Sunday Jul 14

Codrescu Andrei Codrescu is the author of forty books of poetry, fiction, and essays, and the founder of Exquisite Corpse: A Journal of Life & Letters. His new books are The Posthuman Dada Guide: Tzara and Lenin Play Chess (Princeton UP, 2009) and Jealous Witness: New Poems (Coffee House Press, 2008, with a CD by The New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars). He has received a Peabody award for his film Road Scholar and has reported for NPR and ABC News from Romania (1989) and Cuba (1996). He has been a commentator on NPR’s All Things Considered since 1983. He is Emeritus Professor of English at LSU and lives in New Orleans and the Ozarks.


davidfranks A writer, artist, performer, and delightful prankster, David Franks (1948-2010) approached life and art as inseparable from each other. Andrei Codrescu calls Franks "a major artist of the late 20th century" in the company of "some of the best conceptual artists."

Andrei Codrescu Interview with Mihaela Moscaliuc

In Jealous Witness, your most recent volume of poetry, you call poets "thieves," "future burglars" (85). The poet's work, you have said, is to "shortcircuit the imaginary globe," "to unquote quotes," "to unmatter matter." Does the poet Andrei Codrescu differ in any significant ways from the essayist, memorialist, fiction writer, public figure Andrei Codrescu? Does poetry-writing fulfill needs and desires that cannot be satisfied by other genres or other personas? Are the pleasures of poetry-writing different from those of prose-writing?

That's a gordian knot of questions I'll solve à la Alexander with a sword: there is no difference between those writers or those texts. They are all the producer of a will to make something happen through writing. That "something" is a counterforce to the inertia that perpetuates confining situations. There is a lot to be said about this thing I charitably call "inertia," some of it being particularly malevolent: environmental destruction, for instance, or sinister technologies. There is more pleasure in writing poetry because there is no money in it, therefore no compelling reason to be coherent. One can curse like a prophet or rave like a bum without being noticed by the police. Poetry is like my native Romanian language in the U.S.: there is no need to speak it except for the pleasure of hearing it. My Romanian was best in my adolescence, the age of pleasure and seriousness. I do speak a brand of anglo-romanian with friends who live in the States, but even those conversations in pidgin are more play than grave matters.

One of your poems, "walnuts," has an epigraph from one of the most exciting Romanian writers, Mircea Cartarescu, who, the rumor goes, is no longer interested in writing poetry. "I don't like the substances from which poetry is made: too much like ether, like nail polish. You have to consume your own self too much...The true prose writer consumes others." Is consuming oneself necessarily a bad thing? Do you share this view? Related question: How do you decide that something wants itself a poem rather than an prose piece?

Mircea is engaging in wishful thinking in that quote, and I wrote the poem that follows to refute him. One consumes oneself in poetry or prose, and to the extent that you invest all in the writing, you consume yourself entirely. The use of pronouns, supposing for the sake of argument, that poetry is "I" and prose "he/she," makes no real difference: you are engaged in self-cannibalism. An amused distance does not exist, except as a feint, a foil that says to yoursef or the reader, "I'm really a sociologist/anthropologist/psychologist, etc, not a self-cannibal... I got these wounds falling down the stairs..." Best example of a prose writer who thought that he was painting society but was really devouring himself is Balzac: he thought he was describing something outside himself, but was in effect consuming all the people he'd been or tried to be, and was using for garnishes the people he encountered in search of his selves.

Does the poet fulfill or perform (perhaps two very different things) a role in society, whether he wants it or not? Are the positions and roles of poets a-temporal as well as/or context-dependent, historical?

