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Andrei Codrescu
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Every day I produce a minimum of five lucrative ideas. Unfortunately, I lack an entourage of five people needed to make them successful, namely, 1. a scribe, 2. a translator, 3. a designer, 4. a publicity agent and 5. a VC (that's Venture Capitalist, not Viet Cong). For a time, I tried to be all those people but it was exhausting. For instance, five years ago when I was living in the slave quarters of a grand house in New Orleans I put a stack of books on the steps of my building with a sign that said $5. The tourists and riff-raff who wander the French Quarter with heads full of kitsch, passed the tower of my quality volumes without paying attention. They were in search of adventure, and books, which are full of them, had already happened to other people. A young man stopped. He picked up the Selected Poems of Ezra Pound and said incredulously: "Five dollars?" I explained: "It's not your five dollars. I'm paying you five dollars to take it and read it." That seemed to appeal to him, but I added, "Under one condition. That you actually read it." He nodded in agreement. "And," I continued, "you have to come back in five hours and tell me what your thoughts about it are, to make sure that you really read it." He thought about this for a bit. "Seven dollars?" he said. I agreed. Word got around fast and, by evening, when the serious drunks started their rounds, I had a line of customers. It cost me about $200, but it was worth it. I had distributed some of the best minds of several generations to a number of individuals. I didn't think my idea was a success until, next day, at the same hour, I sat on the steps with a new stack. My first customer showed up. "I'm giving you back three dollars," he said. "I understood mostly nothing. Besides, it's poetry. Still, I got four dollars' worth because I went to Molly's and I met a guy who bought me dinner and my rather expensive special services." Molly's is a bar. It's true, I hadn't told him it was poetry. "Did you read any of it?" "The preface," he said, "It was interesting. " A triumph. A preface is not nothing. The only thing more satisfying than a preface is a blurb. In the next few hours several of my previous day customers showed up: some of them returned my money, some of them had actually read the books, and some of them, actually said perceptive things about them. And some of them (maybe most of them) never showed up. Needless to say, I had distributed only quality books, by canonical or should-have-been canonical writers. The reason for this Reverse Sale, as I called my business, was to put great books in "the hands of the people," as the communists used to say, or did they say "to educate the masses?"... Continue reading
Posted Feb 9, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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Two evil geniuses of the 20th century died nearly at the same time, after surviving the century that they helped shape: Edward Teller and Leni Riefenstahl [pictured left]. Edward Teller, the father of the Hydrogen bomb, had one of those brilliant mathematical brains that showed up quite frequently among Central European Jews born near the dawn of the last century. Leni Riefenstahl made brilliant use of the 20th century’s native medium, film, to create a grand propaganda machine for Adolf Hitler. She documented and exalted Nazism for the masses, insuring and consolidating Hitler’s power, and thus contributing, in no small measure, to the policy that nearly eliminated such brains as Teller’s from the world. The thing that accounts for Teller and Riefenstahl’s longevity is the same thing that accounts for ours. That is to say, if Teller’s hydrogen bomb had ever been used, none of us would have been around long enough to survive the 20th century. And if Riefenstahl’s Hitler had had his way, the same would be true. Happily, they both failed, and here we are, wondering what it’s all about. On the one hand, it’s about technology. Teller’s work made use of the existing physics and technology of the A-bomb to create a more powerful weapon. Riefenstahl improved film technology by making those 24 frames per second yield their potential for persuasion. Neither Teller nor Riefenstahl created anything truly original, but they uncovered the latent powers of the originals to bring them –and us—to the brink of extinction. The original technologies of moving pictures and quantum physics were born, like all new things, without any idea of good and evil. However, it didn’t take long before they lost their innocence and were put to use by the demonic dialectic of the deposed century. From an intentional standpoint, there is no equivalency between them. Edward Teller’s H-bomb was created as a deterrent to evil on the scale of Hitler, though his name happened to be Stalin. Riefenstahl’s work today is used only to exemplify the power of the medium of film for propaganda, not to recruit Nazis. Or, at least, I hope so. On the other hand, the H-bomb still has the potential to annihilate us, as do neo-Nazis just waiting to be unleashed by the right movie. The passing of Teller and Riefenstahl marked the true end of the 20th century. My guess is that Edward and Leni are together in the next world. They have eternity to work out the implications of their work. Continue reading
