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An Interview with Russell Edson Mark Tursi

Russell Edson is one of the most important and unique poets of the later part of the 20th century. He is certainly one of the preeminent writers of the prose poem in America today. His work is widely anthologized as both poetry and fiction, and seems to rest on the point of the pendulum, the slash between pp/ff. On one hand, his work is densely narrative and foregrounds “the telling of a story” and the events of a world in miniature. On the other hand, they exhibit an almost maniacal linguistic journey that is disjointed, fragmentary, and indeterminate. His fable-like tales or prose poems are fantastical and oneiric, yet, in a way, seem to transcend the realm of dreams. Following a ‘logic-of-the-absurd,’ these poems do not uncover or reveal a Jungian collective unconscious or Bretonian sense of a ‘real functioning of thought,’ but, rather, they present a disjointed phantasmagoric and anecdotal impulse. This gesture of absurdity draws on the unconscious mind in order to poke fun at, as well as to unsettle what it is that makes us most human: our blunders, our paranoia, our fears, our joys, our loves, our (false) certainties, and our confusions.

A friend of mine who taught creative writing at Colorado State University assigned a Russell Edson poem to one of his classes with the following preface: “Here's a sample of what the most insane person in America has been thinking about in the last twenty years.” Having corresponded with Edson over the past year though, I can confidently say that he is actually quite sane and wonderfully intelligent. But, still, there is something to this assessment. Edson’s poems certainly do exhibit a kind of insanity that demonstrates his keen interest in the human mind, human experience, and language. To understand or at least create a relationship with (a Deleuzean rhizome perhaps) an Edson poem is, in some ways, to understand what is unstable, irrational, and illogical about human consciousness, thought, and behavior. Donald Hall says this of Edson: “whatever his method of writing, (he) makes surreal poems. Few poets have ever written as Edson does, out of a whole irrational universe - infantile, paranoiac - with its own small curved space complete to itself, impenetrable by other conditions of thought” (American Poetry Review, 1977). Edson's surrealism is not merely adjectival, figurative, or symbolic, and it is ‘complete’ insofar as the entire poem is a spectacle and fantasy where anything is possible. If a preverbal state does exist, a “superior reality” to use Breton's term, then Edson propels his readers ever so close to that place. Like an abstract expressionist (qua surrealist) painter with brush and canvas distorting reality in order to embody feeling and better represent human experience, Edson re-creates and re-presents a universe like a textual magician. The result is sometimes hysterically funny as well as horrifying.

Since the early 1960’s, Edson has dazzled readers with his eerie logic, (ir)rational narrative gymnastics, and comic wisdom. Morton Marcus writes that Edson is the “sleight-of-word trickster, the prestidigitator of the soul who pulls not rabbits but meanings out of the darkness inside the hat we call the universe” ( And, in fact, Edson pulls a whole menagerie of animals, scientists, disgruntled farmers, morose doctors, mermaids, wooden babies, and various other surprises from the darkness. And, as Marcus notes, these figures come loaded with meaning and ideas that are sometimes visionary and at other times zany. Edson is the author of numerous books: Appearances, (Thing Press, 1961); A Stone Is Nobody’s, (Thing Press, 1961); The Very Thing That Happens, (New Directions, 1964); The Brain Kitchen, (Thing Press, 1965 ); What a Man Can See, (The Jargon Society, 1969); The Childhood of an Equestrian, (Harper & Row, 1973); The Clam Theater, (Wesleyan Univ. Press, 1973); The Falling Sickness, 4 plays, (New Directions, 1975); The Intuitive Journey & Other Works, (Harper & Row, 1976); The Reason Why the Closet-Man is Never Sad, (Wesleyan, 1977); With Sincerest Regrets, (Burning Deck, 1980); The Wounded Breakfast, (Wesleyan, 1985); Tick Tock, (Coffee House Press, 1992); The Song of Percival Peacock, a novel, (Coffee House, 1992); The Tunnel: Selected Poems, (Oberlin College Press, 1994); The Tormented Mirror, (U. of Pittsburgh Press, 2000); The House of Sara Loo, (Rain Taxi, 2002); O Túnel, (Assirio & Alvim, 2002). And, forthcoming in 2005 is The Rooster’s Wife from BOA Editions, Ltd.

