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Surreal Moments & Endings: An Interview with Craig Morgan Teicher

Craig Morgan Teicher is the editor of Little Mr. Prose Poem: Selected Poems of Russell Edson, as well as the author of several poetry collections, most recently, Welcome to Sonnetville, New JerseyThis survey of Edson's work was published by BOA Editions on October 25, 2022. Craig Morgan Teicher calls us to witness Edson’s obsessions with the curious, the absurd, and the peculiar, and the ways in which they can haunt our daily lives. The prose poems in this collection mold our everyday into something extraordinary and unsettling. Edson is a vital and ever-contemporary poet with a unique moral and comedic vision, whose literary career quietly yet definitively shaped the prose poetry subgenre as we know it now. 

Learn more about this new book through this interview with Craig Morgan Teicher and BOA intern Lauren!

Lauren: What led you to editing a collection of Russell Edson’s work?

Craig: I’ve loved Edson’s work since I first learned about it reading Natalie Goldberg’s seminal book on writing, Writing Down the Bones, as a teenager.  She quotes a couple of remarkably weird Edson poems and talks about meeting him and learning about his writing process, which was to churn out ten or so of his pieces at a time and keep the one or two that were most exciting.  Edson edited his own selected poems, The Tunnel, in the 1990s, and it’s an amazing book, but it does not include any work from the three books he published after that selected.  Meanwhile, prose poetry and flash fiction have become increasingly prominent literary subgenres.  It seems to me that now is an ideal time for a fresh look at Edson.  I hope Little Mr. Prose Poem offers a context for his work that makes sense in the present moment and helps readers think about these genres that arose in Edson’s wake.  Plus, Edson’s work is really, really funny, and we need that now.

L: What challenges, if any, did you face in editing this collection?

C: Edson had certain predilections in the poems—a relentless drive toward scatology, a certain male-centered worldview, a rather traditional view of marriage and family—that don’t play so well right now.  Without ignoring those facets of his work, I wanted to create a book that would highlight the breadth of what Edson could do, his sheer inventiveness and deep compassion for human suffering, his profound insight into the ways miscommunication brings out the worst in us.  So I reread everything with that in mind.

L: You say in the Afterword, “‘No, And’: Russell Edson’s Poetry of Contradiction”, that “repetition and stasis, not progress, are the guiding principles of Russell Edson’s mirror world”. How did these guidelines help you decide what would be included in this collection and what would be left out?

C: Well, I’d put this more in the category of “challenges” than helpful guidelines.  Edson doesn’t seem to fundamentally believe that people can change or learn to behave better.  For a guy who writes little fables, he doesn’t really believe in stories, or in the idea that the characters in stories can develop.  Mostly, Edson sets little traps for his characters or lets them get tripped up by their own terrible personalities.  But in terms of editing, Edson also wrote a lot of poems that are similar to one another, and I did my best to find the strongest and most surprising examples of each kind of Edson poem.

L: There are a few moments throughout the book where the speaker addresses the reader or includes Russell Edson himself into the narrative. How does this connection to reality from surreal and dream-like writing affect the book and the audience?

C: I find those moments totally shocking—suddenly we are included in this ridiculous drama, or Edson meets us head on, breaking the fourth wall. It’s particularly moving when this happens in Edson, sort of like getting the chance to open a Cornell box and play around with all the stuff inside.

L: What impact do you envision this book will have on the prose poetry genre? What new audiences are you hoping to reach through Little Mr. Prose Poem?

It’s my hope that readers new to Edson will discover his nuanced practice of prose poetry—these were not simply poems without lines or blobs of text.  They are little fables, stories that borrow some of the tools of poetry to get their work done.  Prose poetry has sort of evolved away from the kind of subtle formal rigor that Edson brought to it, so I hope this book will help bring some of that rigor back.  Also, I think Edson has a lot to teach writers of very short stories and flash fiction—his prose poems have rising and falling action, conflict, all the elements of fiction, but in very small packages.

L: Throughout the book there is a recurring theme of aging, death, and “falling apart”. Why do you think this was an important theme to Edson?

C: I just think he was more interested in endings than beginnings—he was a deep pessimist, at least in the work.

L: Can you share a favorite poem (or poems) from the collection?

C: My two favorite poems in the book, which are my two favorite Edson poems, are “Counting Sheep,” about a scientist who invents sheep small enough to live in a test tube, and “The Hemorrhoid Epidemic,” which is too gross to say much about here, but everyone should totally read it.

 

Lauren Smith was a Summer '22 BOA intern.