photo by Marion Ettlinger
B I B L I O D E A T H: my Archives (with Life in Footnotes)
| ANTIBOOKCLUB, November 29, 2012|
Bibliodeath: My Archives (With Life in Footnotes) surveys the relationship between language and technology by examining the decades-long writing life of an American poet whose first languages were German, Hungarian, and Romanian. Born in Sibiu, Romania, a multiethnic city that is the seat of one of Europe's oldest printers' guilds, Codrescu fell in love with poetry and carried "this precious gold bug" to the U.S at the end of 1960s. Poetry, a subversive form, closely watched by the authorities in his homeland, was still charged with the power of radical opposition in the Sixties U.S. In 1970, he wrote "License to Carry a Gun" (Big Table), the work of three imaginary poets at war with the status quo. In 1983, he founded Exquisite Corpse, a Journal of Books & Ideas in Baltimore, where he lectured at Johns Hopkins University. In the same year, he became a regular (and controversial) commentator on art and politics on NPR's All Things Considered. A chaired professor of English and Comparative Literature at LSU in Baton Rouge, he continued editing Exquisite Corpse, speaking his mind on NPR, and lecturing widely on a variety of subjects he claims "would have killed me if I'd known anything about them before I looked into them." He covered the dramatic events of 1989 in Romania for NPR and ABC News, with a keen sense of the oddness of this novel history. In the late 90s of the 20th Century he found his lyric vein in Romanian again and "rebirthed" a poet who had lived in the shadow of his American work, "like an illegal immigrant in the witness protection program." Just one of many paradoxes of a poet's life. Codrescu always kept faith with a poetry that required remaking and rethinking, made suddenly more urgent by by the advent of new media. The archival enterprise, in particular, became a substantial concern, a "philosopher's walking stick." Biblodeath: my Archives (with Life in Footnotes) is told in the guise of two memoirs (one in the main text, and one in footnotes).
S O R E C E N T L Y R E N T A W O R L D
NEW AND SELECTED POEMS: 1968–2012
| COFFEE HOUSE PRESS, December 11, 2012|
So Recently Rent a World: New and Selected Poems
FOR FOUR AND A HALF DECADES, Andrei Codrescu has been a vivid presence in our literary life. He has written novels, essays, and reportage; made films; taught literature; produced regular commentary for radio and newspapers; edited a literary journal-- but he is foremost a poet who has made this art the bedrock and standard for all his writing. So Recently Rent a World: New And Selected Poems, 1968-2012, is a selection of his decades’ long dalliance and adventures with the muse, with a hefty addition of new unpublished work. The New York Times Book Review has called Codrescu “One of our most prodigiously talented and magical writers,” The Los Angeles Times" has proclaimed him, “a modern day De Tocqueville,” The Houston Chronicle noted that he is “among the most astute contemporary observers of what William Carlos Williams called ‘the American grain,’ while simultaneously joining playwright Eugene Ionesco as one of Romania’s great rememberers of dictatorial things past,” Lawrence Ferlinghetti said that he “creates a craving for the subversive—something much needed in these days of ‘friendly fascism,’ Kay Boyle called his work “a cause for celebration,” and The St. Petersburg Times commented that “If Andrei Codrescu still lived in Europe, he’d be a public intellectual, consulted by presidents and ministers on issues of education, economics, and possibilities of pleasure. But since he is now a resident of the United States, he has to content himself with being a cult figure. America hasn’t melted Codrescu.He’s as solid a voice as we have.” Author of forty books, Codrescu has edited the literary magazine Exquisite Corpse in print for 13 years (1983-1996) and online since (1996-ongoing). His provocative commentary featured regularly on NPR’s All Things Considered was the source of lively debates. He currently lives in the Ozarks near the Buffalo River National Park.
Recent work, reviews, interviews
www.revistasteaua.ro Anul LXIV, Nr. 7-8.2013
McSweeney's, Nr.4, 2013. "Midrashim on Some of Reb Ren's Writings," Festschrift for Lawrence (Ren) Weschler
Cave Dwelling Retirement
Bibliodeath: My Archives (With Life in Footnotes)
Book Slut Interview
New Pages Review of Bibliodeath
WLPR Review of Bibliodeath
Bacon Review Interview
Foreword Reviews Bibliodeath
Kirkus Reviews Bibliodeath
Steaua (Cluj) essay by Nicoleta Marinescu
Revista Vatra (Romania)
Revista Cultura Bibliodeath
Publishers Weekly Bibliodeath
The Toronto Star The Poetry Lesson
The Toronto Star Sheherezade
New Pages So Recently Rent a World New and Selected Poems
Ce-a vrut sa spuna autorul, Marius Chivu, Editura Polirom
SOME REVIEWS OF THE TITLES ABOVE:
So Recently Rent a World: New and Selected Poems, 1968-2012 (Coffee House Press)
review by Larry Sawyer
For decades Andrei Codrescu has seen many roles: cultural commentator, witness to the fall of the Soviet Union and communism in Romania, erstwhile comedian, filmmaker, respected literary editor, and educator but he's always primarily been a poet. When speaking of memory or social history, it's difficult to assume now that a collective we exists let alone for younger generations to understand older and vice versa. There is a certain randomness to memory. Codrescu opens his new and selected with a short aside on the ever-changing nature of the pronoun "I" and how over his years spent in America that "I" has changed.
What the eye sees and what the mind remembers has changed with the takeover that technology has meant in our lives but we, as 21st century humans, are nothing if not persistent. As the pace of life seems to quicken, each moment takes on a seeming greater importance as the flickers of our existence speed up. Technology has closed gaps but also created a new abyss.