Even with this impressive list of publications, Edson remains very humble. In fact, he is often surprised by people who are deeply interested in or influenced by his work. In one personal correspondence, he wrote this: “One has to remember that words are the enemy of creative writing. The ideal is to try not to write too much beyond the English articles, a, an, the. I believe, if remembered at all, I'll be remembered for my love of those articles more than any of the matter written between them. I'm very moved that my work has meant so much to you, but the truth is that my work doesn't lead anyplace, and proves a bad influence, even to me, the writer who writes it.” I truly hope his “bad influence” continues to have a wide, unsettling, and ruthlessly funny impact on our imaginations and on our writing for many more years to come . . .


Mark Tursi: I thought I’d start with a very general question, just to provide some context for this discussion. And that is, what do you think about the condition of poetry in America today? Where are we right now and where do you think we’re headed?

Russell Edson: I’m pretty much a hermit, but my impression is that there is a kind of uninspired dullness. Not so long ago there seemed to be at least some interesting personalities. They’ve either died or gone into spiritual hibernation. Of course one can never really know what’s happening until after it’s happened. That’s why in most cases we’re usually too late.

Tursi: Is the choice to be a ‘hermit’—at least in terms of the poetry world—a political choice? That is, what are your reasons for largely disengaging from the contemporary literary scene?

Edson: "Hermit" is one of the ways of life one naturally falls into without even noticing it. A giraffe doesn't think of itself as a giraffe. It just happens to be a giraffe without having to think about it.

Tursi: Another related question I’ve been thinking about has to do with your fairly significant ‘underground’ or ‘cult’ following. There are a lot of other poets, students, and literary-types that read your work, and perhaps even more writers today who are clearly influenced by your work. Yet, you are still largely marginalized by the wider academic and literary community, and often not included in the so-called canon. Why do you think this is?

Edson: If my work, as you put it, "is still largely marginalized by the wider academic and literary community," it's probably because they don't care for it. Being, as you suggest, somewhat of a hermit, I've never thought of myself as marginal or mainstream, just happy to be writing. Of course the literary community is very much a social club, and I'm really too distracted for organized fun.

Tursi: Your poetry exhibits a tension between language & reality and language & consciousness that is sometimes disturbing, sometimes comic, and more often, a bit of both. More recent poems from the Tormented Mirror, e.g. “Nice” and “The Redundancy of Horses,” or older poems from What A Man Can See, like “Signs” and one of my absolute favorite poems, “A Man With a Tree on His Head” are some examples where I see you really exploring this tension. You have also suggested that language is an attempt to win the argument over disorder and create a logical world “within its own madness.” Yet, at other times you seem rather ambivalent toward language. In an earlier interview, for example, you suggest “poetry is a thing of gesture and sign, and almost a nonlanguage art,” or in the same interview: “words are the enemy of poetry.” What is the relationship between consciousness, thought, reality and language? What role does the ‘self’ play in this relationship? What role does poetry play in this relationship?

Edson: In gross terms the two basic forms of creative writing are fiction and poetry. Language is consciousness, and this is where fiction is made. Poetry springs from the dream mind, the unconscious. Poetry is never comfortable in language because the unconscious doesn’t know how to speak. All writing is storytelling. Fiction describes reality with words, poetry with images. I would guess in the history of literature fiction came first and taught poetry how to speak. The process I’m taking about, I call dreaming awake. Being fully conscious while still dreaming on the page.

Tursi: I wonder, to what extent, is your work a critique? That is, are your poems satirical? For instance, writing about surrealism and fabulism, Robert Scholes suggests that “Fabulist satire is less certain ethically but more certain esthetically than traditional satire. Fabulators have some faith in art but reject all ethical absolutes, and thereby dismiss the traditional satirist’s faith in the efficacy of satire as a reforming instrument. Instead they have a more subtle faith in the humanizing value of laughter.” What do you think about his assessment? Do you see your work rejecting ethical absolutes and privileging aesthetic choices?

Edson: Sometimes my work is humorous, or funny, but never meant as satire. Satire has a social or political purpose. I don't work with preconceived ideas about reality. I look for the logic of reality, which is the shape of thought more than any particular idea or concept. Writing for me is the fun of discovery. Which means I want to discover something I didn't know forming on the page. Experience made into an artifact formed with the logic of a dream. I realized long ago that the poem is the experience no matter the background of experience it is drawn from. Needless to say, I don’t see poetry as editorial comment.

Tursi: In addition to dream and experience, you seem to draw on what might be called deep cultural mythologies or perhaps even what Jung called the collective unconscious, as well as simple social taboos and anxieties. Recently, in “Allegory” for example, you expose the violence contained within childhood fairytales like Hansel and Gretel. Or, in “Ape” you broach the topic of bestiality. How do these topics enter your poems? Are you attempting simply to ‘twist’ existing phenomena or are you trying to uncover something deeper within our collective insecurity and anxiety?

