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The Tunnel: Selected Poems of Russell Edson (edition 1994)

by Russell Edson

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113None106,374 (3.77)4
Member:Mz.Balma
Title:The Tunnel: Selected Poems of Russell Edson
Authors:Russell Edson
Info:Oberlin College Press (1994), Paperback, 232 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Rating:****
Tags:Prose Poetry/Microfiction

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The Tunnel: Selected Poems of Russell Edson by Russell Edson

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I first read about the poetry of Russell Edson in the book Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. Goldberg wrote about a poetry reading that Edson had given at the University of Minnesota. After the reading Edson sat alone; the faculty and staff did not approach him. She wrote: Though we all laughed during the reading, he touched on naked truths in us all and we were uncomfortable. Edson's poetry is unique and strange. Recurring themes throughout his poems include monkeys/apes, cannibalism, cooking your pets, body parts falling off, chopping up people/animals with axes, ceilings and marrying inanimate objects. His poems feel like weird dreams. I liked these prose poems, but, they are definitely not for everyone.

The Mental Desert

The mind is mostly desert. The moon is lovely there, and almost turns the sands to water, save for one's natural logic.
At the paper-doll factory we are issued scissors, and warned not to monkey with our wrists.
I am an extremely serious person, needing no lectures on the care and maintenance of my tools.
I let the wrist business go unchallenged. Why should I invite discourse about monkeys with inferiors who, though in executive station, are nevertheless inferiors in the art of the scissors.
One's work involves the folding of paper, snipping here and there, and finally unfolding a self-portrait of insomniacs in a line of beds, each a night, arranged end to end.
Another ingenious design is a traffic of cars joined bumper to bumper, and so on, depending on how many folds one has made.
One dependable old woman with a rather unlovely stare, creates a masturbator pattern: a chain of lonely men holding their penises, ingeniously attached penis by penis: one long spit through all their groins.
There is the morning-bus motif, the public-toilet motif, any number of old favorites...Yet, I thought to give the factory a motif closer to the popular taste; and by this means prove myself worthy of executive station. I created a suicide motif: a chain of paper-doll factory workers attached elbow to elbow, cutting their wrists.
An inferior foreman merely said, you are well on your way to the misuse of your tools, which may well involve your monkey.
...My monkey? I screamed.

...Of course the mind is a desert, one grows used to the simplicity of thirst. ( )
  VioletBramble | Feb 8, 2012 |
Finding this book in a used bookstore was a jaw-dropper for me. I grabbed it and hid it underneath other books in my cart on the off chance someone else who realized what a find it was would also see it and we would have to fight to the death for it. At $3, price was not an object.

I think the first time I came across Russell Edson's work was in a collection of "flash fiction" many many years ago. I don't even recall if he was included in an anthology of prose poetry I later read. His work is very hard to come by. I don't even recall where I learned about The Tunnel. And so to suddenly find it in a used bookstore, well, it's a wonder I didn't yell "oh my god!! The Tunnel!" Thankfully, I'm a naturally quiet person so at the most I may have gasped.

That first poem that made such an impression was "The Dinner," which I still think is a brilliant symphony of wrong-headed attributions of a sort, sadly, I think we've all heard before. Here's a sample:

He saw himself in the mirror. Oh, mock me, will you. And so he smashed the mirror with a chair, which broke. Oh, don't want to be a chair no more; too good to be sat on, eh? He began to beat the pieces of the chair.

I've always wondered why Edson isn't given as much attention as that other fellow poets and fiction writers like to fight over: Italo Calvino. About midway through The Tunnel, I began to strongly suspect it was the prevalent violence in his work. It kept me from giving this book 5 stars (gave it 4). In the poem above, he's making fun of idiotic violence and unexamined emotions. However, it wasn't always so clear to me that the violence was anything but violence. Still it was worth wading through for the good stuff and one of the bloodiest poems "The Howling" was one of the most moving.

Like much prose poetry, Edson's is surreal. Reading them, I would sometimes see the scenes rendered by Shel Silverstein and sometimes by Savador Dali. Inanimate things aren't to be trusted. A lot of melting goes on. There is definitely an underlying assumption in his work that we aren't as in command of the world as we think we are. From "The Old Woman's Breakfast":

The walls melt, and her mind seems to float over the room like a puff of dust slapped out of a pillow.

She falls into the porridge, she becomes part of it.
She is a porridge of melting walls [...]

Or from "The Mountain Climber":

It is only after I reach the top of the mountain that I discover that it is not a mountain, that I have been crawling across the floor of my bedroom all of my life . . .

There's a lot of humor in these poems and despite the bizarre, shifting scenarios, we can recognize ourselves (or I can recognize myself anyway).

The later poetry in this book relies less on violence. The Tunnel includes selections from his 6 books up to 1985. I'll now be looking for his later work.

I don't feel like I'm doing Edson justice in this review. It's difficult to quote poems without doing so in their entirety because the best ones, of course, build to more than the sum of their parts. The Tunnel is definitely an experience worth having and I encourage anyone to grab it up wherever they find it. ( )
  jppoetryreader | Oct 5, 2011 |
The surrealism here felt dated to me and seemed goofy. Too often I felt like I was supposed to be shocked and instead I just felt sort of embarrassed, like someone awkward was trying to act really cool in front of me. ( )
  wordlikeabell | Jan 31, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0932440657, Paperback)

This prized collection of Russell Edson's prose poems, featuring his own favorites from seven prior collections, constitutes some of the most original American art of this century. This is the book of choice for both new and committed fans of this imaginative poet.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:39:33 -0400)

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