March 26, 2010

Poets You Should Know: Russell Edson

Russell Edson is a poet who speaks to you through your dreams. My friend, Dr. Fishbag, handed me a copy of The Reason Why The Closet Man is Never Sad and told me that this poet was actually me, but with better hand writing. Taken aback, I asked Fishbag "If this poet has better hand writing, will he be more profound?" Fishbag looked me dead in the eye and said, "Of course." And that made all the difference.

The Wounded Breakfast

A huge shoe mounts up from the horizon, squealing and grinding forward on small wheels, even as a man sitting to breakfast on his veranda is suddenly engulfed in a great shadow, almost the size of the night . . . He looks up and sees a huge shoe ponderously mounting out of the earth. Up in the unlaced ankle-part an old woman stands at a helm behind the great tongue curled forward; the thick laces dragging like ships' rope on the ground as the huge thing squeals and grinds forward; children everywhere, they look from the shoelace holes, they crowd about the old woman, even as she pilots this huge shoe over the earth . . . Soon the huge shoe is descending the opposite horizon, a monstrous snail squealing and grinding into the earth . . . The man turns to his breakfast again, but sees it's been wounded, the yolk of one of his eggs is bleeding . . .

And it only gets better the longer it sits in your lap. Edson turns our nightmares into beautiful pieces of succulent melon. He understands that everything in our lives, from the trip to the mall to a bowl of cereal, is fraught with the absurd. As we desperately try to make meaning of our lives, Edson points out clearly that it is a fool's game and ultimately we will be swolled by randomness.

The Family Monkey

We bought an electric monkey, experimenting rather recklessly with funds carefully gathered since grandfather's time for the purchase of a steam monkey. We had either, by this time, the choice of an electric or gas monkey. The steam monkey is no longer being made, said the monkey merchant. But the family always planned on a steam monkey. Well, said the monkey merchant, just as the wind-up monkey gave way to the steam monkey, the steam monkey has given way to the gas and electric monkeys. Is that like the grandfather clock being replaced by the grandchild clock? Sort of, said the monkey merchant. So we bought the electric monkey, and plugged its umbilical cord into the wall. The smoke coming out of its fur told us something was wrong. We had electrocuted the family monkey.

This sort of stuff doesn't just come from nowhere. This is a complex realization of how we interact with each other, but more importantly, how we interact with ourselves. Nothing points a finger in your own face more than an electric monkey, after all.

Do yourself a favor and go out and by The Tunnel, which is a collection of Edson's poetry.

Now kiss me on the head and tell me good-night.


  1. i kind of found your blog by accident...but if you are the Daniel Elkin who went to Skidmore...

    i wanted to tell you i actually read your senior project. i worked in the english dept office and was a creative writing major myself, focus on poetry. i had some time on my hands one day and for some reason decided to read your work.

    your work was brilliant. i think i even quoted you once or twice.

    just thought i'd let you know that at least one person read the tome on the shelf...and was moved.

  2. Hi Ellen:
    Thanks for the nice words. What year did you graduate?

  3. 1989. Thanks again for the kind words.