Edson: Having no specific place to go in my pieces; never knowing when I sit down to write what my brain will cough up, while still existing within a culture, it's only natural my expression will reference that culture. My job as a writer is mainly to edit the creative rush. The dream brain is the creative engine. This is something everybody has; we're all creative. But the gifted writer is the good editor. One might say an insane person has lost the division between the dream brain and the editorship of consciousness. Whereas the writer is supremely conscious even while dreaming. So for me anything goes. 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. Poetry is sanity, full brain thinking, where the shape of thought is more important than the particular thought. It is a way of mind more than a technique.

Tursi: I’m also interested in issues of form with your poetry – something beyond simply the difference between the verse poem and the prose poem. Many of your poems seem to emerge from what I’d call a basic “recipe” or an initial schema or framework: e.g. one involves “a modern everyman who suddenly tumbles into an alternative reality in which he loses control over himself, sometimes to the point of being irremediably absorbed— both figuratively and literally—by his immediate, and most often domestic everyday environment” [1] (as in “Conjugal” & “The Passion”). Another involves a character that grapples with technology in some way, which often gets the better of him/her (as in “The Automobile” & “The Square Wheel”). I see many of these recipes that emerge from basic relationships – e.g. dealing with animals and scientists, doctors and the body, farmers and the landscape . . . Do you work from some kind of initial framework and build from there? Or, do you think these schemas emerge from or reveal some fundamental aspect of the human condition?

Edson: Poetry is always looking for a language because it is not natural to language as fiction is. As I've probably already said, it was fiction that showed poetry how to come into language. But we tend to be embarrassed and fearful of the unconscious; viewing it only at night in the privacy of our dreams. This is why poets have felt the need for the physical distraction of verse to dream awake. As I've said before, I don't see my work as personal expression, which gives me the freedom that is assumed in fiction. So much of today's poetry is strangled by the notion of self-expression, which locks the creative thrust in sentimental vanity. All creative writing is storytelling. The two basic approaches are fiction and poetry. Fiction describes what it means, and poetry becomes what it means in images. Fiction is a linear art made of time, poetry is childishly timeless and circular. As far as I know, the prose poem repeats the act of fiction suddenly opening poetry into language. It is always a discovery of something unknown and unplanned.

Tursi: Do you have a background in philosophy or logic? I ask partly because I’m interested in the way in which you twist rational thought and logical patterns. You create comic tautologies or negative tautologies as in “A Man With a Tree on His Head” and “Sleep,” and, of course, there is a multitude of non-sequiturs throughout your work. What is your connection to logic and philosophical reasoning? How do you go about creating this ‘logic of absurdity’ that is characteristic of so much of your work?

Edson: I have no formal background, as you suggest, in anything. I just make up things as I go along without a program. It's more fun that way.

Tursi: You’ve mentioned in Portrait of the Writer as a Fat Man that you hate “constipated lines” that are “afraid to be anything but correct.” We all hate being constipated – any suggestions to help prevent this kind of blockage?

Edson: Possibly a good psychological physic, which goes: just get something on the page, you have nothing to lose except your life, which you're going to lose anyway. So get with it, enjoy this special moment that brings you to the writing table. Relax into the writing and enjoy the creative bowel movement, remembering all is lost anyway.

Tursi: Along the same lines, you suggest—and write—poetry that is free from ornamentation and stripped bare of most of the accoutrements often expected of a poem. But, you certainly incorporate a variety of poetic devices (e.g. metaphor, symbol, irony, etc.). Do you find any value in the way formal techniques and so-called literary devices impact and manipulate the substance, content and material of the poem?

Edson: The so-called literary devices, metaphor, symbol, irony, as you put it, are the natural workings of the human brain. One doesn't have to think of using them, they're already there like one's hands or eyes. It's the way the species thinks and expresses itself in ordinary commerce. It's how we're all wired, to use a modern expression.

Tursi: I’ve seen some of your visual artwork – the cover of The Tunnel and The House of Sara Loo for instance. Can you talk a little bit about this artwork and perhaps the way you see that interacting with your poetry? Any major influences from the realm of the visual arts?

Edson: The cover of The Tunnel is the work of a mad monk, who carved a lot of crude heads in granite on the French side of the English Channel. A good many of the covers on my other books do have my visuals. Early on I had thought to be a painter, but found the whole thing just too messy. Writing is physically less bothersome. Of course preparing a book for publication is hardly worth the trip. It's even worse than homework from school. Somehow life manages to find difficulties no matter how clear the path may seem. It's hard to think of any living thing that doesn't suffer the limitations of its biology.