The original daft punks, poets have traditionally held as one of their roles gatekeeper for collective memory, although poetry also obviously provides pleasure and has no need to be useful in a strict sense. Andrei Codrescu's poetry serves several unique functions in addition to providing pleasure. It's an invaluable record of what the writing life of this poet became, which is transformative, as well as the details of how life on planet earth has changed in the past few generations as our 21st century lives become more complex. All of these facets are preserved here. Yet
memory disregards context
it is an enemy of experience
therefore unreliable and since
basic memory is a condition of survival
i assume that we survive
in spite of experience
when one forgets as a philosophy
each forgotten thing is raised to the status
of a god (i.e. objective condition)
and makes everyone else remember<
things that they haven't experienced
some memories bring with them brand new
from the original contexts in which they occurred
and thus set up the conditions
for brand new memories
most things endowed with memory die
prenatal memory is common property
but it is not
words and pictures are the only
things one can forget at leisure
and look up later
His underlying worldview always seems a bit more Buddhist and less Freudian. Codrescu emigrated to the United States in 1966 from Romania and his time here has sharpened his eye rather than dulling it. If he sometimes seems like the canary in the coal mine of our consumer driven society, he performs that operation with much humor, although of the black variety.
a petite histoire of red fascism
are made by energy.
The inert masses
know nobody & not
themselves. Nobody &
Not Self are well worth
knowing but connecting
them takes energy
so they are known
only by their masks
of inert proletarian
statues. The people
with the most energy
to know the statues.
The statues are well-known
by the inert masses.
The people with just
a little less energy
are then employed
to interrogate the inert
proletariat. One energy
grade below, the police &
energize the inert mass
which is now for the
first time broken up
Breaking it up releases
to respond to questioning.
The police level then ex-
tract a primitive narra-
tive from the recently
inert & this narrative
generates enough energy
& excitement to produce
a two-level discourse which
makes sense to the upper
energy level. New
energy is created & soon
the top echelons are
introduced to the dis-
courses of Nobody &
Not Self. Together,
the brass & the mass
envision the statues:
the energy of the mass
will henceforth be em-
ployed to make statues
of the brass.
It's this production, procreation, which provides the only new energy, which provides fresh resources to serve as grist to be thrown back into the mill of the system. In a sort-of circle jerk of meaningless repetitive political motion, the masses exist only to validate the worthless existences of the rulers. This cycle of manipulation is commemorated by the observance of hollow statues but in a complete breakdown of life over time the manufacture of these simulacra has become the only occupation. Life is a pursuit of energy, an increasingly rare commodity, and happiness no longer figures into anything. Not a poet to ignore the absurdities of American life, Codrescu at least gives us a laugh, while diagnosing some of the maladies of our current social condition.
Codrescu has always been able to quickly slip into and out of various personae. His first book was written in 1970 in fact from the perspective of a persona of his own invention, Julio Hernandez, a Puerto Rican living on the Lower East Side of New York. As an immigrant himself, it's no surprise that he writes that Hernandez "hovers saintly on the edge of all my action." Codrescu uses the persona of Hernandez to navigate what he calls "prison reality."
from a trilogy of birds
in birds is our stolen being, from summer to summer
they carry on my destruction, more obvious
as i get closer to death.
in the kitchen powerful lights stay on at night
watching the summer passage of birds.
the sea contains
their thick excrement, our longing to fly,
the sea changes color.
weak ships over the water.
i am seasonal.
i offer poisoned lights to passing birds
through the guarded door of the kitchen.
it suddenly opens.
i catch the sea when it is taken away
by disciplined clouds of birds.
In this world of new identities it makes sense that birds symbolize our desire and longing for some indefinable escape. If Codrescu's poetry has represented to some extent a mordant or ironic paen of the schizophrene, this observer has loved it. By providing this illogical logic, often using a surrealist lens, Codrescu illumines just how fractured our lives have become. He does so with a deft painterly touch. In his poems, image and metaphor usually figure large. As with Artaud there is a grand gesture at play.
I have been altered like a suit
to accommodate a much larger man.
Dedication & appalling motives support this enlargement
like crossbeams in a simple church in Transylvania.
I have gone against nature
and now I have fur.
I am the most ruthlessly hunted
but the most ecologically abundant animal.
My name is victory over mother and father.
In the transformation that Codrescu assumes, to the extent we are able to bear it, may be recognized, if anything, a suit of mirrors. Although in this poem the implication is that a Romantic victory over the pitfalls of the preceding generation involves a feat that might look similar to lycanthropy. The poet is tasked with a dangerous role and she may even be metaphorically hunted for it.
An epigraph by Romanian poet Mircea Cartarescu to a later poem (p. 393) called "Walnuts," reads "I don't like the substances from which poetry is made… you have to consume your own self too much… the truer prose writer consumes others." If Americans seem to like writing poetry but not reading it, this epigraph may hint at the reason. Codrescu provides the kind of self-analysis in his poetry that recreational readers of best seller lists would find repellent.
Codrescu, in his poem "Epitaph" (p. 222) hints of a poetry that doesn't exist to placate the masses.
he was a young guy with surrealist connections.
this tombstone does not lie
it merely stands imbedded in the sweet dark stew
waiting for the connoisseur
This is why his documentarian eye is so valuable (he has three). His poetry provides the unflinching gaze that we need but no longer get from the news. In his poem about another shatterer of complicity "tristan tzara the man who said no" (p. 395) we see Codrescu memorializing the founder of Dada somewhat but more importantly pointing out that something is missing today, and that we desperately need to regain it.
...in 1913, a jewish boy
fresh out of the ghetto of moine?ti in the kingdom of romania
bursts into a concentrated violence of guffaws before the swiss
releasing centuries of repression and fear combined with a strict
alphabet that until now left no airy gap for youth's springtime
and he does so in public, the war be damned and propriety, too.
he is staring at the nude legs of a mannequin bei in a shop window
and it's cracking him up: her beige ceramic ankles signal
the death of his required ancestral gloom.
lenin gives him a look as he ambles toward the library.
death is suddenly upset and sets her minions to work.
we must recover tzara's laugh! we know what happened later.