Posted Feb 7, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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If you are moving to New York to do your obligatory two years of poetic apprenticeship among the sophisticated, critical, merciless, and horribly smart (or not) natives, be sure that you move to Queens. You heard me right. Not to Manhattan or G-d forbid to gluten-free Brooklyn, but to Queens. The first thing about it, it's a lot cheaper. The second, it's full of working New Yorkers of the sort that lace their boots tight, talk with an attitude, and go to Manhattan only if an exiled relative from Cincinnati comes back before dying. The third thing is that they speak 167 languages in Jackson Heights alone, which is just one part of Queens. The fourth thing is that the Unisphere from the World Fair that every American has tattooed at birth in the deepest part of the brain, is in Queens, too. The fifth is that all your friends in Manhattan and Brooklyn have a hard time keeping a smirk off their mug when you tell them you live in Queens. The sixth thing is the restaurants that deliver 24 hours any variety of non-American or American food your cholesterol-hungry heart might yearn for. The seventh is that. the best comedians are from Queens, like Don Rickles, as are other great Americans, like Cyndi Lauper, Nicki Menaj, and 50 cent. In passing, I'll say that the Queens zoo has a hell of a puma that looks you straight in the eyes until you feel lucky there are some bars between you. I ended up in Queens because the Romanian Great Writers' League of Queens (as opposed to the Romanian Minor Writers' League of Queens) found me a studio in a lovely apartment building reminiscent of the best Soviet architecture, which costs me less than a parking place in Manhattan. I have a view of a fire-escape and a synagogue, which is all a writer needs: a means to escape from a fire into the arms of an unforgiving G-d. My friends from the Romanian Great Writes' League in Queens know everything about New York, all four boroughs, and can barely conceal their feeling of superiority, for at least one reason: no tourists. Manhattan is all tourists and Brooklyn is all slumming rich kids who want to be famous. Nobody in Queens wants to be interrupted by gawkers while writing novels and poetry. Regular Quuenzites don't want to be famous at all: it might attract the IRS. So take it from one who's been everywhere, the breadth and length of US and other places where they speak pigeon English: do your time in Queens, young poet. And don't ever show your MFA in public. "Keep old hat in secret closet," as Ted Berrigan said, and you'll go back to flyover America with superpowers. [Editor's note: We thought this provocative and engaging article would best be illustrated by a couple of Queens. -- DL] Continue reading
Posted Feb 6, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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It isn't often that one has a gaggle of virgin writers on one's desk, ready to answer any question, important, trivial, philosophically or gastro-erotically significant..Thus, an earnest question meets a prophetic answer. (With an occasional aside by the oracle.) This seance begins thus: _____ QUESTION: from Jeffrey Cyphers Wright "Blue Lyre" (Dos Madress Press) "Don't give me those woof-woof eyes, the Dark & Stormy look at KGB bar," ORACLE interprets: WHY YOU GIVE ME THOSE WOOF-WOOF EYES IN THE DARK & STORMY KGB BAR? ANSWER: from Pat Nolan "Exile in Paradise" (Nuallain Press) "cup raised i challenge my shadow" ORACLE interprets: EVERY TIME YOU HAVE ANOTHER DRINK I LOOK IN THE MIRROR ________ QUESTION from Vincent Katz "Southness" (Lunar Chandelier Press) "fork in the path but you could come back always could see one again," ORACLE interprets: MAY I RETURN THIS FORK? ANSWER: from Alan Watts "The Culture of Counter-Culture" (Tuttle Publishing) "you might first try to reason with him" ORACLE forks up an Ouroboros to an earnest zendik: ALL VIRIGIN WRITERS ON THIS BLOGGER'S DESK WILL BECOME ORACULAR FODDER (REVIEWS) IN OUR NEXT DELPHIC DEBAUCH ________ QUESTION: from Dorothea Lasky "Awe" (Wave Books) "The murder took place on a day that was made