Tursi: I find painting to have a particularly strong affinity with poetry, and I don’t mean merely to evoke some of the obvious historical connections (e.g. Stein and the cubists). But, there’s a certain—albeit tenuous—link between the way in which a painter produces an image, and thereby re-produces the psychological and emotional realm via a physical reproduction, and the way the poet attempts the same with language and image. I am also particularly drawn to experimental film – like Stan Brakhage, Richard Breer etc. There’s a certain fluidity of consciousness mixed with physical reality that doesn’t seem possible in other artistic mediums, except perhaps poetry. So, I’m interested in your thoughts about the visual arts – more generally I suppose.

Edson: All the arts have a strong affinity with poetry. But the difference is that all the other arts are attached to sensory organs like eyes and ears. Poetry can be heard, read, or tapped out on one's back in Morse code; it can be read as Braille through the fingertips. In other words, all other arts have a physical presence which writing has always to earn. Poetry, which, paradoxically, is not really a language art as we know fiction to be, is perhaps, as you suggest, more related to painting. But even more, perhaps silent film, because dreams, if not completely, are mainly wordless. The babyish subconscious doesn't know how to speak. It is the land of physical understandings. Its language is a language of images. Poetry is a physical art without a physical presence, so that it often finds itself in cadence to the heartbeat, the thud of days, and in the childish grasp of the reality of rhymes.

Tursi: I agree that poetry does seem to require that we earn a physical presence. And, it also seems that poetry demands that the physical presence be sought after. In other words, it requires us to make the leap toward creating something meaningful that abstract painting, or in fact film and most other visual arts do not. The units of poetry are inherently denotative and signifying, and the words and images force us to find the physical via the signifying effect no matter what manifestation is evoked. Or, as you suggest, through “the cadence of the heartbeat” or “the reality of rhyme.” Perhaps then, the engagement with the physical is less imagistic and more sonically or phonically motivated? Or, is there a rhythm or cadence that underlies the image or is somehow inextricably linked to it?

Edson: In poetry the patterns of rhythm and rhyme give distraction that the dream brain might be free to dream. Dreams like poetry are physical creations without the conscious means of expression. I believe poetry came into language after the invention of fiction; that it was fiction that taught poetry how to speak.

Tursi: What happens if the closet-man does become sad?

Edson: Please, don’t ever suggest that. It makes me think of what cosmologists have termed the “big bang,” a sudden expansion of the universe, exploding from perhaps nothing at all, save a sadness suddenly energized into an unquenchable anger. So it’s probably best to believe that the closet-man is never sad. . .

Tursi: On the bottom of the sky . . .

Edson: On the bottom of the sky is a man standing on the earth,
flapping his arms. . .

Tursi: So, I was also wondering – what it is you do outside of ‘the tunnel’?

Edson: What do I do outside of the tunnel? Is there an outside?

Tursi: I really like the poems that just came out in Sentence – especially Rocks. Are you working on a new collection? Can we expect one soon?

Edson: Working on a new collection. May call it, The Rooster's Wife.

Tursi: In the poem, “An Observer of Incidentality,” you write: “Conclusion: Incidentality is only theoretical. For once one becomes aware of it, it immediately moves to the center of one’s attention, causing everything else to enter the incidental, including the observer of incidentality.” I love the irony here, and it makes me think of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle or Principle of Indeterminacy as it has been applied to literature. Although there have been gross misuses that others from the humanities have applied to the original equation; i.e. the way in which the observer effects the observed and the relation of forces, etc., I do think some applications are valid and appropriate – esp. considering Heisenberg’s conversations with Schrodinger and Einstein about ‘uncertainty.’ Is there an “about” to uncertainty? But, anyway, I think this notion of uncertainty is interesting in regard to your work. That is, what role does accident and “incidentality” play? How about for poetry in general? You’ve written extensively about the unconscious, so it seems that coincidence and accident must play a significant role in your poetic sensibility. But, are there other ways, besides the unconscious where incidentality impacts your work or the creative process?

