Tuesday, November 3, 2009

One of my Favorite Poems for Fall

Here is a poem I wanted to share that I remember each fall. It’s a prose poem by Russell Edson.

The Fall by Russell Edson

There was a man who found two leaves and came indoors holding
them out saying to his parents that he was a tree.

To which they said then go into the yard and do not grow in the living
room as your roots may ruin the carpet.

He said I was fooling I am not a tree and he dropped his leaves.

But his parents said look it is fall.

I want to just give you the poem and step away, but I also would like to make one comment that follows up on a recent post about how each poet has to teach the reader how to read his poem. Edson’s poem is a great example of this “teaching the reader” idea. Prose poems in the U.S. used to be met with much more skepticism, even hostility, than they are now. For example, in 1978, two out of three on the Pulitzer committee wanted to give the award to Mark Strand for his book The Monument that featured prose poems, but one judge, Louis Simpson, opposed this choice seeing as how the book wasn’t “verse” as he put it—and refused him the prize. Since then, more and more poets wrote about the possibilities of the prose poem, essentially teaching the reader how to read them. (I think of Bly’s writing where he discusses how the prose poem describes objects or fables well.) Fittingly, in 1991, Charles Simic received the Pulitzer for his book The World Doesn’t End, which is a book of prose poems.


  1. Thanks for posting the poem. I was just reading in Miller-McCune ("This is Your Brain on Kafka") how bran scans of people reading absurdist lit shows how it lights up the brain--as well illustrated in the parents in the poem. Great metaphor for the artist at dissonance creator to snap people out of waking sleep.

  2. "This is Your Brain on Kafka" is such a great title. I didn't know this about absurdist lit as a firecracker to the mind. I wonder if part of that "lighting up" is just flat ol' confusion trying to make sense of what doesn't make sense and also part imagistic tendencies taking over. Wonderful to think about.

  3. I think you are right on the confusion part. Trying to make sense out of what doesn't is my read on it. To me what makes the absurd/surreal satisfying is if there is enough linear/image/visceral material that jives with the evolutionaty wiring of our brain artfully mixed with the disjointed/irrational to make my brain search for meaning. I'm thinking here of Haruki Murakami and Dean Young.