Peter Davis Interviews Russell Edson (Interview from 2005)

We learned today of the passing of Russell Edson. This interview is from 2005. The original link to the issue is in the Internet Archives.


My father is 63 years old and doesn’t understand why anyone would be interested in poetry. How would you explain to him the appeal that poetry has for you?

The question is a bit hard to entertain, as I cannot imagine my approaching a man well into his years with my particular distraction, or, if you like, hobby. It would just seem too frivolous to disturb someone so far along on the biological road with something like kite-flying.

What is the biggest misconception about contemporary poetry?

The biggest misconception is probably the idea that poetry is self-expression.

When you read a poem that you don’t like, what is the most frequent reason why you don’t like it?

Usually because it’s uncreative prose-thinking without that grace that fiction gives to prose. Prose-thinking is bad enough in lines, but far worse, if that’s possible, in the prose of the prose poem.

What living poet should probably be read by all people who are interested in contemporary poetry?

There’s no such thing as an “essential” poet as so many blurbs frequently declare. Almost any reading might inflame the desire to find one’s own writing, assuming such a desire is there, perhaps only in seed.

Besides being a writer, you are also a visual artist. Do you think of yourself as more one, or the other? Do you work in any other artistic fields?

I worship creative activity no matter its expression. Besides the two activities you mention, I also play the fipple flute—not very well, but in the long run it’s just another of the things on course to cease one day.

When you hear a song that you like, what is the most frequent reason why you like it?

Music is probably the most immediately moving of the arts with its nonverbal authority that speaks directly to our emotional logic. This is probably very animal, but this is where most of us live.

If you had 20-year-old son or daughter who came to you and said, “I am going to be a poet for the rest of my life,” what advice would you give?

No one is a poet for all of his or her life. One is a poet when one is engaging that way of mind; that is to say, when one is writing. I would say to a son or daughter, Go ahead, it’s as good as anything else; you’re days are numbered anyway no matter what you do—have fun.

What, if any, journals, magazines, or newspapers does your household subscribe to?

Much reading matter is sent here without my needing to subscribe.

Has the need to make money and the desire to create artistic works been a source of conflict in your life? What advice would you give to someone struggling with this problem?

Anybody who says that his art takes all his time is probably someone whose time doesn’t mean very much. My advice is to schedule one’s “artistic works” with a job that pays. This gives time edge and purpose.

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