Breaking News: Art Alive

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 years-old, but I'd had the urge to ask the question since I was wordless in Romanian.

This blog post also appears at Best American Poetry Blog

WE MUST BE ANIMALS Manifesto by Andrei Codrescu

We are becoming machines. Exquisite Corpse has resolved to throw its sabots in the cog wheels. It is incumbent to our poetic sensibilities and fleshly complexity that we become animals. Not MORE like the animals we generally call "animals," but living Quadripeds. It will not be easy to attain the good will of pets, the ferociousness of panthers, or the patience of alligators, but it all begins by relearning Quadripedality. We will open Quadripedal Yoga (QY) studios in all states and countries, using the vacant spaces left by Bikram. The poem below, written for lyric encouragement, is a call to arms, or in the very least, to collaboration. We are inviting all readers persuaded by our passion to contribute new Quadripedal Poems to EXQUISITE CORPSE: EMMA LAZARUS, the revived journal of urgent revolutions. Your submissions should be made to Show us how you walk with beastly dignity.


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 the street with my quadripedal brood.
It will be the day of no pain and of trading language for nozzling.
If we succeed it won’t be so hard to hope that learning screens hurts
less than when we first left the ocean, equally pushed by hubris.
Our new weak spot is memory. A bad back and a lousy memory
may smooth our way to becoming humble and wild again and good.

Announcing Weekly Column: Best American Poetry Blog

The Resurrection of "Exquisite Corpse" [by Emma Lazarus]

From 1983 to 1996, the quarterly “Exquisite Corpse: a Journal of Books & Ideas” appeared in print. When the human world ended in 1996, Its virtual twin, “Exquisite Corpse: a Journal of Life & Letters,” moved online where it led a posthuman existence until 2016. David Lehman suggested that a third resurrection in the post-Twitter age might be called for in the generous confines of the Best American Poetry blog. The Corpse agreed because it felt neither decrepit nor spent. The “Exquisite Corpse: Emma Lazarus” will revive the best of itself in a weekly column.

Andrei Codrescu, editor of "Exquisite Corpse" from womb to tomb and back, will choose the poems to be highlighted and, if we're lucky, he will say a few shrewd things about them.

Both he and I believe in a liberal immigration policy in favor of the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

On this post you will find photographs of Andrei Codrescu and me. If you can tell which is which, you win. -- Emma

Miracles happen all the time

Miracles happen all the time. In fact, they never not happen. Which is the problem. To be even half awake is to know that what happens to you could not have happened if only the law of averages was operating, or if Chaos was purely chaotic. This world is ruled by Chaos and Eros, two entities that are not arbitrary. On the contrary, they are blindingly, powerfully sensical, symmetrical, magnetic, besotted with forms, rife with the improbable but inevitable, drenched in glorious necessity. It would be a mistake, however, to think that the operations of Chaos and Eros intend you personally. They could care less about you and even less about what you think. Coincidences, synchronicities and miracles happen to you because you are a particular object in the eddy that flows in and through you, creating paradoxical instants. If Chaos and Eros should have any other purpose than play and expansion, it is in a different universe. In this one, they thrive on incongruity, but also on repetition and exhibitionism.

         To be “drawn somewhere,” as most people explain being where they feel that they should be, or to experience the migraine of a quadruple deja-vu in one quarter of an hour, or to find out that friends, movies stars, and your pet, all of which are named “Carl” share the same birthday, is nothing more than the obvious. All those congruences people like to call “fate,” are what happens if you move through the world without an ideology or at least a system, borne aloft like a cork on the spumes of Chaos and Eros. The tensions you experience are not personal either, though they certainly feel that way; they are the interplay of the partly centrifugal Chaos meeting head-on the partly centripetal Eros. It’s something between them, you’re just an exchange switch inside the miracle-making machine.