That's a good question because it touches on a perennial conundrum. Any poet who labors under the illusion that herm is perennial is a fool; on the other hand, any poet who does not believe that herm is perennial is a fool too. That said, the only pleasure in writing poetry is, for me, the knowledge of the immediate, the present, the tasteable. I am a poet of occasions and I feed like a baby from the tit of the actual. Involvement with the real, no matter how trivial, elevates my self-esteem because it makes me happy to know how insignificant and marginal I am in the face of what's out there. That may seem paradoxical, but my sense of worthiness comes entirely from the sense of being nothing. This nothing who scribbles about the "out there" draws its sense of importance (aka "self") from the absurd thought that he is elevating the subject, no matter how trivial, to a place better than its context. The intoxicating conceit is that a double-nothing works on a double-illusion, and that's better than a somebody working on a something. As for the question of how the work is seen by one's contemporaries or by the future, that's relevant only if there is money involved, i.e., a value exchange, a "career." In my case, happily, poetry is not in that market.

"Oblique is no more your style than sliced filets of suburban midnight/for you there is always beauty/you can recognize by a whiff like a perfume in a crowd" you write in "the incoming sneeze or the old man's nose self-portrait" [shall I put any punctuation between "nose" and "self-portrait"?]. What are some of the most unlikely places where you have found beauty?

No punctuation: that's where the beauty is. Wherever and whenever you find yourself capable of erasing periods, commas, and the rest of the orthographic impediments, you will be in the presence of beauty. Look at any architecture: clothes, for example. The architecture of clothing the body is beautiful when it elaborates and increases the mystery of the body. You know Lucian Blaga's lovely formulation: "Our job when faced by a mystery is not to explain it, but to increase its mysteriousness." Beauty is there when you bring your senses to increase the mystery of what arrests your attention. I live in the woods now, by the Buffalo River on the Arkansas/Missouri border, and I can't believe how much beauty I find; I found tree roots that I cleaned and combed and spray-painted in vivid colors and set upright against trees: I call them Witches: they have long hair and tendrils and these twisted muscles that were inside the earth and drew all the subterranean power of nourishment to keep up the trunks. Some of them may be "wizards," but I don't think so: we are talking earth, juice, power to nourish.

Your poetry has been called surreal and proto-surreal, self-generative, organic, and many many other things, and the attempts to gently pigeonhole it and to trace its aesthetic genealogy continue. However, I feel that while your poetry honors its "ancestry" and visible influences (often through very explicit dedications), it also desire itself free from labels and market(ing) tags. Do you think literary taxonomies are necessary or beneficial? If you had to choose one expression/phrase/short sentence to catalogue your poetry (in this imaginary poetry catalogue covering all centuries and cultures that I'm putting together), what would it be?

Gee gosh, dear Mihaela, I would ignore this grand trap, if it weren't for the fact that I edit a journal and have assembled some anthologies, which makes me a taxonomist (taxidermist? taxographer?). My own poetry I can't see from the "outside," except that it often goes against the grain, i.e, it's not at all like the poetry I anthologize and promote. Sometimes it's almost like I'm publishing the enemy (whom I love dearly, and is a friend of mine). The group of New York poets I learned American poetry from (or at least a world-attitude with poetic consequences) were Ted Berrigan, Tom Veitch, Dick Gallup, Ron Padgett, Maureen Owen. Later, in San Francisco and surroundings, I had other circles that included poets like Jeffrey Miller, Kathy Acker, Pat Nolan, Jim Gustafson, Darrell Gray, and Gloria Frym. Later than that, in New Orleans, I had Dave Brinks, and many talented students. In New York I was a marginal figure in the group; in San Francisco and New Orleans I was at the center. Supporting these poets seemed to me a duty of friendship, but also the advancement of a poetics I believe necesary. Before I knew English, my ideas of poetry were formed by Lucian Blaga, Tudor Arghezi, Geo Bogza, Benjamin Fundoianu, Ilarie Voronca, Tudor Jebeleanu, Villon, Baudelaire, Tristan Tzara, Gherasim Luca, Nazim Hikmet, Nellie Sachs. Those first poets were a hodgepodge of mystics, surrealists, epic narrators, decadents, etc. I absorbed what I could in Romania, without any distinction of genre; it was like when I was five years-old in Sibiu and I spoke German, Hungarian, and Romanian without knowing that they were separate languages. I just knew that I spoke one way to my mother, another to my grandmother, and another to my friends on the street. When I went to school, I was told that they were different languages, and my brain froze. It only unfroze recently (when I ran into a beauty). By the time I got to New York, at age 20, I was aware of critical distinctions, and I knew how different the poetry of my American friends was from all other poetries, not just the poetry of my adolescence, but all other poetries in English. This was the era of Pop when artists and poets discovered the beauty of the everyday object, the glory of anonymous design. From that they derived ways of working with words, paint, etc. I saw the rightness of being in that zeitgeist, but I didn't (or couldn't) leave behind the vertical impulses of my work. So I did my best to use what I could, but I publicized what I knew made timely sense.

