A PLENTIFUL WORLD: RL Greenfield on Russell Edson’s See Jack


See Jack, Russell Edson, University of Pittsburgh Press

I discovered an American master of wry fairy tales and gnomic wit coupled with consistently elevated blasphemies only yesterday. Of course I knew his name, Russell Edson, and had checked his books out before. But it was yesterday I was finally awake to finish a book of his (See Jack) and feel and know the author’s unique gift. I whipped through this fascinating book at one sitting (and read each poem twice, and sometimes three or four times). It’s beautiful and accurate stylish and rich in its promiscuous and utterly elegant use of the English language. It is also wildly comic and oddly gracefully obscene and post-surrealistically absurd.

Things do unexpected things in Edson’s dynamic cosmos of unexpected forces which behave in a most contrary and defiant manner upsetting every canon of predictability and order. The Idea Of Order At Key West is turned on its nose by Mr. Edson who cracks open the new egg of the post-nuclear age of catastrophe to reveal new creatures who are pretty crazy unless you live in the child’s world of eternal imagination and hallucination—the universe obviously occupied by Mr. Russell Edson. This guy has a load (lode?) on his mind and he finds ample opportunity for his characters of all species, notably, inanimate objects, to come to life and especially engage in the multiple forms of sexual intercourse abounding in the universe with any available mate— including walls, couches, musical instruments—you name it. Everything seems to be in love or at least in hate with everything else including itself. Edson’s is a plentiful world.

There are plenty of chances for each and all to score a good lay, kill a nasty king or, in the prophetic words of Dr. Hannibal Lecter at the conclusion of Ridley Scott’s movie Hannibal, “try out new things.” Dr. Lecter was was offering that counsel to a little girl sitting next to him on the plane to whom he was also offering a sample of human brain as a snack, unbeknownst to her. Mr. Russell Edson is somewhat like that—utterly and dangerously uninhibited, erotic. Ah, French, with a slice of Descartes wedded to a piece of the Marquis de Sade throw in some shit balls from fairy tale land, add a cup of urine, and two fresh tablespoons of semen from a bull-cow or horse plus some drippings from the mons veneris of a princess walking the strip in Las Vegas. Chop, stir & shake. Put in blender: grind, blend & liquefy. Pour into glasses. Drink. Serves the entire company. Repeat with double & triple doses. Add Viagra, salt peter & latest aphrodisiacs according to individual tastes.

Mr. Edson is a master of the refined forms. His elegant techniques lead to the Palace of Debauchery & the Temple of The Reversal Of Cosmic Habits & Attitudes. Anything can happen & does in the Russell Edson cosmos. His world is the new Metamorphoses which continues to evolve every time we turn a page. This is one of the most surprising books of poems I have seen in years. Call them prose poems. They are miniature 21st-century anti-fairy tales with a consistently rigorous intelligence at the controls. When is the last time you picked up a book of poems that you could not put down until you had absorbed the last poem in the book? Well, here is such a book.

2 responses to “A PLENTIFUL WORLD: RL Greenfield on Russell Edson’s See Jack

  1. Pingback: Greenfield Reviews Russell Edson’s SEE JACK for “Gently Read Literature” « The Greenfield Code

  2. Sounds like another Edson classic. His work has probably been more instrumental than anyone else in “building” the prose poem in the U.S. I love his leaping imagination and his illogical logic. He is my mentor and hero.

    Thanks for giving me a heads up on this new collection. It will be mine.