Did I hear someone say this Russell Edson novel is weird? So sorry, Archibald Aardvark - not even close. How about hyperweird? Now you're getting warmer. How about poet Mark Tursi's description, "These narratives are like fairy tales whose characters have slipped into a bad psychedelic hallucination or a madman's dreamscape." Ah, now we're cooking up a mayonnaise coated arrow that hits the bull's bullseye square in the ruby red.
Originally published in 1984 and long out of print, Gulping's Recital is currently available in a new, affordable edition. Thank you, Tough Poets Press.
A word of advice for readers unfamiliar with Russell Edson. Before tackling Russell's novels - Gulping's Recital or The Song of Percival Peacock, I'd recommend familiarizing yourself with some of the author's prose poems, as per these two:
They have grafted pieces of an ape with pieces of a dog.
Then, what they have, wants to live in a tree.
No, what they have wants to lift its leg and piss on the tree . . .
Behind every chicken is the story of a broken egg. And behind every broken egg is the story of a matron chicken. And behind every matron is another broken egg . . .
Out of the distance into the foreground they come, Hansels and Gretels dropping egg shells as they come . . .
Do these preposterous Edson poppers cause your brain cells to fizz and start dancing the rumba right between your ears? If so, join the club! We dedicated Russell Edson fans thrive on his upside down surreal scrambled word eggs. Time to treat yourself to an entire book of Russell Edson prose poems. And then, sure as sapodilla, you'll be all set to take the delicious dive into Gulping's Recital.
As a way of setting the stage and lining up the chairs for this Gulping Edson Recital, below are themes a reader will brush against in the novel's 112 pages. For each theme, I've included a Gulping's Recital direct quote then my brief comment. By the way, when was the last time you performed in a recital? As a kid? Did you take a big gulp?
SENSE OF SELF
"So that someone, anyplace in this world knows that he is himself; none other than he! Awakes from the shouting of angels and the hum of animals thick packed in the earthly regions."
Does your self-identity follow you around like a faithful little dachshund? What makes you, you? Is there a self to be identified with outside of your own self-concepts packed together in the earthy regions of your memory?
VIVID, VISUAL IMAGES
"Suddenly the sun rose like an octopus from the sea, hung red like a parasol of hell. Quick now, I said amid the scream of birds . . .
And the man was rising like a drowned man out of the sea. Rising out of himself. Out of the darkness of himself. the lung of the soul nearly bursting . . . "
Russell Edson frequently likens the sun and moon to such as animals or plants or everyday objects - the bottom of a shoe, the shell of an egg, peas on a plate, the layers of an onion. And what is one thing can slip and slide into another as quickly as a word can change form by a mere switching of a tall or round letter.
"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 . . . "
Russell Edson injects much comedy and humor, fun and funniness. He has told interviewers over the years he's always reminded not to take himself too seriously or even his writing too seriously. On topic, take a gander at what Russell says about the writing process: "Just get something on the page, you have nothing to lose except your life, which you're going to lose anyway. So go with it, enjoy this special moment that brings you to the writing table. Relax into the writing and enjoy the creative bowel movement, remembering all is lost anyway."
SOFT AND RUNNY
"But, in a little, the earth gave way. And falling, I boiled, i seethed. I cried on the rocks. I ran through the wood, tangling my liquid hair in the faggots of the wood.
In a little, I slept again. I entered the earth drowning in the marsh.
Was I ever the same river that started on the mountain?"
We like to think our world possesses solidity and firmness and permanence - and the most permanent member of the world is none other than ourselves. Sorry to say, from a certain angle, our world that appears so rock solid is a Russell Edson marshmallow soft death mill.
"The wind is full of girls. Softly they weave my flesh into sperm . . ."
An instance of Russell Edson violence, usually brutal, usually sexual when it isn't cannibalistic - eating other people, nibbling on their wiggling parts or even taking a bite out of oneself. Ouch! As you can see, the above quote has something of Dionysian frenzy about it.
"In Jumpingtown, where all the men jump, is where the women also jump, and where the children jump. Up and down they jump like rubber balls. Old people just bounce to hell."
In the world of Russell Edson, we don't have the fantastic over here are rationality over there . . . no, no, no - the fantastical runs on to infinity in all directions, splotches of chaos soaking up the entire tablecloth with no rational edge in sight.
MAKING A MOCKERY OF ROLES AND HIERARCHY
"Papa Plume began to play the violent, accompanied by General Moon's organ. And Corporal Jasmine brought out his English Hounds. The Duke of Ambrey began to play with his bum."
Do you hold fast to the rigidity of rank, the pomp of position, the tidiness and order imposed by authority? If so, you are living in a la la land lands away from the universe of Russell Edson.
Oh, yes, Gulping's Recital is most definitely a novel, complete with a story from beginning to end. But to pluck the purple plum of plot, you will have to read for yourself. And the good news about this Tough Poets Press edition - an insightful essay by Mark Tursi is included as well as Mark's in-depth interview with Russell Edson.