         Now the fact that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer belongs to a human-made order inside the grandeur of the gaming universe, and it partakes only partially of the great forces. There is a sub-world in the flows of necessity, which is the statistical reality most people believe is the only one. This actuarial, measurable, fairly predictable reality tracks the flows of wealth, keeps locks at critical points of the libidinal reservoir, and is generally useful in keeping the tri-partite structure of Law, Church, and Business in rasonable working order. In the interstices between institutions, in the gray areas between different jurisdictions, the wavering borders of incompatible forms, the stuff of Chaos and Eros flows like everywhere else, only (seemingly) a bit slower.

         Man did not find herself at the center of the universe coincidentally. Certain men decided that it was impossible to live in a miraculous world, one in which words are deeds, sense is mocked, joy fuels cosmic collapses, and superstition grips everyone with a greedy hand. A world like that, even if inevitable, does nothing for hygene and the food supply. They decided, quite rightly, to make a series of livable islands right in midst of the raging torrents of the self-propelled universals, and to live on them as if things made sense. These were the 18th century Illuminists, the men we owe democracy and individual rights to. Those highly cherished but artificial concepts do not concern the gods. Their job is miracles, ours is to live decently. The human world is incompatible with the miracle-making universe, which is why we must ignore Chaos, Eros, coincidence, symmetry, beauty without end, and the fireworks of criminal genius, at all times, except between the hours of two and five a.m. in the bloom of our youth. The rest of the time, sadly, we must act as if we live in a cute box.


Houston School of Music, September 30 2018

by Shane Monds, Ruxandra Cesereanu & Andrei Codrescu

Submarinul Iertat (Forgiven Submarine) was written in Romanian by email by Ruxandra Cesereanu, a well-known Romanian poet, founder of the Oneiric Movement (Dream School) and Andrei Codrescu, an American poet born in Romania who emigrated to the U.S and started writing in English at the age of nineteen. The two poets explored a language that was both current and forgotten by means of this mysterious "submarine." When it was late night in New Orleans it was daytime in Transylvania, and vice-versa. The poets wrote in a trance of insomnia, alternating voices as "woman" and "man," often switching genders. The lush imagery and unusual method resulted in a book first published in a limited de-luxe edition in Romania by Editura Brumar, then in English in Andrei Codrescu's translation, by Black Widow Press. This unique experiment across languages and time-zones was highly praised and awarded in Romania, and it is often cited as an iconic fin-de-millenium experiment.

Having been drawn to this work for nearly a decade, I considered setting it as a collection of songs. However, because the language is so unique and independent on its own, I found that I was better able to capture its atmosphere in an instrumental medium. I opted to create an orchestral work (similar to a tone-poem) wherein I channel the series of tableaus where small threads of imagery morph kaleidoscopically before the reader, evoking a sort of mythological (and psychedelic) delirious trance state. I hope to successfully render this poem’s distinctive surrealism; its dreamlike and often disturbing illusions; its strangeness, splendor, depth, and seductive power; and its rapidly shifting worlds that are tethered with complex and mysterious visions.


