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Andrei Codrescu
Homme de mots fléchés
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<< To celebrate Nr. 13 of Maintenant, the organ of Dada refuseniks, Peter Carlaftes, the editor of Maintenant, the organ of Dada refuseniks, asked questions I answered as follows: Peter: With the passage of time as a gain in technology we can no longer rebel as the Dadaists once rebelled yet Dada retains an important place in the history of rebellion. Codrescu: If Dada was history it would just be stories, another chapter in the curriculum of 20th century isms. Happily or not, it’s something else, impossible to pin down, and totally with us, especially now at the hybrid crossroads of human and robot. It is, without resorting to metaphysics, a catch in the throat. A breath of shock, surprise and horror that wells up without warning. Is that man, standing in a field of corpses, about to upchuck his Wienerschnitzel or is he aiming a spitball in four directions at once? Dada, one of the dadaists said at peak Dada in WWI, is a word more potent than God. That is still true, it’s God without metaphysics, God without godliness, without power and without rank. The gasp of Dada, the breath of surprise, is the cry uttered by a human hit by a revelation. The surprised gasp, that’s all. What follows is the effort of the surprised (if they live) to relive the gasp. And later, to figure out what the revelation was. And later yet, to narrate the pre and aftermaths of the gasp. And later yet, to pick at the fine down on the back of the gasp-beast to see if it could be translated as a style. Or translated in any which way, in whatever language, or whatever currency. Putting this in terms of the time-span we all agreed to set our time-pieces to, the first gasp of surprise was the Big Bang, then came a whole lot of still ongoing bang-bangs, birth-bang (or pang), death-bang, electro-bang, e-bang, and badaboom badabang as far as we can imagine. So, take Tzara and the Zurich dadaists, as an arbitrary point in gasping. What were he and his cohorts gasping about? What was revealed to them vividly enough to make “history”? Well, poison gas for one thing. And the bombs ripping up the empires and the people in them. Technology, which does have a history, marks its milestones with big bangs. Nobody expected the empires to blow up, least of all the people living in them. War, schmwar, thought Kafka when he put his money in the safest possible investment: Austro-Hungarian bonds. Everybody in Europe or in colony management knew that technology was capable of killing them. And everybody gasped when it advanced to kill a little more than they thought. By the time Tzara gasped, Europeans were already mostly robotic: they wore shoes, they lived in boxes, they used wires to communicate, they machined killingry. The hierarchical setup of Empire was a human-based engine engaged in advancing technology. Marinetti’s futurists got high on exhaust fumes but they too... Continue reading
Posted Jun 2, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
I don't blow my own horn because I was born in the modest half of the 20th century in a country so overtly serious about writing, especially poetry, poets could be rendered invisible while their work was performed in stadiums by actors. In the U.S. where Hype is, like Inflation, a God, I realized what the score was as soon as I read Mark Twain on the subject. The Statue of Liberty only holds a torch instead of Gabriel's trumpet because the French built it. And Gabriel's trumpet was, of course, not made so that Gabriel could blow his own horn. Or mix his instruments. He had the Lord's PR agency for that. All things being teachable, I was also touched by the evident nostalgia of these verses by the brilliant, now no longer with us, Jim Gustafson: "They used to pump it for me/but now it's strictly self-service." Except for New Jersey and Oregon. Having just spent two hundred and fifty dollars to buy my own books from one of my esteemed publishers, I was heartened by a message from David Lehman to reproduce here one of my poems with a few lines about it. David Lehman is not just my friend, but a friend of poets and poetry. It was indeed he who suggested that I send my new book to Ed Ochester at the Pitt Poetry Series. This distinguished poet and publisher issued David Lehman's new poetry book, "Playlist" at the same time as my own "No Time like Now," so there are now two great books around. Here is my poem: NO WEATHER HAIKU Smart has a ceiling, stupidity has a floor. Falling is faster climbing slow. If you want out go for the door. Whatever you do go in the door. If you go out go out the door. Some of it is history that bag of germs and some of it is window-sills still wet with tears. I love the doors of New York in the frigid haikus of december. I have keys to them all. This was evidently written in December and it's now mid-May in New York and freezing. Climate change is not caused by poems, but they can sure forecast. You will notice that this poem is attempting to overstress the ubiquitous idiocy of our meteo-political climate by shouting at the inmates (people) to do the obvious: go in and out the door and be brave. History, that bag of germs intentionally left coma-less if not comatose in the poem, is not about to succumb to its misery. Not in New York. I have the keys here, but if you need to go in and out don't ask me for permission. I hope you enjoy this crank I never forgot after moving back to New York half a century after I swore to never. Continue reading
