See Jack (Pitt Poetry)
by Russell Edson
Reviewed by Julie Babcock
Russell Edson's nineteenth prose poetry collection, See Jack, continues to discomfort, provoke, and thoroughly entertain. Edson's poetry successfully couples the limitless fabulist world with the restraints of the mortal one; whether the result of this combination births laughter or terror, it is certainly a birth that refuses to be ignored. "Are you that same moment," Edson writes in "The Endless Night," "the one who married time and sired eternity? The one who bored people to death with a usualness like those practical graves of useful holes...?" If the answer is yes, Edson clearly wants nothing to do with you. Edson's moments are sired by cows and cellos, not eternity. Base bodily references continually remind the reader that whatever it is they think they're doing is most likely at odds with what they are.
See Jack uses many characteristic Edson tropes: eggs, gravy, and sex all assert prominent positions in this collection. Also included are linguistic discussions, references to painting, and Greek tragedy. The title poem appeared in Best American Poetry 2007, and many of the other poems refer to its deliciously twisted murder mystery. In it, Jack -- a character Edson introduced in his previous collection The Rooster's Wife (BOA Editions, 2005) as not any one person but rather a collective of drunken everymen -- is dead. Finding out who killed him is difficult, and theories abound. It might be Jane, who is mentioned in the last line of "See Jack." According to "The Theory of Jack's Death," it might have been gravity or Mother Earth. In one of the only first-person poems of the collection, "Space Journey," Jack himself explains that it might have something to do with an ice-pick-wielding dwarf who was a stowaway on Jack's spaceship.
Finding out who killed Jack is further complicated by the realization that death has no dominion in Edson's world. The cover of the book features a Cubist-style portrait of Jack by the author (Edson has created the cover art for most of his books); he is seated alone at a small table with a tiny cup of coffee in one hand and an egg in the other, gazing off into the distance with his out-of-perspective eye. And in the final, soul-stirring poem of the collection, "Waiting For the Fat Lady to Sing," Jack may just be sitting with those audience members happily dying in an exquisite place of make-believe "where nothing's real, not the fat lady, nor even death..."
Edson's poetry is not for every taste. But if you are already a fan, or if you find yourself bored with the predictability of most poetry, See Jack will transport you to some mind-blowing places.