for the children." ORACLE interprets in the language of goofy whodunnits: ON WHAT DAY DID THE MURDER TAKE PLACE? ANSWER: from David Shields "Enough About You: Notes Toward an Autobiography" (Soft Skull Press) In Janette Turner Hospital's novel The Last Magician, Lucy, the narrator, asks Charlie, an avant-garde photographer, why he takes photographs so "constantly, so obsessively, why he collects other people's photographs, why he scavenges in secondhand shops and buys, by the box full, old, cracked, brown-and-cream records of other people's pasts." ANSWER: from David Shields "Enough About You: Notes Toward an Autobiography" (Soft Skull Press) "So that I will see what I've seen, he says" ORACLE: DAVID SHIELDS IS A NARCISSIST! ________ QUESTION: from Sandra Liu "On Poems On" (Ugly Duckling Presse) "it's miserable to be deprived of sex you can't live this way" ORACLE: WHAT IS LIFE WITHOUT SEX? ANSWER: from John High "Vanishing Acts" (Talisman House) all the hours fallen away from the body into bowling pins & acrobats & letting go into vast air" ORACLE: WHEN QUESTION FITS ANSWER SEX WAS HAD (IN VERSE) ________ QUESTION: from Basil King "mirage: a poem in 22 sections" (Marsh Hawk Press) "No. This is my country and I'm staying here." ORACLE: EVEN IF EVERYBODY FLEES TO CANADA? ANSWER: from Jose Luis Peixoto, translated by Hugo Dos Santos "A Child in Ruins: Collected Poems" (writ large press) it's a secret i will keep my entire life for not knowing how to say it." ORACLE: ONE DOESN'T NEED TO FLEE THE PLACE THE QUESTION REFERS TO BECAUSE JOSE IS ALREADY A CITIZEN OF ANOTHER PLACE Continue reading
Posted Feb 5, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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I signed up to write an introduction to Lafcadio Hearn's collection of ghost stories, to be published by Princeton University Press next year. Hearn lived in New Orleans for a few years in the late 19th century and was a beloved local. His Louisiana novel, "Chita" is still in print. I used his wonderful travelogue "Two Years in the West Indies" when I visited Martinique. The city of St. Pierre, featured in the book, was no more, blown up by a volcano, but his other landmarks and vivid people lived on. I thought I knew plenty about Lafcadio Hearn when I took on the job. As it turns out, I knew little. There are over a hundred collections of books by Lafcadio Hearn: essays, stories, novels, travelogues, philosophical dialogues with Shinto and Zen monks, and, the strangest thing of all, there is a whole other Lafcadio Hearn, named Koizumi Yakumo, who is revered in Japan. There have been movies, operas, Noh plays, and hundreds of illustrated editions of his Japanese writings. He collected folk stories, interviewed monks, taught English literature in Tokyo, took Japanese citizenship and hated the West and the Meiji era that corrupted, as he saw it, the Japan that knew no shadows in painting before it opened to the West. He had four children in Japan, two of whom wrote books about their father. In the U.S. there are dozens of memoirs and correspondence published after his death. He died young, at the age of 54. At the end of the nineteenth century, Lafcadio Hearn was one of America's best known writers, one of a stellar company that included Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Twain, Poe and Stevenson have entered the literary canon and are still read for duty and pleasure. Lafcadio Hearn has been forgotten, with the remarkable exceptions of Louisiana and Japan. Yet, Hearn’s place in American literature is significant for many reasons, not least of which is how the twentieth century came to view the nineteenth. This view, both academic and popular, reflects the triumph of a certain futuristic modernism over the mysteries of religion, folklore, and what was once called "folk wisdom." Lafcadio Hearn was a Greek-born, Irish-raised, New World immigrant who metamorphosed from a celebrated fin-de-siècle American writer into the beloved Japanese cultural icon Koizumi Yakumo in less than a decade, in roughly the same time that Japan changed from a millennia-old feudal society into a great industrial power. In other words, in the blink of an eye, or, as in one of his stories, the time it takes to burn an owl's feathers so that the nocturnal beautiful-girl-shape of the true creature might emerge. Hearn changed from one person into another, from a Greek islander into a British student, from a penniless London street ragamuffinin into a respected American newspaper writer, from a journalist into a novelist and, most astonishingly, from a stateless Western man into a loyal Japanese citizen. Yet, this life, as recorded both by... Continue reading
Posted Feb 4, 2018 at The Best American Poetry
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Feb 4, 2018