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
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” (webdelsol.com). 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
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
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
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?
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.
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
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.
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,
brain thinking, where the shape of thought is more important
than the particular thought. It is a way of mind more than
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”  (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
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
our dreams. This is why poets have felt the need for the
physical distraction of verse to dream awake. As I've said
don't see my work as personal expression, which gives me
the freedom that is assumed in fiction. So much of today's
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
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
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
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
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
Relax into the writing and enjoy the creative bowel movement,
remembering all is lost anyway.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
Edson: Working on a new collection. May call
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?
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.
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
Edson: Speaking of Newton, it is scientifically
accepted that before his accident under an apple tree, while
it wasn't as precise as it is today. That on cloudy days
things tended to weigh more; on clear days somewhat less. People
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
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
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
journey has a psychological end; it probably has only a mortal
Tursi: I wonder what
a psychological end would be? That is, your poems often end
with as much instability
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?
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
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?
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
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
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.
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
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?
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.
is a way of mind; the exploration of a tunnel, where blind
albino fish seem to float in nostalgic pools of unremembered
 Delville, Michel. The American Prose Poem:
Poetic Form and the Boundaries of Genre. Gainesvill, FL: University
of Florida Press, 1998, p. 110.