Posted May 16, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
PART ONE (to be continued) Timp de trei decenii limba română a ițit în convorbiri (de obicei exasperante) cu mama. I wrote the sentence above in Romanian, and the idea of it intrigued me so much I kept on writing. I was exploring this idea as fast as I could type. It was a complex thought cascading into words. I called a temporary stop when the idea seemed (temporarily) exhausted. I read what I wrote and saw the weirdest thing: the first sentence was in Romanian, but the rest was in English. I had intended to write the whole thing in Romanian. I hadn’t even noticed when it slipped into English. What makes this interesting to me and, possibly, to neurologists, is that the idea in question was part of an introduction to a chapter of my collected poetry written directly in Romanian. I have two bodies of work in Romanian, 1962-1973, and 1992-2019. From 1973 to 1992 I wrote exclusively in English. I recovered my native language beginning in December 1989, when I "covered" the collapse of the Ceausescu dictatorship for NPR and ABC News. I started writing Romanian "coherently" in 1992. The parentheses around "covered" and "coherently" are intentional (another story). In any case, I am bilingual in an odd way, with a nearly four-decade gap between my native and my adopted languages. 1962 marked my first appearance in print when M.R. Paraschivescu, a Romanian poet and critic, cited two of my verses in his column "Posta Redacției" (The Editorial Post) in the weekly literary magazine "Luceafărul" (The Evening Star). All the Romanian literary journals of that time had a charming column responding to submissions from poets around the country. This one, written by the eminent Paraschivescu, was particularly desirable to young poets because "Luceafărul" was one of the rare publications testing the waters of censorship in the post-stalinist era. I was in High School in Sibiu, a provincial town with an illustrious but dead past, and I wasn't doing well in school. I seemed to have a knack for poetry. It turned out to be my way out of school, provincialism, and a future of guaranteed boredom. In his response, M.R. Paraschivescu said: Luceafărul, Anul V, Nr. 7 (90), 1 Aprilie 1962, p. 8. Poşta redacţiei Andrei Permuter: Se simte o încordare plină de promisiuni , dar deocamdată multe versuri sînt încă legate de expresii tip; prea mult abuz de „flăcări”, „lumini” etc. Chiar în cele mai reuşite poezii îşi fac loc aceste expresii deficitare, de care ar trebui să te ţii cît mai departe, deoarece întunecă unele imagini virtual interesante. Astfel, în „Şantier” este un decalaj vădit între început şi final: „Păduri de vuiete şi foc ridică pulberea din loc Şi la căldura razelor de soare Îi dă putere, formă şi culoare." Luceafărul, Year V, Nr. 7 (90), April 1 1962, p.8 Andrei Permuter: "A tension filled with promise is felt, but the poetry still abuses phrases like "flames," "lights," etc. These defficient tropes find their... Continue reading
Posted Apr 25, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
What is poetry? Here is a modern approach to answering that ancient question. The following list contains genuine quotes about “poetry,” “poet,” etc. by famous writers throughout the ages. However, those particular words have been replaced with “pornography,” “pornographer,” etc., in order to update the muse’s out-dated definitions, as you will see. If I read a book and it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is pornography. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is pornography. These are the only ways I know it. Is there any other way? Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) Life and Letters of Emily Dickinson [1824] Pornography is the supreme fiction, madame. Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) A High-toned Old Christian Woman [1923] You don’t make pornography with ideas, but with words. Stephane Mallarme (1842-1898) Paul Valery, Degas, Danse, Dessin I wish our clever young pornographers would remember my homely definitions of prose and pornography; that is, prose = words in their best order; pornography = the best words in their best order. Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) In Table Talk [July 12, 1827] Pornography must be as well written as prose. Ezra Pound (1885-1972) Letter to Harriet Monroe [January 1915] Taught or untaught, we all scribble pornography. Horace (65-8 BC) Epistles, bk II, 4 BC bk III (Ars Poetica) For pornography is everything; the rest is a world of illusion, of divine illusion. Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) Introduction to Ward, English Pornographers [1880] Pornographers are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) A Defense of Poetry [1821] Pornographer’s unnat’ral; no man ever talked pornography ‘cept a beadle on Boxin’ Day. Charles Dickens (1812-1870) Pickwick Papers [(1836-1837) Pornography— all of it— is a trip into the unknown. Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930)) Conversation with a Tax Collector about Poetry [1926] The lunatic, the lover, and the pornographer Are of imagination all compact… William Shakespeare (1564-1616) A Midsummer-Night’s Dream IV, 218 Pornography is a way of taking life by the throat. Robert Frost (1874-1963) Comment All pornographers are mad. Richard Burton (1577-1640) Anatomy of Melancholy, Democritus to the Reader With me pornography has been not a purpose, but a passion;…. Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849) The Raven and Other Pornography [1845] I have said that pornography is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility. William Wordsworth (1770-1850) Lyrical Ballads, preface Immature pornographers imitate; mature pornographers steal. T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) Philip Massinger [1920] To a pornographer nothing can be useless. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) Rasselas [1759] A pornographer is the most unpornographic of anything in existence; because he has no identity—he is continually informing—and filling some other body. John Keats ( 1795 -1821) Letter to Richard Woodhouse I am obnoxious to each carping tongue, Who says, my hand a needle better fits, A Pornographers Pen, all scorne, I should thus wrong; For such despight they cast on female wits;…. Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672) The Prologue All a pornographer... Continue reading
Posted Apr 8, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
You are invited to public self-flagellation at Strand Bookstore in New York City on March 26th at 7pm. I will be reading from new poetry book, "No Time Like Now" (Pitt Poetry Series, University of Pittsburgh Press). More details are to be found in the calendar at Other details are going to be revealed strictly for you if you do me the honor of showing up. In preparation for the event I read several thousand incendiary words by H.P. Blavatsky, who put me in a spiritist and spiritual state of mind. Hopefully, the benefits of this lecture will be of use to all of us. In any case, whatever ails you will stop hurting for the duration of the performance. And maybe a week after. Needless to say, reading at Strand Bookstore was always one of my Three Wishes. The others were: being published by City Lights Books, which came to pass (thank and happy 100th birthday, Lawrence Ferlinghetti!), and being translated and published by Gallimard, which hasn't yet happened, though it will, even if Gallimard wasn't what it used to be when I first wished it at age 19. The Strand is the last standing Pillar of the Book in the City that sleeps most of the time these days. Show up and we will keep it from landmark-attack. Thank you. In other news, I was in London and watched a half hour of incomprehensible live TV from Parliament. The Brits want out of Europe at all costs, and in jubilant self-mutilation they started stocking eggs, butter, oranges, and wine. They are nostalgic for the Great War. They have suffered enough Prosperity. Stupidity rules on both sides of the Atlantic. Come stock up on my poems: they will keep you well-disposed while the morons shoot off their toes. Order book/tickets here Continue reading
Posted Mar 23, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
I like writing in airport lounges with two hours to spare before an overseas flight. This is the last pleasure left after airports became expensive holding cells in hell. I remember when you could run right up to the door of your airplane and they would reopen them for you if you were late. And as per Casablanca, you could part from your amor during a war. I also remember from the movies when couples parked by the airport to watch planes take off. That was entertainment in days past. I'm having these puffs of nostalgia in the lounge of British air between security warnings and threats to my luggage which, if left unattended, might sprout wings and leaves. To be sure, the Surveillance apparatus already knows that nothing in my luggage grows. Do they know what grows in my head? I saw Minority Report and I think it possible that people having bad thoughts are tagged already. But there is no way anyone can read your thoughts if you're writing poetry. For one thing, there is no poetry in your head before you write it. At