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Andrei Codrescu
Homme de mots fléchés
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Time is an arrow. It points forward, not back. To paraphrase Borges, certain metaphors are so evidently true they are no longer metaphors. “Life is a river,” for instance. If the arrow of time pointed backwards it would be aimed at the archer’s heart, a form of suicide. Memory itself is a form of slow suicide. Memoirs are neither cathartic nor instructive, they are the literary compositions of writers committing suicide. There is a brain activity, where so-called “memory packets” are employed by the body to eliminate itself. I don’t doubt that historians are necessary, but they are a self-sacrificing sort who give their lives over to the archive. Martyrs! The past tense of the pronoun “I” is a floating device, like a cork, used by the nimble among us to construct an amuse-bouche. The same past-tense “I,” non-floating and serious, is a variety of extortion. It should draw legal censure. “This guy is using his mother to make me cry.” He’s also using his mother to kill himself with guilt like Eartha Kit with song. Who or what is the arrow of time aimed at? Time to ask the brain again: it is aimed at what it doesn’t know, and it wants to hit it dead-center. What the speed of light means, to paraphrase Einstein (we love paraphrase, it’s the lazy way to quote) is that if you traveled at that speed you would be able to see your own ass. Your own ass shrunken by memory, that is. My favorite fairy tale is about a young man who sets out to be immortal and young forever, provided he doesn’t go to the Valley of Remembrance. He does, of course, and dies. There is nothing wrong with dying, painlessly one hopes, but curiosity, like the arrow, should aim at the unknown. Otherwise the cat is dead as a doorknob, another non-metaphor. This little speech is intended to exhibit the uselessness of the memoir as a form of therapy, and the superiority of poetry as a stab in the dark. If you know it already, it’s mean to yourself and others to repeat it in writing. On the other hand, ignorance is worse than education, which is remembering with bullet points. History exists and it should be reviewed, but artists should be against it. In fact, we are against it, but the current rage for pouring it into literary moulds kills whatever it purports to remember. This is and will always be the “uncanny valley,” to quote (this time) the great Lawrence Wechsler, between a mass-market commodity and art. Remembrance will never trump discovery. The last time I was happy, to paraphrase from David Grossman’s great new novel, “A Horse Walks into a Bar” is when I still had my foreskin. At that time, I had no idea what time was. Then I saw the archer. I was the target. Turn it the other way, please. My first phrase in English was "Why don't you kill yourself?" I was 19... Continue reading
Posted 3 days ago at The Best American Poetry
Barnstone & Codrescu in Prague 2003 At the age of 92, Willis Barnstone is a miracle. The translator of The Gnostic Bible (2003) and The New Covenant: Commonly Called The New Testament (2009), he has turned over the grounds of Greek and Aramaic, and unsettled dogmatic readings. Jesus, for example, became Joshua, his real name. The poetry of the Bible, seen mostly as exemplary before Barnstone, became poetry in his rendering of The Poems of Jesus Christ (2012.) Barnstone knows languages and he knew and translated Borges. He also brought into English Heraklitus, Sappho, and Machado, alongside many volumes of his own vigurous verse. Recently he has revisited the entirety of Guillaume Apollinaire. This is about half the canon of Western civ reborn in American Lyric Space. It baffles me that he was never Poet Laureate of the United States. He is a founder. I hereby nominate him for the Laureate laurels. Reading his latest poem is watching Laocoon and the snakes. The snakes might win but we won’t remember their names. Barnstone’s we will, and he’s working with Keats. ALL CREATORS HAVE A CONTRACT WITH TIME by Willis Barnstone When Guillaume Apollinaire, near death, begged For help, “Save me, doctor, I’ve so many Things to say,[1] neither a bootlegged Truck-load of medicines, a Christmas tree, Or 7 railroad cars loaded with caviar Could save him. The flu was a bayonet In the heart of 50 million, the Czar Of Murder, more than generals in lorgnette And clouds of medals could invent to kill A nation’s youth. We artists have a soul, A mortal one. We need time to fulfill Our unique creations, our dream to bowl A 10-strike each time we roll our hope In a new work. Marketing garners fame. But the artists’ god is time, time to pen, To paint. and to compose. No fame is shame And sorrow, but worse is absence of time, The motor grease, the black harbor where words, Brush strokes and music notes suddenly chime And George Herbert leaps from his grave, birds In hand, clocks wound, to wake the dead, equip Them with right glasses. Then they and we read A book, linger in galleries, and flip A lock in time to grant new decades, seed New lands in Castilla. Lucky, I wrote 81 books. No vanities. But I Need at 91 a decade to smote The Devil of Disorder deep in me. Try I do to choose among my sonnets 5 Hundred so that A Rose in Hell will buy Me hope for a lifelong project. I freeze Thinking I’ll leave a mess. And I’ve a ton Of stars I’d like to roam, and so I seize Whatever Little Prince asteroid I watch, Tame, and steal into my poetry barn Or fiction ranch. Stars brighten. Lest I botch It all, I’ll work desperate like a sophomore Before finals. The incompletion of A life tames raw infinity. Male whore And conman, I publish anywhere that Will run my sheets of life... Continue reading
Posted Feb 13, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
We are becoming machines. Exquisite Corpse has resolved to throw its sabots in the cog wheels. It is incumbent to our poetic sensibilities and fleshly complexity that we become animals. Not MORE like the animals we generally call "animals," but living Quadripeds. It will not be easy to attain the good will of pets, the ferociousness of panthers, or the patience of alligators, but it all begins by relearning Quadripedality. We will open Quadripedal Yoga (QY) studios in all states and countries, using the vacant spaces left by Bikram. The poem below, written for lyric encouragement, is a call to arms, or in the very least, to collaboration. We are inviting all readers persuaded by our passion to contribute new Quadripedal Poems to EXQUISITE CORPSE: EMMA LAZARUS, the revived journal of urgent revolutions. Your submissions should be made to Show us how you walk with beastly dignity. WALK ON ALL FOURS: CODE IN DOG I remember walking out of the ocean. What struggle! Millions of mollusk years and shell games that hurt. I remember getting up from all fours and looking down on all my astonished variously shaped former friends. Not one of them wanted to look up at me now I was up. Bipedal and lonely until there were a bunch of others. I remember the first scene in 2001 where I killed another. I remember that every time I bent down to be closer to the busy world of things that crawled loped or burrowed I was condescending and they moved away from me. I remember towering over everything that wasn’t me. I remember the day I howled in pain because my back gave out. That was the day I knew my body was weakly hinged at the place where it first stood up, and I wanted down again. Lord, help me walk on all fours again. I know that it’s late. We only grow taller now like the towers we can’t stop building. Since we got language not one nonhuman creature deigns to speak to us though we pretend in vain to understand them. Animals find it more understandable when we shoot them then when we kneel down and pretend we are their friends. We do kneel down often to pray not to commune but pray that we won’t suffer from the back pain that is our sign of Cain. I remember that I can still return to water and do flips but I’m in charge now of all the things I covered over. I remember kneeling to gods who were so tall I couldn’t see them. Their heads were in the clouds, we barely reached their sandals. Even the mono god was so tall he dropped the tablets on Moses and made lightning to scare us all to the death we knew was coming. In the little world I live in I sell diminishment at one dollar an inch and practice quadripedal yoga every morning in my living room hoping to walk one day into... Continue reading
Posted Feb 6, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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
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
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
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
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