Other than humor and prescience, Codrescu has always excelled at producing some of the most memorable imagery of any living poet.
toltec submarine with dragonfly wings
mating with two or three of your kind on the wet ass
of the beloved floating downstream on a frog floatie
He's able to diagnose our maladies on the grandest of scales but the bedrock of his dark, yet amiable, agenda is a talent for the razor sharp one-liner:
I had a youth once
I was very good at it
At their best, Codrescu's poems carry a sublime disorder that can seem simultaneously elegant and grotesque. In his poem "intention" for the poet Tom Clark he writes
Poems be not intended
therefore I be always writin
is to order which is why
it is important to make
without a plan. Intention
lands one in bed with cliché,
which is somebody's old plan
to bed somebody else's old
In Codrescu's bendable world we are all allowed to try on his insouciant thoughts and walk around in them for awhile. If you find his clothes out of fashion, it may be that he's always been a few steps ahead. He is one of the most well-known poets in the world but seems most at home in those liminal spaces that defy description, but this is a poet whose gags are quite serious. In this new and selected book of poems, Codrescu is still one of our most skilled interlocutors and he sings above the abyss skillfully, reminding us that:
There is only one subject: the abyss between theory and practice
The abyss is interesting: both theory and practice suck.
So Recently Rent a World: New and Selected Poems: 1968-2012
review by Kenneth Warren
“There is a literature that does not reach the voracious mass. It is the work of creators, issued from a real necessity in the author, produced for himself. It expresses the knowledge of a supreme egoism, in which laws wither away.”Andrei Codrescu is today the great American poet of intercultural encounter, absolutely exceptional in his capacity to elucidate with analytical power, emotional sensitivity, and lyric force the most revealing points of tension between ethical and imaginative perceptions in a world under the gun. With sympathy for eruptions against authority, Codrescu has infused child-man rebellion and passionate desire into the many poems of self-recollection that are now presented with incisive comment and context in this 408 page collection entitled So Recently Rent a World: New and Selected Poems: 1968-2012 (2012). A Jewish exile from Communist Romania, Codrescu arrived in the United States in 1966 with an otherworldly grip on myth and politics. His imagination was enjoined to reveal not only the double-cross of realism and idealism, which had arisen in his homeland of authoritarian mystics, rabid nationalists, and radical materialists, but also the autonomous reality of poetry as the underground counterforce to police state repression.
Tristan Tzara, “Dada Manifesto”
“The structure of the sacred in the human consciousness is built on the structure of synchronicity, as opposed to the diachronic structure of radical historicism.”
Mircea Eliade, “The Sacred in the Secular World”
“That’s just talk, not Logos,
a getting down to cases.
I take it as simple particulars that
we wear our feelings on our faces.”
Ted Berrigan, “New Personal Poem”
“I am a cross and the idea
Is to burn twice at the four tips.”
Andrei Codrescu, “to my heart”
To the question of earliest influences, Codrescu recalls: “Before I knew English, my ideas of poetry were formed by Lucian Blaga, Tudor Arghezi, Geo Bogza, Benjamin Fundoianu, Ilarie Voronca, Eugen Jebeleanu, Villon, Baudelaire, Tristan Tzara, Gherasim Luca, Nazim Hikmet, Nellie Sachs” ("Andrei Codrescu - Poetry & Interview with Mihaela Moscaliuc." Connotation Press: an Online Artifact (Issue VI, Volume IV: February 2013). Web. 12 Feb. 2013). Here, Codrescu’s sources suggest a complex sensibility steeped not only in lyricism and Dadaism but also in Christian and Jewish mysticism. So far as Codrescu’s Romanian inheritance is concerned, it is clear that Tristan Tzara, the Jewish Romanian Dadaist visionary instigator, is his comrade in the revolt against logic; Mircea Eliade, the Romanian Orthodox historian and philosopher of religion, is his comrade in the sacred primordium. From the beginning, then, Codrescu’s voice has been pledged to a sacramental act by which the de-sacralization of poetry through Tzara might be joined to a re-sacralization through Eliade. A playful techno-messianic subjectivity thereby speaks through Codrescu’s assimilation of Jewish Romanian and Romanian Orthodox sources into English language poetry:
the translation machine on mount athosWith a real feel for the Aeolian outgas of religious acts that animates common life and poetic imagination, Codrescu gravitated to the New York scene that had constellated around Paul Blackburn’s commitments to the spoken word and the tribal field of talking poets. In order to learn English, of course, Codrescu had to pick up the vocal gestures of others. From interactions with New York poets, most especially Ted Berrigan, Codrescu would discover the linguistic space for perfecting at the very heart of America’s new oral poetry a dynamic personal art, which could masterfully honor a history of Romanian Jewish trauma twisted around the Patriarchal double-cross.
has multiple portals for mortals and one for eternity
it comes and goes on its self-devouring path
leaving behind critical self-sufficiency to doom posterity
it won’t be doomed boom boom can you believe
just how much work it is to deconstruct a world
that was read by everybody in their own language
though there are many languages and not one for you
ubu dada yahoo bing google wiki
in the kingdom of the one syllable
check the weather it comes from the outside
(“one syllable”, 60)
“Nothing shocked my Romanian metaphysical sensibilities more than Ted Berrigan’s absolutely insistent attention to the seemingly trivial” (“Introduction,” Alien Candor: Selected Poems 1970-1995, 1996, 13), Codrescu once declared. Although Eliade’s phenomenology of the sacred provided Codrescu with a bullet-proof defense against flat-lining the imagination into “the seemingly trivial,” he generously concluded with respect to Berrigan’s practice: “Of course, this wasn’t the case, as it became apparent on further reading: he was employing ‘non-poetic’ language because, amazingly, few American poets had” (13-14). Nevertheless, Codrescu’s metaphysically charged apprehension of the rules for poetry had already crowned his sense of “‘non-poetic’ language.” Therefore he could modulate “the seemingly trivial” with fidelity to Old World convictions about the verticality of consciousness and the esoteric tip of the imagination. In short, he was equipped to take it higher.
the conscious and the unconscious
are languages in a state of translation
and their respective losses
are the gods (168)
In other words, he was possessed by fantastic, quasi-religious, supernatural chops.
All sound is religion.
Language is merely a choir boy in this religion.
Sometimes a bishop wind rattles the windows,
Still, I must speak the most intelligent language available
While I have this typewriter knowing full well that tomorrow
I might be able to welcome a color Xerox machine into my studio
And with it there will be a revolution in my life.
