Featured Poet: The Fat Man in Wonderland

Some might call Russell Edson as mad as a hatter. Some might say he’s a genius. But Edson has jokingly referred to himself as “Little Mr. Prose Poem.”

This poet has been writing exclusively in prose form since the 1960s… in other words, before it was even fashionable. He’s the godfather of prose poetry. And he’s right up there with Lewis Carroll when it comes to nonsense.

Edson has made his name not only through writing exclusively in prose, but also by suddenly plopping the “every man” into alternate realities… and just expecting that the reader will believe them. And, frankly, if you can believe in a talking dormouse and a hare with butter and crumbs in his pocket watch, then you’ll love these surreal philosophical tales of Edson’s.

Beyond his poetry, one of the most enjoyable pieces of Edson’s writing is his well-known essay entitled, “Portrait of the Writer as a Fat Man: Some Subjective Ideas or Notions on the Care and Feeding of Prose Poems.” In this amusingly titled 16-part essay he essentially describes who he is as a poet… by saying who he isn’t.

But the best way to get to know Russell Edson – because he’s never going to really let you know exactly who he is – is to simply read his magnificent work. Here’s one slightly Wonderland-friendly piece from his latest collection See Jack. (© 2009 by Russell Edson. University of Pittsburgh Press. Copied from Poets.org.)

The Life of Man
By Russell Edson

For breakfast a man must break an egg. Then not all the king’s horses and all the king’s men can do very much about it.

Past perfect the broken egg no longer breaks, a dead man no longer dies…

And as he spills the broken egg into a frying pan he murmurs, Ah, well, too bad about Humpty Dumpty…

You might hate the ellipses, the trailing off at the end of poems, the random speaking apes who show up here and there, but then again, you just might love Edson’s topsy-turvy, upside-down, behind-the-looking-glass kind of world. If you’re a fan of Alice in Wonderland, it’s impossible not to find something to love in the writing of this artist.

An appropriate poet to pay homage to during a week celebrating Alice in Wonderland, wouldn’t you agree?

Read more about Edson and some of his poems at the Poetry Foundation.

Better yet, go get one of his books – I recommend The Tunnel or The Tormented Mirror.

What do you think about nonsensical verse? Is it like reading someone else’s dreams… or does it make you want to hunker down and come up with some funky imagery of your own?


4 thoughts on “Featured Poet: The Fat Man in Wonderland

Add yours

  1. I’d argue against Edson being an example of nonsensical writing or nonsensical verse. I’d put myself in the camp that attributes genius to Russell Edson. I’m a huge fan particularly of The Tunnel as well, and I really really admire The Portrait of the Writer as a Fat Man. Thanks for this post. I’m glad to see you offer so much useful food for thought . . .

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