least, there isn't in mine. I'm from the school of "If you want to know something, ask yourself and there it is: the answer." Most people with a question google the answer now, and there it is: the fake answer. The fake answer is actually "fake news." Google cannot and never will answer poetry's questions. Google will maybe come up with names and bios of poets and their poems, but it will never answer a real poetry question, like the one poet Ted Berrigan was fond of stating as a fact, though it was a question: "I can't wait to hear what I'm going to say next." Indeed and likewise, there is no way for me to know what I think before I write it. As I write it I know what it is. Of course, if I have to formulate a question afterwards, I lose interest. Google is incapable of googling itself, that is to say: google cannot produce a question from an answer that even I don't yet know. Poetry resides only in the Ungooglable. For an erudite dissertation on the Ungooglable, please see "The Posthuman Dada Guide: Tzara and Lenin Play Chess" (Princeton, 2009), where I sink to the bottom of this. They are about to call my flight, so I'm pasting here two of my recent ungooglables: Dogs of Aphora An ounce of premounting is worth a pound of surmounting and a ton of dismounting. The contrarian problem: I’m Bauhaus when they are Baroque, I go for the Baroque when they go Bauhaus. We articulate when we daydream: contra naturam Even in the deepest boredom the darkest melancholy the hopeless depression someone with a lighter and a knife is preparing to make you forget Only curiosity makes things better: things hold your gaze if you look The last day arrived after my first coffee ants ants form colonies of... Continue reading
Posted Mar 11, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
Shortly after the fall of the Romanian dictatorship in 1989, a friend of mine, the poet Ioana Ieronim, took me to see the Peasant Museum in Bucharest. It was a place full of folk art, displayed back then in the commie-pedagogic manner that consisted of long descriptive labels below items that defied their description. I was arrested by a beautiful "Tree of Life" rug woven by a peasant artist. The motif is common to Turkish and Persian carpets, but the birds flying up and down here were specific to the Carpathian area. At the base of the tree two ripe wheat stalks held up the Biblical tree. I noted the resemblance to the forms Constantin Brancusi had borrowed from his native folklore, and the odd Napoleonic hats or half-worlds around black holes, at the end of decorative stalks. I kept talking about the rug as we headed back to my hotel through recently bombed ruins. Ioana called me the next day to tell me that the weaver was still alive and working in her village, though very old and nearly blind. I contacted her and asked if she could make a "Tree of Life" rug for me. She hesitated, but said "Yes, but it cost much money." "How much money is much money?" I asked her. After making complex calculations she replied after two days: "Three hundred dollars. It will be ready in one year." It was 1991. I agreed, paid her instantly, came back to America and promptly forgot about it. Two years later, in 1993, I received a letter from the weaver: "Do you want the wheat stalks at the bottom, or the traditional snakes?" Well, obviously, I wanted the traditional snakes. Where the Tree of Life comes from, snakes are major players. I didn't have to ask. I knew why she had replaced the snakes with wheat stalks: the Communist Party ordered her to. The Communist Party paid a great deal of attention to symbols: wheat represented well-being, bread, and optimism. Snakes were part of the communist bestiary of animals drafted in the service of rhetoric denouncing the evils of capitalism. We had monopolist hydras, capitalist pigs, speculator snakes, and saboteur worms.The Party countered this beastly world of squirming grossness with wheat, light, sweet breezes, and mighty dams over raging rivers. "Snakes, of course, snakes," I wrote back. The Bible (or folklore) didn't mince animals. Two years later, in 1995, I got the message that the rug was ready. Many historical things had taken place since I had first seen it. Several "democratic" governments had fallen. Demonstrations had been suppressed by the army. Capitalism, of the savage sort still active, had created a class of obscenely rich people who collected rugs among other things. The ex-Soviets plutocracy plucked the corpse of the State with vulturesque greed, like plutocracy everywhere. Unencumbered by wheat and related symbols, the New World Order went full snake. True to her word, my weaver, Elisabeta Murgu, very old and possibly totally blind by... Continue reading
Posted Feb 26, 2019 at The Best American Poetry
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 Feb 20, 2019 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 http://[email protected]. 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