(“sunday sermon”, 217)
He could see “the translation machine on mount athos” (60); he could imagine “the gods” (168); he could grok “the self must/be full of the English language” (232).
Consequently, the “chatty abstraction”—ascribed to “New York School Poetry” by Eileen Myles, who recognized “the limitations” within a poetics of self-abnegation (“Long and Social,” Narrativity, Issue 2.Web 12 Feb. 2013)—is transmuted through Codrescu’s oracular sacred prism.
i kiss his green hand(from: "leadership”, 106)
it tastes like my eyes, I see through my kiss
a line of prophets, all blind.
some blinder than the others in the dark green
of his hand, crossing his lifeline
Codrescu presents an essential “lifeline” for gauging the evolution of American poetry. “I tried to find a bridge between the dark metaphorical music of my first poets, and the pop insistence on the actual, physical world that was the passionate poetics of my new friends” (97), Codrescu notes with respect to his early personae poems. Now it is easy, with So Recently Rent a World: New and Selected Poems: 1968-2012 in hand, to see how Codrescu’s “bridge” through Berrigan offers a “lifeline” that differs substantially from the abstract and impersonal tendencies which have captured imaginations in the wake of Zukofsky. To be sure, the two opposing currents which propelled the New York School—the impersonal work of Zukofsky and the personal play of O’Hara—become fully illuminated under Codrescu’s captivating advance from Berrigan, whose 1972 Vort interview with Barry Alpert still marks a crucial fork in the road for American poets:
"In fact at the time we had a great contempt for Zukofsky. It was impersonal. We had Frank O’Hara and a tradition on back through Apollinaire, and we thought that Zukofsky and all the people that were talking about Zukofsky were rock-heads. We were sort of enlightened later by Aram Saroyan and Clark Coolidge who all came out of Zukofsky in a certain way, and who had a lot to show us when they came out. We were the rock-heads in a way but we didn’t have much to take from Zukofsky. We were a little too flippant for that. No, I think the man is very respectable, a very respectable poet, but I think he’s dull and a sort of nit-picker in a way that Aram Saroyan isn’t, although everybody accuses him of being one. Maybe I’m too close to Zukofsky in one way, and a little young on the other hand to really get him. I get it out of Aram Saroyan and Bob Creeley."
(quoted by John Latta, “Notebook (Ted Berrigan, Ron Padgett, Pierre Reverdy, &c.)”, Thursday, October 18, 2012. Web. 12 Feb. 2013)
While the impersonal work lineage extended from Zukofsky through Coolidge to the Language Movement, with its Marxist inspired labor theories of poetry, the personal play lineage extended from O’Hara through Berrigan to Codrescu, whose “translation machine on mount athos” (60) could preserve “language” through the “sound” of “religion” (217).
Nothing characterizes the playful Dionysian aspiration in American poetry better than the drive to negate the patriarchy and become the crowned, conquering, always mouthy, and quite often drunk consort of the Great Mother. Codrescu’s poetry unfolds, quite marvelously, in relation to this playful Dionysian aspiration whose style of consciousness clusters around such oralist poets as Kerouac, Olson, O’Hara, and Berrigan—all of whom were groomed through Roman Catholic conditioning to honor masochistic experience. What makes Codrescu’s poetry so interesting is that the collective historical conscience that binds him to Jewish identity does not stop him from submerging himself in the poetry of ecstasy, lunacy, and punishment that Dionysus had visited upon these Catholic precursor poets who so powerfully shaped America’s oralist playbook.
Eventually though, the whole humiliating sweep of masochistic compulsion at the oppositional edge of American poetry becomes evident to Codrescu, whose “blue jew notes” recognizes Sylvia Path’s famous entanglement with the Jew and the Nazi in “Daddy”:
a blue jew
a horny jew
a jew with blue balls
an old boston jew
where the snow is blue
the blue-cheese burger
overdone by the black-blue
short order cook from benares
with the blue elephant inked on her ankle
the sky is blue in benares
the snow is eggplant blue in boston
oh blue jew blue jew
the books are dusty and blue
you read them all when they were new
oh daddy Sylvia outrhymed you (13)
In “tristan tzara the man who said no” Codrescu grasps again the masochistic tension that bears “humiliation and elegance” through poetry:
sensibility was not what spelled doom
but rather forelocks and insouciance, palabras y cadavros,
the toasts made ten years before in a cocteau moment.
humiliation and elegance were best of friends for ages.
there were rabbis in the crowds entertaining the slaves.
no one laughed at anything he couldn’t kill.
(unless he laughed so hard he couldn’t and then he was drunk.)
what we must do now is to conduct the study
of that certain laughter no longer known to us
who laugh without suffering as if laughing was funny.
we’ll begin in 1899 when public hangings were thinning out,
long enough to allow for flounces, wit, and mercy.
class, we’ll use recordings from the very first chortle
thought worth recording by mr. Edison for mr. chaplin. (395)
For Codrescu the struggle to retain an archaic subjectivity that can hustle-bump ideology is concentrated in “tzara’s laughter” (396). His surface concerns, which include democracy, identity, individuality, language, paternity, pluralism, religion, sociality, and technology, speak to core ethical dilemmas that can be more humanly calibrated through feeling that generates Old World respect for beauty, children, mystery, love, and nature:
The shadow in my blood will model for a fee.
And yet a lake of absent possibilities has risen
To the chin of the folk, and the waters keep rising
For what could be a model drowning.
I conversed with the drownees. What they said
Turned my love for myself into syllables.
Will I be a model for my son or only endless buzzing?
(from “model work,” 234)
Codrescu occupies the vital spot in the ‘I’ matrix—where poets are possessed by dispositions that speak lyrically to a world of common dispossessions and imaginative possessions. By way of the book’s title, he wryly acknowledges the force of zombie capitalism on the great ontological narcissism that drives the poet to do the voices and usurp the surplus of the other. “The urge to invent poets seized me often, whenever I heard a ‘voice’ articulating what I didn’t think was ‘me,’ but it had its own personality” (145), he explains in a note.
