Thursday, May 29, 2014

Russell Edson (1935-2014)

I just learned from Charles Simic's notice on the website of the New York Review of Books that the poet Russell Edson died earlier this year (on April 29, 2014, according to the Poetry Foundation).

I knew Edson's work almost entirely through the one slim volume shown above, which was published as a "New Directions Paperbook Original," apparently in 1964. I doubt I had ever heard of the author when I picked it up second-hand; I was in my teens, it looked interesting, and it probably cost me all of twenty cents, which is the price marked in pencil inside the front cover.

The Very Thing That happens comprises eighty or so very short pieces — what would you call them? prose poems? anecdotes? fables? koans? — accompanied by Edson's own appropriately daft drawings. Here, in its entirety, is one example:

A man put a fedora on a cabbage, oh please be somebody I know.
Now who it is, as the brim is low, he cannot tell, but someone is certainly someone.
Someone, who are you?
Someone says nothing.
One and cabbage and now the moon. Round things are not unavailable in a square room.
The moon comes wearing a crown of clouds, worn too low to know who it is.
I ate it up: the whimsy, the perverse logic, that last line so deliciously cadenced it demanded to be sung (and sing it I did). And likewise with "The Cruel Rabbit," "Notice for the Meatball Fund," "The Tub and the Woman," "Mouse-music," and the title piece, which begins with a father riding into his kitchen on an imaginary white horse and after going downhill from there ends with this incontrovertible bit of wisdom:
But why why why is it happening? cries mother.
Because of all the things that might have happened this is the very thing that happens.
I've hung on to my copy of the book for a least forty years. I can't say that I've dipped into it more than occasionally for a long time, but its spell, in its own small way, has never really been broken.


Tororo said...

I have never read anything by Russell Edson: from the moment I read this post, I felt I should have.
Sadly it seems that his works still don't have retained much of French publishing companies attention.

Chris said...

He would be difficult to translate, I think, perhaps particularly so into French.