Edson: I love all the wonderful things physicists say about matter. Matter is such an interesting idea, no matter how it’s described. I forget who came up with the idea of it first, but it is has always haunted my thinking knowing of those completely convinced of the existence of matter. And yet, even if it doesn't exist, the idea that it could works just as well. One can expand on this and imagine a whole cosmology. But finally, for whatever one might imagine, there are only two things that remain constant through all the possibilities; one is one's brain (the organ of reality), and the other is the reality of everything else, including one's brain. Of chance, all chances become coincidences, as in the chance of a closed door opening and the coincidence of someone stepping through. All logic begins at coincidence, the random suddenly finding its pattern like a jigsaw puzzle of neurons, giving focus to the idea of pattern; pattern which is always there, waiting only to be thought of.

Tursi: This is an interesting notion, i.e. that one can think about all logic as beginning with coincidence. And, it’s a notion deeply imbedded in our psyches. I think of the absurd anecdotes involving scientific discoveries and accidents – like the one with an apple that drops from a tree and hits Isaac Newton on the head – and thus gravity is discovered!!! But, certainly there’s some validity to these accidents that later (or even spontaneously) develop into something extraordinary. But, in the interview you did with Peter Johnson, you mention something that Charles Simic said in his introduction to the prose poem feature of Verse: “Others pray to God. I pray to chance to show me the way out of this prison I call myself.” I agree that the prose poem can be this vacation spot – a temporary escape from the idea of self, as you suggest. But, I wonder if chance is the right ‘god’ to pray to? Who would you be ‘praying’ to (I use this as loosely and figuratively as I think Simic intended) if you could choose your ‘god’?

Edson: Speaking of Newton, it is scientifically accepted that before his accident under an apple tree, while gravity existed, it wasn't as precise as it is today. That on cloudy days things tended to weigh more; on clear days somewhat less. People were probably able to float for short distances when the weather was right. It was only after Newton noticed gravity that gravity became, one might say, self aware, and suddenly serious about its work, not the least of which, the fatal mischief inherent in high places and banana peels.

Was Newton destined to be made aware of gravity, and gravity in Newton's awareness of it, aware of itself? Or was this simply an expression of the random, the coincidence of Newton having been born with a head, and a particular tree hanging a particular apple aimed at the aforementioned head?

There is what I have called, the monkey principle. Which allows (and I quote): What will be has already to exist before it does, otherwise it should never exist at all. Which is to say, before monkeys awoke out of their hydrogen atoms they already existed in the very fact of their possibility.

Tursi: In The Intuitive Journey, a woman kills a parakeet with an ax, a scientist thinks about shrinking things out of existence, a man registers pigeons at a hotel, a dog’s back is stuck to the ceiling and a living room is overgrown with grass. What’s intuitive about this? Where does the journey begin? Is intuition the light at either end of the tunnel or simply another part of the darkness?

Edson: I look for the unexpected self as I think Simic does. It is an intuitive journey that takes us through the killing of a parakeet with an ax, and the thinking of shrinking something out of existence, and registering pigeons at a hotel, and a dog stuck to the ceiling by its back, not to mention a room overgrown with grass; all of which you happened to mention. But these are only stations of the journey. I'm not sure the journey has a psychological end; it probably has only a mortal end.

Tursi: I wonder what a psychological end would be? That is, your poems often end with as much instability and uncertainty as they begin. What’s often left, with the reader at least, is a disturbed and unsettled laughter. In the poem itself, the laughter seems to be a sort of uncontrolled hysteria or at other times some attempt (by a character or a personified object) to gather the broken fragments left over from some kind of breaking point. The absurdist delirium that we are often left with is a kind of insanity. And, I guess this notion of insanity, which seems so integral to your narrative disruptions and what Michel Delville calls your “syncopated jolts,” is something that really interests me. You’ve also said that “Language is sanity,” and that the poem itself, although a “miraculous contradiction,” is an act of sanity. Can you delve into this a bit further? That is, if language is an act of sanity, how can one construct a miraculous contradiction (a prose poem) that seems so insane?

Edson: Speaking of a psychological end, language is an end in itself. Just being able to write a sentence, or a group of them into a paragraph, means something has happened. As a writer, I don’t ask much more than that. Pure poetry is the land of languageless dreams of mute images rising, as I think I’ve said, out of the unconscious brain. Silent theater productions that drift through our nights, most times as we sleep. Paradoxically, the creative engine of all the writing arts. Poetry joined to conscious language is a miraculous contradiction. It is, as again I may have mentioned, a sleeping awake; being fully awake, and yet dreaming. Which seems as close as we get to sanity. Insanity might be described as the loss of the boundary between these two ways of thinking, where the subject no longer tells the unconscious from the conscious; the higher function overwhelmed by the unspeakable. Mental doctors like to have their nuts (patients) lie on couches and verbalize in the hope that the very logic that language exacts might adjust the nut- skewed mentality. We who write also look to the logic of language to make our way through our dreams toward literary masterpieces.