With License to Carry a Gun, his first book published in 1970, Codrescu emerged armed-up for America’s counter-cultural revolution. In kinship with battle-scarred sub-sub personalities, Coderscu staked himself to Rimbaud’s claim that “I is an other.” As Codrescu’s Romanian otherworld fell into the American underground during the Sixties, he found his tongue. “My first poems in English were written as if I was taking dictation from three different faces of zeitgeist: a jailed Puerto Rican activist, an angry protofeminist, and a crazed Vietnam war veteran,” writes Codrescu. “The personae were still partly Romanian, speaking with the mystical accents of my early poetry idols” (97).
Codrescu hacked his way past the great hulking Personalism of Whitman and the scrawny Personism of O’Hara with the needy code of the mystical outcast. He took the talking stick from T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, too. As Puerto Rican prison poet Julio Hernandez, he blasted away the famous phase taken from Charles Dickens' novel Our Mutual Friend by Eliot—"He Do the Police in Different Voices.” He sang of brotherly love for the sake of America’s imprisoned English as a second language multitude:
i’m careful with my dreams of death,
they should not slip into my comrades’ nights,
take the place of their erotic dreams
—a real jailer is needed for this—
paolo sleeps with his mouth wide open,
mario’s left hand hands from the bed.
i could be free if I let go for a second,
put death in their dreams.
oh dogs of silence,
i need you, senor (102)
In a New York minute, Codrescu’s ballistic imagination was soon firing with Julio Hernandez into Melville’s universal brotherhood of man.
melville knew me as rapists know all about virgins
but he wasn’t me, blind.
there is an invisible sphere made of love
that is color. Its roots are in the east,
they’re of black blood
where Africa kills the negro waiter in white shoes,
where fish grow blue in sugar trees.
melville’s place on earth is a furious mouth
where brotherhood is tested by removing light,
It is a gift to me from human sugar trees. (103)
Shot through the poem is dark matter grasped thematically as imprisonment, masculinity, race, and sexual identity. Audacious claim, compassionate regard, sculpted self-presence, and Surrealistic tinge generate “a gift.” Sweet, sexual syrup drips through the cellblock.
With Codrescu, self make-over pulls from below.
Codrescu’s songs of brotherly love delineate a fecund cultic tension between the Jew and Gentile, too. The bleeding edge where difference, history, and sensation are liquidated by the totalizing firepower of intuition is evident in Codrescu’s gunplay:
Mystically I live on two planes at once.
Magically I am the two holes of a double-barrel gun
threatening to blow me into space.
This is almost true
The church, the state, the typewriter, the police
Are about to kick me out of the world
(from: “a programme for the double-barrel life when it hits”, 153)
Similarly the magical quest to break from the law is expressed in “the differences”: “I am St. John the Baptist, my work heralds the birth of / Jesus” (188).
With savage medieval fangs and mystical tendrils, Codrescu propels a convergence of “the gods” and poetry. Taking aim at the common structure embedded in the human psyche, Codrescu codes his ouevre in religious terms. This approach to poetry is intended to pressure the residue of magic and prejudice deposited in folk traditions and encoded in “the differences.” Again, impact of Eliade’s identification of spiritual existence with the imagination, along with the Orthodox tradition’s insistence of human universalism and Christological manifestation in the human artistry of the icon is powerfully registered upon Codrescu’s construction of personae.
America’s days of rage are assimilated into a numinous, touch adverse orality spoken by the shell-shocked soldier: “don’t touch me, / I am your holy mouth” (115). As Peter Boone, “an ex-beatnik who became a mystical fascist in Vietnam” (114), he writes in “gist”:
america is healthy. i am healthy
in the body of christ
the fall of melted metal builds
my spheric soul.
i go first.
my body’s laid flat
on the copper table
and pounded up thin like a sheet
to pick up prophecy. (120)
Codrescu continued the great work of eating his medieval Christian shadow “in a self-published mimeograph collection called (like a later collection), The History of the Growth of Heaven by Calvin Boone, OSD (Order of Saint Dominic)” (145). In “Dear Editors,” Brother Antoninus is called through Calvin Boone to Codrescu’s agape feast:
The Monk is American, he is wheat-treated Bethlehem steel
out of Brother Anoninus’ unsaid brotherlies,
all the wasted brotherlies…
He is presently a New Hampshire Monk
of the Dominican Order of Monks,
he is fat. May the blessed Willows pray on his lousy
attempts to the writing of his soul.
Find him care of the Lord’s dear
Andrei Codrescu, 3779 25th Street,
San Francisco 94110.
What those numbers mean is no less
than the World,
may Peace answer your knowledge of me,
New Hampshire (147)
Codrescu’s poetry abounds with magic beans, meta-historical rhythms, and synchronic jolts, which fuse individual and collective experience to the sacred language of the gods. With timing buckled up to the theophanic imperative, Codrescu marks in “new market” the shift in collective attention from metaphysical to virtual domains:
twelve facebook gods, name them
after the months
à la revolution francaise
assign each of them to OCD friends
born in them or temperamentally suited
to the choleric Anusis the melancholy Ursina etc.
provide each god with a daily sura
and a lesson for every hour
meant to replace horoscope and toothbrush
for friends who then go forth to friends
suited to their gods (21)
Poetry is Codrescu’s creation myth; it charters a universalistic spiritual community that honors singular brothers, unique individuals, and irreducibly socialized mothers for their generous deposit of transpersonal potentials in active language. Not surprisingly, Codrescu’s wide range of perceptive cultural productions—NPR radio commentary, ABC Nightline television reportage, editorship of the literary magazine Exquisite Corpse, screenwriting and starring in documentary film Road Scholar—are registered across nearly all media. In all likelihood, Codrescu’s availability and well-deserved success over profane airwaves and popular platforms have impeded the critical reception of his first-rate poetry. As So Recently Rent a World: New and Selected Poems: 1968-2012 proves, there is far more to Codrescu than a sardonic tongue flapping for the NPR gatekeepers of “the smart thing to do.” Among the thinning herd of poets still determined to live by the mouth, Codrescu is indisputably the King of the Talkies.