While certain things may deserve or require attention more than others, there is nothing, your poems intimate, that may be deemed "unworthy" of poetry, nothing that the poet should shy away from, both in terms of content and form. The dictions of your poems create surprising, liberating, sensual juxtapositions, inviting us to abandon worn, rusty thinking, invest a little in our imaginative and associative powers, remind ourselves that language is both delicious and sexy. At the same time, your poems are very much anchored in reality, alert to all kind of changes (or lack of changes that affect us just as much): changes on a national or global scale, changes altering the more immediate environments, redirecting or recontextualizing your interests, visions, and sympathies. You seem to be, among other wonderful things, a human seismograph with a huge heart and generously rapacious (makes sense?) mind. Could you talk a little bit about the writing process? As you are conceiving, carrying, and birthing your poems, do you set certain expectations for them, or do you mostly hope for a successful birth, and way, excitedly, to see where they're heading? And when do you know that something is calling for a poem?

Well, you just said gorgeous things that would make anyone blush, so I do. The key word is "sexy," and I mean this in its sinuous ubiquity. The beauty we were talking about earlier is made beautiful by its extensions, by its tendrils, by connective tissue. This is not exclusive to writing, of course, it pertains to everything, including reading. The best reading for me is generative: there are books that I never finish reading because the writing is so generative I have to run to do my own. Beckett and Joyce are like that. There are other writers, like Kundera or Hrabal, who also send me to the keyboard, but I also want to finish their books – that's high art. Process is continual: I'm always writing; not physically maybe, but in the sense that a roving sense-cluster records everything for use. I take notes on my iPhone, I write on scraps of paper, etc, but the written evidence is a small percentage of what takes form when I see it. There are writers who are propelled by melancholy, by what they see as the tragedy of existence – I'm not one of those—I'm propelled by joy, beauty, wonder, anger, and childishness.

In a superb book-length interview with Romanian philosopher and theologist Robert Lazu, you mention that the poetical stands in direct opposition to poetry. Could you talk a little bit more about this? Is this poetical related (by blood, gaze, equalizing power) to Milan Kundera's kitsch?

Kundera had it right with "kitsch," meaning the smugness one feels when doing something "elevated," like looking at a picture in a museum and not seeing the picture, but rather oneself looking at a picture in a museum. Likewise, "the poetical" is the idea that one is writing a poem, therefore committing an act that requires a poetic posture. There is an awful lot of writing that says only "I am writing." That's kitsch. It's the "thing" that propels poetry, not "writing poetry" that propels the thing. Writing is interesting if it's transparent, spontaneous, self-erasing, arrogant, beautiful, and narcissistic, but if it's a pose it's dead. The "poetical" is also the readymade store of "poetic" language, an instant buzz-killer that compels the reader to recognize the presence of "poetry." The reason most people hate or avoid poetry is because they've been fed gobs of the "poetical" in schools. We are surrounded by poetry that doesn't advertise itself as "poetry": things people say, commercials, graffiti, hallucinations, misreading, mishearings, etc. Insofar as training the ear/eye to recognize poetry, that's a matter of alerting the senses, not shaping them.

