I want to review Denise Levertov's introduction to Russell Edson's
book, The Very Thing That Happens: Fables and Drawings [New Directions, 1964]. Not because I love the introduction, or because I think the introduction should be reviewed, or because I think introductions should, as a general rule, be reviewed. Not because I want to start a trend, or be the first, or only ever idiot to review an introduction. No, I want to review this introduction because I have no idea how to review the book itself.
In fact, to review the book, it seems to me, would defeat what Edson has given me. In fact, it makes more sense to review the introduction than it does to review Edson, if you're with me when I say that a review and an introduction seem to have the same intentions and that these intentions seem to be at odds with the intentions of Edson's poems.
Or, you might say it makes as little sense to review the poems as it does to introduce them. It makes no sense at all to read the introduction or to review the book, if you plan to read the poems themselves. You can either read the poems, or you can read the introduction. But if you read and value the introduction (or a review) you can only hope to be rescued by reading the poems. And if, by reading the introduction, you intentionally put yourself in a position to need rescuing, knowing that you will then be rescued by Edson, how is that really putting yourself in a position to need rescuing. If you know all along you will be rescued, you never really feel the fear of one who is suddenly, unexpectedly rescued. You are only playing around.
Levertov says, "Edson's mode is detached, oblique, austere." I can't argue. Levertov is right. But Edson has already been detached, oblique, austere by the time Levertov says that's what he's been.
Edson has been. Levertov comes along and makes him be again. Only she makes him be in a strange and questionable manner that I suddenly can't quite see.
Levertov goes on to say of Edson, "He is able to pass without loss of grace from the hilarious to a kind of dark gothic beauty, and sometimes to a tenderness that reveals him as no cruel puppetmaster but the anguished beholder of inexplicable cruelties." This is just another example of things Levertov says, because everything Levertov says is like this. But if you really want to pass into the world Levertov creates in her introduction, you'd have to read the whole introduction. Although you could just read the two sentences I provide over and over a hundred or so times and probably accomplish the same thing.
Edson does something. Then Levertov does something to that something that Edson did. In a sense, Levertov does nothing. She is only redoing what Edson already did. Except Levertov does it in a way that brings Edson into a kind of being that it sure seems like his poems are trying to destroy. Edson becomes in his poems by not becoming in the manner Levertov brings Edson into becoming.
Or else, Edson is nothing and Levertov is everything. If Edson is nothing, it has to be because of our idea of something. If the manner in which Levertov introduces Edson is something we value, then Edson is nothing we value. On the other hand, if Edson's manner of becoming in his poems is something we value, then Levertov is nothing of value.
If Edson becomes through poems that are set on devaluing introductions, does it serve his work to set an introduction directly ahead of his poems? Does it make sense to set up the poems by sampling, prior to the poems, what the poems set out to devalue?
If it does make sense, then reviewing the work makes sense to the extent that reviewing the work organizes the world in a way that should send the lover of Edson's poems rushing off to read Edson as a way of escaping the world according to reviews (and introductions). So run now. Run and read Edson.