About Russell Edson: “Edson (December 12, 1928 – April 29, 2014), often referred to as ‘the godfather of the prose poem in America,’ was a poet, novelist, and illustrator. He was the son of cartoonist-screenwriter Gus Edson, best known for his work on two popular, long running comic strips, The Gumps and Dondi.
Edson studied art early in life and attended the Art Students League of New York as a teenager. His first collection of poetry and short fiction, Ceremonies in Bachelor Space, was published in 1951 by Black Mountain College. In the early 1960s, he self-published several chapbooks of prose poems under the imprint Thing Press, the best of which were later collected into The Very Thing That Happens: Fables and Drawings, published by New Directions in 1964. Numerous other collections followed, as well as a book of plays, The Falling Sickness, also published by New Directions (1975). Throughout his career, his work appeared in countless anthologies and literary magazines. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship (1974), The Whiting Award (1989), and three National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowships (1976, 1981, 1992).”
“A creature pinioned under the night. Crazy with stars that swarm like lice through the eyes, blighting the mind with a crust of fire.”
This is a ‘novel’ of dismembered mythologies, disabled fables, tri-forked fairy tales of Freudian sangfroid, heavily spiced with ill logic, illogical dreams, and absurdirty jokes. There are ounces of choice Joyce, buckets of hectic Beckett, burps of blimey Barthelme, fools of Schulz, but all edefying Edson.
The cover, a hunched-head creature flexing while bearing a semi-Cheshire smile, is a wonderfully appropriate illustration doodled by the author himself.
I had thought the ‘recital’ in the title was alluding to a musical performance (though it is a linguistic performance), but the recital is more of a yo-yo string of delusions and allusions, transfusions and contusions. The atmosphere of the novel could still refer to a child blowing into a recorder at school as much as it could refer to the injunction given to Mahound to Recite! Recite! Recite!
“I must clean my lips to blow my lute. My hands for flute. My Adam’s fruit most mute.”
As the beginning of the penultimate chapter, “The Soldier,” unfolds, I was reminded of the sadomasochism that occurs in the “Circe” episode of Ulysses between Bloom and the brothel-mistress Bella Cohen. It’s not nearly as wild as that scene, but there is a similar sinister mood in Gulping’s Recital when the General refuses to kiss the shiny boots of Captain Mommy and also refuses to let the Corporal’s rat gnaw on his person, but when they rescind their respect for him he then begs and grovels for what he first declined.
“They found a dead man stabbed in the heart by his penis. His hands tied together by their fingers. A woman’s voice bleeding softly from his ears…”
The beginning and ending of the novel suggest an ouroboros of indigestive digression, of dueling dualities, of the never-ending throat-clear only to discover that the throat, that animate tunnel, is all and everything, the light at one end but an illusory star to guide us through a constipated and comic cosmos.
The essay and interview at the end of the book was a nice touch, especially since the novel proper is only about 110 pages, even though the interviewer suffered from some academic neurosis or perhaps just a need to impress the interviewee and the readers. The interviewer, now older, admits to some of this in a new introduction. Which is all a way of saying that the interview is not as good as it could have been. And, somewhat strangely, the book is missing an author bio.
Thanks to Tough Poets Press for unearthing this gem.
Editor’s note: The aim of Invisible Books is to shine a light on wrongly neglected and forgotten books and their authors. To help bring more attention to these works of art, please share this article on social media.
George Salis is the author of Sea Above, Sun Below (River Boat Books). His fiction is featured in The Dark, Black Dandy, Zizzle Literary Magazine, The Sunlight Press, Unreal Magazine, and elsewhere. His criticism has appeared in Isacoustic, Atticus Review, and The Tishman Review, and his science article on the mechanics of natural evil was featured in Skeptic. He is currently working on an encyclopedic novel titled Morphological Echoes. He has taught in Bulgaria, China, and Poland. Find him on Facebook, Goodreads, and at www.GeorgeSalis.com.