hall, p. 102.
  • Bloomsbury Review, January-February, 2002, Jennifer Flanagan, review of The Tormented Mirror, p. 21.
  • Booklist, March 15, 2001, Ray Olson, review of The Tormented Mirror, p. 1346.
  • Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 1992, review of The Song of Percival Peacock, p. 1146.
  • Library Journal, December 15, 1972, Dorothy Nyren, review of The Childhood of an Equestrian, p. 3992; December 15, 1981, review of With Sincerest Regrets, p. 2358; November 1, 1992, Ron Antonucci, review of The Song of Percival Peacock, p. 116.
  • Los Angeles Times Book Review, May 11, 1986, review of The Wounded Breakfast, p. 6.
  • New York Times Book Review, May 1, 1977, review by Peter Schjeldahl, p. 69.
  • Parnassus, spring, 1989, Sven Birkerts, review of The Wounded Breakfast, p. 163.
  • Poetry, August, 1974, Gerrit Henry, review of The Clam Theater, pp. 295-96.
  • Publishers Weekly, September 28, 1992, review of The Song of Percival Peacock, p. 70; April 16, 2001, review of The Tormented Mirror, p. 62.
  • Review of Contemporary Fiction, fall, 1992, Irving Malin, review of Tick Tock, p. 178; spring, 1993, Malin, review of The Song of Percival Peacock, p. 261; spring, 1995, Malin, review of The Tunnel, p. 171.
  • Times Literary Supplement, July 15, 1977, review of The Reason Why the Closet-Man Is Never Sad, p. 848.
  • Virginia Quarterly Review, spring, 1977, review of The Intuitive Journey and Other Works, p. 58; winter, 1979, review of The Reason Why the Closet-Man Is Never Sad, p. 25; spring, 1986, review of The Wounded Breakfast, p. 62; spring, 2002, review of The Tormented Mirror, p. 67.

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POET’S REGION U.S., New England

LIFE SPAN 1935–

Russell Edson

Biography

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 has said of Edson’s . . .

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