by Russell Edson
As much as poetry dismays me these days, there are still certain poets I'm utterly fascinated by. Russell Edson is one of those. For nearly 45 years, Edson has been publishing poems that are ridiculous, disturbing, and offensive. Despite his longevity, he has never had much more than a cult following, unlike James Tate, a Pulitzer Prize-winner who often constructs similar work and is published by a major press.
In fact, it was after seeing James Tate read a couple years back that a friend said, "If you like the weird, funny stuff that Tate does, you should really check out Russell Edson." Edson's newest book at that time was The Tormented Mirror, which I devoured quickly. Edson's prose poems read like bizarre one-page stories, where pianos give birth to other pianos, horses ride other horses, and apes (one of Edson's favorite subjects) do all sorts of fucked up things.
After Mirror, I knew had to find other books by this guy, but it wasn't as easy as you'd think, even though he's referred to as "the grandfather of the prose poem." I only found two other books at used bookstores until I tried the library, where there are many more treasures. After reading through several other books, though, I began to have mixed feelings. While often dazzled by his totally unique vision, I was sometimes disappointed by some of the throwaway aspects of his lesser poems. In other words, some of them are just dumb.
There are some dumb poems in Edson's new collection, The Rooster's Wife, as well. But the purpose of this review is less about telling you that this book is just okay and more about giving some attention to someone who is truly an original writer. Wife includes rats trying to hide inside old women, two men fishing for mermaids, a butcher making a pig costume, the creation of a super monkey, and two old men performing autopsies on each other. These instruments reveal what Edson has been trying to deconstruct for years--animal behavior, old people, weird science, and death. The Rooster's Wife is a cracked brick in Edson's aging tower of surrealism