Bibliodeath: My Archives (with Life in Footnotes)
PUBLISHERS' WEEKLY, January 14, 2013 starred review
Celebrated Romanian novelist, essayist, radio commentator, and poet Codrescu scribes this eulogy-cum-paean of the printed publication. In tribute, Codrescu narrates his personal memoir as essentially archival and entangled with its textual production. He recounts an illicitly borrowed typewriter in Soviet-occupied Romania, handwritten poems copied by lovers, postcards written for posterity, marginalia, and the recent entombment of his various scrawls and snippets into an official archive. This official archive has its doppelgänger in a dispersed archive including his first journal, long-lost and still mourned, a twice mislaid government file, a stolen manuscript, disseminated letters, never-realized novels, and correspondences vaporized on crashed hard-drives. What becomes of this inherently written life when this multifarious cache is reduced to a spectrally digital library, condensed to the virtual, when all texts are read illuminated on the same screen? Codrescu’s various hyperbolic and absurd edicts respond to the alleged death knell of literature at the hands of e-reading, yet the main tenor of the book is a jubilant fête for the diverse and rich history of linguistic technologies and the concomitant literary movements. Lucid, clever, and lyrical, Codrescu’s delightfully distinctive prose extols a linguistic productive life as he commemorates this vertiginous moment in which the textual world flows from printed form to digital existence.
Bibliodeath: My Archives (With Life in Footnotes) Antibookclub
Reviewed by Josh Cook
BOOKSLUT: December 3, 2012
Andrei Codrescu was asked to contribute an essay about his relationship with archives to a book about private libraries. Instead, he wrote his own book, one that exploded the very concept of "archives." He examined the intellectual, cultural, political, and artistic shards and shrapnel flung by the explosion, and rebuilt a complex but complete conception of the systems of information storage that contain our every action. Bibliodeath is really two books, an exploration of "archives" and a story of how Andrei Codrescu lived with and through arrangements of words on bound paper, both told in his unique Dada-inspired erudition and both touching on broader aspects of our relationship to the written word.
As with all considerations of writing and technology, Codrescu prefaces Bibliodeath with his take on the death of the printed book. I'm suspicious of arguments predicting future human interactions with technology, but Codrescu doesn't proselytize for one medium or another, so much as offer oceanic imaginations for the reader to bathe in while coming to terms with the idea of "archives," and how that idea is changing with the development of digital archives. In his preface, Codrescu isolates one of the most important and neglected aspects of the print versus digital debate: the relationship between objects and significance. "The desecrated sacred book can only be a book. Holy texts... exist in every format but there are no riots over the removal of such a text from an electronic library, and there never will be. One can insult a book on the internet and cause a reality-based riot, but no such demonstration is possible if an individual or even an organization removes a sacred text from its devices" (emphasis in original). As abstract as Bibliodeath gets and as concerned as it is with digital and even metaphysical recording techniques, Bibliodeath is a story about how we invest objects with meaning, how we turn objects like books and notebooks, rings and roses, into stewards of our ideas, our emotions, and sometimes even ourselves.
In Codrescu's personal story, we meet two of his stewards: his original poet's notebook and a book of poetry by the Italian poet Renata Pescanti Botti. He bought his poet's notebook when he was a teenager forming his identity as a poet in Soviet controlled Romania, where the writer's workshop passed judgment more on writers' fitness as citizens than on the quality of their work. The notebook was a receptacle for Codrescu's transformation, and when he lost the notebook after immigrating to New York -- shifting it into another kind of archive -- it was like leaving behind scraps of molted shell. Codrescu wrote his own poems in the blank spaces contained in Botti's collection and lost that personal palimpsest too. This steward was eventually returned and published in a transcript and facsimile edition. The stewards offer another version of the "archives," and telling their story requires telling much of Codrescu's own story of fascism, immigration, identity, and poetry.
Most of the personal story is told in footnotes. In recent storytelling, the footnote has become a way to confront the reader with the complexity and alinearity of life. Footnotes show that life branches off, sub-divides, and wanders. But in Bibliodeath, the footnotes often fill the page. There is one described as "A Chekhov Novella" that is about seven pages long. What happens to the organization of a book when there is as much (or more) footnoted content as there is content? What do you call a footnote that devours the leg it bases? When footnotes take over, we are confronted with a not-quite-paradoxical idea; an accurate assessment of the content of our lives will reveal more noise than signal. Laid out on the page, there will simply be more words in the branches, sub-divisions, and wanderings than in the story.
Running through it all, or perhaps unifying it all, or perhaps being the point of it all, is Codrescu's unique erudition; his unabashed joy at the way words can be brought together into images and ideas that have significance even when they don't accumulate into our expectations of sense or storytelling. "I was the child of a minotaur and a printer," "They didn't understand that content disappears at certain speeds, leaving behind only color and motion, just like style in literature dispenses with content inside books" (emphasis in original), "I was an 18th-century scrivener tormented by rain, lust, and tuberculosis, hoping to be vindicated by the future," "I slid into the posthuman like a fly holding on to the flypaper it believes keeps it from falling." For readers who enjoy Codrescu's style, the elation of certain arrangements of words is the philosophical underpinning for those arrangements. The complex, abstract, and sometimes obtuse ideas catch up with the elation a moment later, as one catches one's breath, a drawing into the intellect of its particular oxygen.
Through this erudition, the exploration of "archives" touches on many different ideas and topics, both organized into the conceptual space of the footnote or in the natural course of fully exploring an aspect of the "archives" itself. The multitude of identities in the multilingual immigrant. The progression of the typewriter in literature. The conflict of spellcheck. One additional topic drew my attention: for me, Bibliodeath is as much about putting words on paper as it is about the paper holding the words.