Words, you say in your interview with Robert Lazu, have memory and they have wrinkles. How would you describe your relationship to the English language? To what extent have you been consciously trying to preserve an accent in your writings, and to what extent has this process has happened naturally? How would shifting languages alter your poetry? Could you see yourself writing the "American" poems in Romanian?

I know that you're trying to elucidate things for yourself in this set of complex questions, but I truly don't concern myself with how one language translates into another, or how much of this is "natural" or perverse. Words do hold memories in the wrinkles (in the vowels, actually, because if you eliminate the vowels you get dense animal sounds full of primal poetry), so they spill, spray, or eject whatever they hold when you make something with them. "Having" languages is having wealth: you are rich when you can establish an underground route between languages, communicating at an ur-level. I meet poets like yourself in this tunnel sometimes, and it's like meeting border-crossers inside secret passages: we exchange something in the dark, and we have something sparkly in our eyes when we emerge.

Are you ever faced with moments of cultural, linguistic, intellectual, or emotional intraslatability as you write--- and, if you are, what do you do with and what do you make (out) of such moments?

If it's "in" or "un" translateable, I leave it in the original. If you mean, are there things I won't (or can't) speak about, that's another matter, a psychological block that can be dealt with.

Is there any one particular question you have been expecting to be asked and hasn't happened yet?

That one.


since january 31 2010
                          for Betsy


this world is how the dead communicate
with something neither us nor them

everything sensible is a message from the dead

and everything dead is a message from us
for something beyond them that is beyond us

we are whatever they say
and they are whatever we say

and we know not who we say it to

I'm a letter you're a letter
we crossed in the mail

sealed and going
plain and enigmatic

but just between us we are either here or there
the messages we are not meant for either

machines are how this world communicates with itself
but some machines – like guitars—bring messages from the dead
faster than we here to ourselves

all musical instruments do including the human voice

and speaking of David Franks, Betsy Boyd you are one helluva post office

letter to the dead DF via BB
next day Laura finds
with page-targets riddled by BBs

I said if anybody can get a message thru
David will

so here it is

if you like it here get thee machined
if not
let song wing it

mental geography is geography
the same topos as what's out the window
going on named out there and unnamed in the mind

no ideas but in things indeed
including things of the mind

mind topos and geo-features going on without a break
all of them here and there
both hi tree and what did I just say

the wave of event made of all particles sensible and undetected

it's the stuff that travels back and forth that interests the back and the forth

the messaging

oh and those lips
I put that letter in and then we were three
eros cupid and psyche

on their way somewhere busy busy

or da capo
this world is just what the dead say
not to anyone
just talking

do we talk back
oh yes we do


Net Worth
          by David Franks


There's a little time left before I have to get out of bed

& face the day, so I lie there waking up, thinking through the things

I have to do; it's almost December, it's chilly, & I'm cupping my fingers

Over my penis, holding my balls, squeezing, rubbing more than stroking

More a warming, comforting gesture than sexual though I do

Think of you, among the things I'd like to do

Today -- "DO you" -- what an awful expression! Like what? A good job?

A favor? Ugh! I want slow, amorous, intense sex with your long

Orgasms, but you're out of town, so there's nothing I can do about that

Even if you wanted to, too, so I keep holding myself thinking through the day --

"Myself" as if my penis & balls were "myself"? Well, pretty much, but

What if I had gone to Harvard Law school, & was a senior partner

In Putney, Adams, Brown, & Franks? You wouldn't think

Of my net worth in terms of my balls & penis then -- no, not at all, for

I'd have a Corporate jet with all the trappings. Of course then

I'd have no time for you because I'd be flying all around the world

Raising capital for my corporation, waking up in the morning in

The Executive suites of five star hotels, or maybe even seven stars like the

"Burj al Arab" in Dubai -- just like my partners, & dear friends. Putney, Adams, & Brown are

Flying in their Corporate jets all over the world, as we speak, waking up in the morning in

These Executive suites, lonely men, with room service & wireless in

King size beds, cupping their penis & balls, chilly --

thinking of their net worth