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Monday, March 21, 2011

Number 101: Russell Edson "With Sincerest Regrets"

With Sincerest Regrets
for Charles Simic

Like a monstrous snail, a toilet slides into a living room on a track of wet, demanding to be loved.
It is impossible, and we tender our sincerest regrets. In the book of the heart there is no mention made of plumbing.
And though we have spent our intimacy many times with you, you belong to an unfortunate reference, which we would rather not embrace ...
The toilet slides away ...

--Russell Edson

Hap Notes: Well, prose-poet Russell Edson (born 1935) is surely a paradigm shift from Medieval poetry. As we all know, I am not a fan of prose-poetry but there's an exception to every rule and mine is Edson (breaking off briefly to say that if there IS an exception to every rule and if that is a rule, then there isn't.) If you understood my parenthetical comment then you will probably find something to enjoy in Edson who is slightly on the surreal side, often amusing and always thought provoking.

Edson was born in Connecticut and was the son of the cartoonist Gus Edson who created the comic strip "The Gumps"- which is a bit before my time, and wrote the text and was co-creator of the Irwin Hasen drawn "Dondi," which I remember reading in the Sunday paper when I was a kid.

Edson studied art at the Art Students League in the early 50s. He has been enormously influential on contemporary poets. He has won several NEA writing fellowships and a Guggenheim. He is a great proponent of the dream and the subconscious as the originator of poetry, particularly his. He has commented that most people have that kind of creativity- what a writer needs to be is an editor.

The poem has many levels. For one thing a talking toilet is certainly something our culture would use to sell toilet cleaners, wouldn't it? So apparently a talking toilet is a device for sales but other than that, what? For another- there's nothing to bring you down from the heights of overblown romanticism than the ubiquitous, useful and helpful porcelain commode that all must use. The throne on which we all reign. This is not poetry as bathroom humor, though. It's poetry with a new perspective on an old thing, our humanity, our need for privacy, our shame at our uh... output. It brings up the question of why we feel the way we do about it. Perhaps there are some who see the toilet with romantic joy but I daresay it has more to do with constipation than with love.

We will do more Edson this year. His images are astonishing and memorable.

Here is a quote from Edson in an interview with Mark Tursi for web del sol. I thought it was germane to today's poem. Tursi is asking Edson about a cure for writer's block/constipation:

"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."

The rest of the interview is here:

You can find more Edson here:

And also here:

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