"This instrument was the intuitive force I needed to explore the world of the sacred; the instrument itself was writing, it looked like a line of verse," "The result, poetry, is a collaboration between the demon who possesses the poet and the intelligence that studies it," "In this sense, the writing life is the life that cleans up after itself, it dredges the refuse that refuses to go away, and it orders it in neat lines for disposal," "And that had been poetry's purpose all along: the typesetter who first invented verse by breaking the continuous line of print had created storage space for the future." Taken with his last two works, The Poetry Lesson and Whatever Gets You Through the Night, Bibliodeath is the third volume in a single work about writing. The Poetry Lesson focuses on poetry, Whatever Gets You Through the Night on storytelling, and Bibliodeath on the fundamental physical actions of the writer and the relationship between the writer and the objects written on. If I taught a writing course, I'd assign the set.
Bibliodeath is about how our lives are collected in "archives," and how the actions, reactions, passive systems, active transgressions, appropriations, power dynamics, unconscious drives, typos, books, and notebooks surrounding, establishing, and being our lives become a reverse Golem: a being spitting out words for the world to collect. In a way, Bibliodeath is also about the permeable borders that surround us and our words, the border between our minds and the public, between the remembered and the forgotten, between the officially recorded and the metaphysically archived, "between the real and the virtual." As Codrescu concludes, "This essay is a history of how I got to that border, and how I moved to one or another side of it... Either side of the border between the 'real' and the 'virtual' is a province of technology: print in the 20th century, digitization in the 21st. The border looks now like a dotted line over the head of a cartoon character, soon to dissolve like clouds in Wordsworth's poem." We are all citizens of that border. Bibliodeath is a challenging and rewarding tour of our new nation, further proving that Codrescu is a unique and necessary writer.
Requiem for the printed word BROAD STREET REVIEW
Bibliodeath: My Archives (With Life in Footnotes)
review by AJ Sabatini
Andrei Codrescu grew up in Communist Romania, where printed words were deemed more dangerous than bombs. Now he lives in a virtual world inundated with too many instantly disposable virtual words. Ah, but he has a solution.
Nearly everyone who writes for BSR has also written for print publications, and a number of us have written books or contributed to printed magazines and journals. Nearly all of us— as well as our readers— own books and have libraries full of everything from the classics and current works to special volumes that were important to us and others we just like to have around. No doubt we have our own personal archives, too: boxes and file cabinets with private collections of letters, notebooks, diaries or journals.
Bookshelves are us. So are visits to Philadelphia’s great book exchange— if only to find out-of-print books (my favorites are The Book Trader, House of Our Own, The Last Word, Bookhaven, Port Richmond Books and Brickbat). But the days of reshuffling tomes in our living rooms or making peripatetic ventures to bookstores— or even finding libraries close to home— are waning. Though I own many books, I also possess the complete writings of authors I value in files on my laptop.
You are, after all, reading this essay on-line. In fact, most of us are likely to search and read on-line as much as from paper and click our way through more books than we can read on our Kindles, Nooks and iPads. These days, teachers are accustomed to seeing students download texts and squint for the lack of animated images as they read Moby Dick or Remembrance of Things Past on their cell phone screens (dictionaries are OK).
Most young people live in a virtual universe; the rest of us are virtually virtual, no matter if we think otherwise or try to resist.
When writing was dangerous
Each day, books, articles and everything else printed throughout human history are scanned, digitized and committed to official and unofficial archives. The original documents, rightly regarded as treasures, are kept far from human eyes, fingers and breath. On the flip side, of course, billions of pages are accessible to the public as entities in a vast, ever expanding archive— for now.
These developments weigh most heavily on writers, especially if, like Andrei Codrescu, they’ve lived through a century in which owning books and the very acts of reading and writing not only held the promise of knowledge but also the possibility of creating an inner life and career.
Codrescu, whose voice you might have heard over the years on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” is a poet, novelist, essayist, editor, anthologist, (retired) college teacher, and founder (in 1983) of the journal, Exquisite Corpse (on-line since 1996). His literary life began in the 1960s in Sibiu, Romania.
“I was a secular Jew in a Christian Orthodox world that was officially atheist,” he relates, living in a country with “registered typewriters, forbidden copiers, a place where writing was deemed more dangerous than bombs.”
Salvation in poetry
He sneaked into a Russian Bookstore (the Communists were “book people,” he reminds us), bought a notebook and began the “archive of my young mind,” not knowing that by 2012 he would find himself handing over his oeuvre– and thousands of other valued and sometimes rare printed texts— to become archived and digitized at Louisiana State University, where he has taught since 1983.
Codrescu lost his first notebook, or it was stolen, and it becomes a leitmotif for his reflections on his life and writing, the fate of his– and all— books. Bibliodeath, then, is a sort of a philosophical autoeulogy and, like Codrescu’s other work, equally erudite and rambunctious, speculative and alchemical, personal and probing.
As a poet, his prose is a deft raven of intelligence, wit, real and occult flights. Lamenting that all of his life’s writings are by now in hard drives and The Cloud, he realizes that technology “has turned me into an upside down pyramid whose tip writes this.”
Notes in the margins
This 147-page book measures 6 ½”x 9” and is printed on a soft, light yellowy paper, with wide margins and 142 footnotes running alongside and underneath and around Codrescu’s treatise. The notes allude to his other books and amplify his ideas with allusions, anecdotes and facts. These range from asides on typewriters and the history of Spell-Check to his remark that, as he lies forever in his tomb, Lenin’s head is stuffed with newspapers of his time.
For Codrescu, “life and writing are one” and he is agitated at what seems to be the unstoppable disappearance of the tangible, embodied acts of writing— and traces of the human beings who write— into near invisible electronic bits of binary code stored who knows where and under what laws or regulations and, increasingly, accessible through intermediaries with good will, ill will, profit or power as motivations.
But perhaps it always has been so. People write to be more than themselves and for a future that’s shaped by writing (think of the U.S. Constitution). “The truth, however,” Codrescu insists, “is that the Archives is the intrinsic reason for performing the act of writing, which is already an Archive by the time it leaves the hand.”
Poetry as salvation
Poetry, especially, is the realm where intangible and transcendent meaning of language and writing resides. Poetry asserts its own ambiguity and otherness and calls on the imagination of readers to discover its revelations through words as song– hence its danger to authority.