for some time now I felt the need to dive down to a submerged submarine

         to willingly lose myself inside of it not alone but with a drunk fool in tow

         to feel clothed in angels bleeding from their lips

         to feel my hair electrified by a hurricane a mystery of curls

         with a drunken fool in tow we’d make of this a forgiven submarine

         but forgiven by whom for chrissakes

         by god by animals by creatures stinking of something nameless

         I had no idea but I kept humming about this forgiveness stuck in my throat

            panting for wanting to lock myself inside this submerged submersible


wounded lame wet filled with one another’s atoms martyrs of incarnate


they touch each other’s hands though the rags of the sub torn by salt and


rescued abstractions stand forgiven in smoke circles as if in a museum

but neither god nor the devil can cut these raver’s hair or trim their nails

the submarine was a fetus curled inside another curled fetus

the depths had shiny teeth of fantasy like a Russian doll

in was the curled DNA of salvation opened by two key words whispered

twice by each one of them too easy for a safe-cracker

too sweet for a techno-savage with the dust of cities on his drum

even the torn zipper of feelings could not redeem

only the poetry of ave maria could pierce into a howl

throwing her piano from the eleventh floor so the wolves could hear

summoned under her balcony precisely at the time the piano falls

two endangered species protected by myth poets and wolves cannot

destroy each other to reverse the landscape like a dada sketch

too bad we buried tristan tzara in a sealed container

maybe we could have kept him alive with the amphetamine of a love song

fountain in a mosque this is happiness a pouncing splashing

balm and tar on the two wandering monks with hands full of paper


cut from a grey bible in which slumber centuries shipwrecked on poetry’s


dream on until you can sing of love or waste yourselves until the warm-bread

  paddy-wagon comes

a misunderstanding a sea-turtle falls blindly on us

with lipstick on our eyelids we renounce blood soul and prayer

in vertical sleep two pilots stand by the fissured night embraced.

The Romanian "revolution," McPherson, Ascher/Straus, Radio Free Europe: a Mystery

McPherson & Company is an independent publisher that issues remarkable books of fiction at a snail's pace. In an unusual twist of the turtle and the hare fable, in which the snail stands for the turtle, McPherson novels connect with the future faster than novels not yet written. In 1988, McPherson released "The Other Planet," a novel by Ascher/Straus, written collaboratively by Sheila Ascher and Dennis Straus, two dyed-in-the wool New Yorkers. The novel takes place in the idea-rich brain of a female protagonist with a Romanian last name. Her brain is so rich the ideas have to be divided between a number of characters, some of whom also have Romanian last names. These ideas ricochet all over the late 1950s, early 60s, between Long Island and Greenwich Village. The writing is deliberately color-field pointilist. For example: "As summer advanced to the point where a discerning eye could see a scorched orange in the green tunnels, Valeria went to more parties than there were days." One of the bearers of this bright prose is Humberto Villanescu, a mephistophelian character that might carry a plot if Ascher/Straus meant to have one.

Ok, now flash forward to the 2017 Brooklyn Book Fair. The publisher, Bruce McPherson, an imposing and serious man, is peddling the novels he has overseen over the decades. He has an urgent message for me. It appears, he says, that the Ascher/Straus novel published in 1988 has sparked the Romanian "revolution" of 1989. A reporter from Radio Free Europe broadcasting under the pseudonym Liviu Floda, had interviewed the authors just before the bloody events of December 1989 when the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife Elena, were executed by firing squad in the wake of what some called a "revolution," and others, more accurately, a coup d'etat. The publisher of McPherson & Company wants me to read this novel because the RFE interview had surfaced (in 2017!) and an urgent discussion is going on as to the role of this novel in the murky uprising that ended Soviet dominion over Eastern Europe.

In the weeks following the Brooklyn Book Fair Mr. McPherson sent me transcripts of the interview which consisted mostly of the authors' astonishment at the unlikely connection. The Romanian events of December 1989 are full of many mysteries, but most of them are directly connected to things like assassins, money, and eminences gris-es, and only one, in my experience, to literature. Nonetheless, I read "The Other Planet" twice, in an effort to discern if there was anything in it that might have sparked a disturbance, leave alone a "revolution." Nothing, zilch, nada.

It would be easy to dismiss the matter as the sort of paranoid seed that sprouts more than occasionally in the world of fictioneers and their enablers, but McPherson & Company are mysterious publishers. In 2010, they published "Lord of Misrule," a novel by Jaimy Gordon that won the National Book Award. "Lord of Misrule" was a novel that Jaimy Gordon began and abandoned decades before. She had submitted it to McPherson at least a decade before the end of the 20th century. Mr. McPherson never let off reminding Ms. Gordon about it until the exasperated writer returned to the text and wrote what turned out to be a superb work of fiction that won the highest literary honor.

So, to recapitulate: McPherson works in decades with print works that look like incunabuli in the internet age. "Another Planet" is a mystery that eludes me, but there are weirder things. I propose others give it a go. I might have missed something.