Tursi: Is the journey toward a literary masterpiece that intentional? I mean, are we really striving to create a masterpiece, or just writing? And, in a somewhat, but perhaps distantly related question, to what extent do you think poetry is a way of disseminating knowledge? That is, through the experience of poetry, is knowledge gained, acquired or discovered? If, as you suggested earlier that poetry is the logic of reality and the shape of thought then ‘sleeping awake’ seems a bit like Plato talking about shadows in a cave. That is, poetry becomes a means of remembering, rather than discovering. In other words, can knowledge about reality really be gained via the unconscious? This would seem like a reversal of cause and effect in some ways – at least to me. I guess I’m being very Marxist here – esp. in terms of a materialist methodology – but, nonetheless, I’m curious about what you think about the relationship between knowledge and poetry.

Edson: Of course it's just writing. In a three dimensional universe what better way to while away the fourth dimension?

Much of the human brain might be compared to obesity, a surplus of neuronic tissue, that in the most practical sense has as much use as excessive body heft, save for idly passing the fourth dimension by writing poems, or even trying to find a theory of everything.

The only knowledge that does anything is technology. As for instance, the steps that take us from the rubbing of two sticks together to the flower of the modern cigarette lighter. And though there are those who insist on seeing poetry as a technology, poetry in its long history has never produced a single cigarette lighter no matter how many aesthetic theories were rubbed together.

Poetry is fun. Why burden it with the humdrum of unexplored memory in the illusion of self expression? At best the poem is an impersonal amusement where the writer and the reader laugh together at finding once again that only reality is the reality of the brain thinking about reality.

Tursi: I’d like to ask a question about your ideas on poetic identity – i.e. the self and the “I” in poetry. I think I’m stating the obvious by suggesting that your “I” is not autobiographical, or am I? In other words, what remains of the subjective ego, the lyric subject—even if entirely metaphorical or psychological—within your poems? In a passage that is quoted often, you say, “What we want is a poetry of miracles – minus the 'I' of ecstasy. . . A poetry freed from the definition of poetry, and a prose free of the necessities of fiction; a personal form disciplined not by other literature but by unhappiness; thus a way to be happy.” Will there always be remnants of the ego hanging around with our language, even with our most ardent attempts to strip it away? How can we strip it away? By abandoning the lyric “I,” where does the voice emerge from? And, is happiness (a way to be happy) a rejection of the ego?

Tursi: In another related question, I want to ask you about your thoughts on Lorca’s notion of the duende. The reason I ask, in part, emerges from your literary connection to and friendship with Robert Bly. I know about your respect for and friendship with Bly, and I’ve heard him talk about the duende again and again – i.e. “the mysterious power that we all may feel and no philosophy can explain.” In contrast to Bly, however, who seems somewhat obsessed with accessing Lorca’s duende (or perhaps driven by it), your poetry seems to make a mockery of this mysterious power, rather than recognizing it as a compelling force (except perhaps a comic one!). So, what do you think about this idea of the duende and how do you see your poetry rejecting and subverting it or accepting and acknowledging it?

Edson: Mark, I wonder if you could rephrase your questions. I just can't quite get into what you've sent. . .

Tursi: All right, let’s try again. Sorry if those questions were a bit convoluted. Perhaps they reveal my own obsessions a bit. Here are some others:

With the first question, I guess I just don’t get what you’ve said in this often quoted passage, but am interested to hear more: “What we want is a poetry of miracles – minus the 'I' of ecstasy.” I don’t see any ecstasy in the “I” to begin with. And, if you remove yourself from the poem, how is it compelling anymore. What’s human about it?

And with the other question, I don’t really know how to rephrase it, so let’s finish with something more open-ended: if there’s no outside of “the tunnel,” what’s the point? Why language? Why poetry?

Edson: I guess I was speaking about poets who stand in front of their poems with a capital “I.” Many times the confessional types who absorb the energy of their poems in the vanities of personality. What we can write is so much deeper and more interesting than the empty descriptions we give of ourselves. The world is awash with empty masks of celebrity.

Poetry is a way of mind; the exploration of a tunnel, where blind albino fish seem to float in nostalgic pools of unremembered memory.


[1] Delville, Michel. The American Prose Poem: Poetic Form and the Boundaries of Genre. Gainesvill, FL: University of Florida Press, 1998, p. 110.