The task– Codrescu ends on a affirmative note— is not to hope for either dystopian or happy endings, but to create new works, new forms and new narratives comprised of the unarchived, unarchivable and forms that are impossible to archive… in effect, poetry, as it always has been.
As an example, Codrescu recalls his stolen notebook— the unarchived and undigitized one, which he never wants to be found, urging that it and other poems become “hiding places for thieves, or they’ll become blueprints for archival machines.”
Like the review you just read.
Bibliodeath: My Archives (with Life in Footnotes)
review by David Breithaupt
If you are reading this review, chances are good that books, those things with lots of words crammed between two covers, are probably an integral part of your life. You live with them, thumb through their pages, pass them on to friends, and—if you have enough—make furniture with them (as do I). If this describes you in any way, you will doubtless do yourself a favor by reading Andrei Codrescu’s take on the printed word both past and present, how it lives, where it goes, and the very nature of archives. Bibliodeath is also a portrait of a life lived with books and words. At the end of his tome, Codrescu states: “It is still possible, for as long it took you to read this book, to distinguish the quickly vanishing border between the real and the virtual. This essay is a history of how I got to that border, and how I moved to one or another side of it.” Indeed, Codrescu surveys with depth and humor this very transition we are living through, the digitization of our words.
Over the years, I have read most of Codrescu’s memoir pieces, and this book, to me, seems one of the most intimate—for when you reveal the nature of the relationship you have with books it tells me more about you than all the episodes that ended poorly with spouses, experiments with substance abuse gone amok, or whatever might be on your personal laundry list. Codrescu writes evocatively of his early youth, recalling notebooks lost and found, margin-scribbled books of poetry, books so imbued with the author’s DNA that these items ascend to the status of spiritual, holy-object talismans. It is precisely this type of object that Codrescu contemplates throughout Bibliodeath as the age of physical artifact merges with the arrival of the digital archives. He writes:
In these letters there are no smudges, no odd pauses of the keys, no whiff of tobacco or perfume, no ink blots, no erasures. The pain and pleasure of the writer are invisible. And that is in effect what a good old-fashioned archive preserves: pain, flaws, whiffs of bygone bodies, the evidence of the unseen surround flowing through the writer’s finger(s) unto the paper.
Codrescu delves into this parade of digitization into the archival realm and how it may affect us. “The machine will be holding all of humanity’s memory hostage, and there will be no remembering without praying to the info clouds that will release their data rain in accordance to the accuracy of the prayers addressed to it.” Just what will be stored and who will have access to it? Will the physical artifact become eclipsed and then extinct, like the passenger pigeon and two-cent cigar?
Bibliodeath considers the fetish-nature of the archive librarians who oversee the last of the physical tomes, ranking them as “super-pervs.” Indeed, what nature will the actual sweat-stained manuscripts take on as they become as rarified as a snow leopard sighting? “Paper from the past will be accessible to the uninitiated only via an unbreakable Da Vinci Code.” One of the book’s more visceral anecdotes about personalized manuscript material is the encounter by research librarian J.J. Phillips with a writing document by the late Richard Brautigan. While perusing one of his last manuscripts, she wondered about the brown specks covering the papers. Eventually, she came to the conclusion that these pages were witness to the author’s final act, his suicide. The brown specks were pieces of Brautigan’s brain matter. That final touch would obviously be lost in the digital process.
Codrescu traces a personal and public history of thoughts and how they are stored and how and why we may keep them. His storytelling ability is evident in this book and gives us his unique stamp on this biography of border-crossing writing in the 21st century. One warning though—the “Life in Footnotes” are copious and small, and, if you have old man (or old woman) eyes like me, these additional notes are a bit of a strain. But they are well worth the effort. If you go blind, these last notes will give you much to think about in your world of darkness. But you won’t go blind; rather, you will be enlightened. Read this book and wonder where we have been and where we are going. Both are always important questions, and Bibliodeath is an important attempt to address them.
Bibliodeath: My Archives (with Life in Footnotes)
review by Elizabeth Millard
The unceasing pace of technology is creating a “bibliodeath” in which the written word is heading toward loss, some potential mourners believe. But that doomsday view ignores the evolutionary relationship between technology and language, Andrei Codrescu posits.
With a thought-provoking and highly philosophical style, Codrescu (author of numerous novels, poetry, and essays, including The Blood Countess and New Orleans, Mon Amour) attempts to encapsulate his forty-year career as a writer and commentator, and view his journey though a new lens.
“This is the story of a writer fast-tracked by the zeitgeist from the awakening of his mind in calligraphy to its maturity through a half-century of quickly morphing technologies of keyboards and memory,” he writes in Bibliodeath’s first essay. “It is intended to be a thriller.”
While he delivers on that promise, his explorations aren’t suspenseful in the conventional sense. Instead, he digs a rabbit hole for readers, leading them deeper into his sinuous thoughts, and drawing out insight along the way.
The direction of Codrescu’s musings is often unpredictable. He describes his experiences as a young bohemian poet in the 1960s, with a notebook that became his whole world. It was his first archive, full of “religion, decadence and profanity,” and when he loses it, the magnitude of the loss reaches across decades, making him cringe even fifty years later. That experience sets up a very extended and sumptuous riff on the culture of archives, texts, libraries, and literature itself. While he burrows so artfully into this material, Codrescu begins to expand his footnotes, which act as a parallel history, full of memory and random thoughts.
Much as he has in his poetry, and in his commentaries for National Public Radio, Codrescu excels at turning language into a kind of shuttlecock, bouncing words around with amazing skill. When talking about his experience writing poetry, for example, he recalls a “hypnagogic laziness” and finding inspiration in a “dense, female-shaped fog.”
The result that is Codrescu’s writing must be savored, never skimmed, and because of its inventiveness, he actually ends up using his writing style to prove his point: writing and words are evolving forms, but they also possess a fundamental solidity that can’t be destroyed, even though the lines are blurring. The border between the real and the virtual is like “a dotted line over the head of a cartoon character,” he writes, “soon to dissolve like clouds in Wordsworth’s poem.”