The Poetry Lesson
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"Intro to Poetry Writing is always like this: a long labor, a breech birth, or, obversely, mining in the dark. You take healthy young Americans used to sunshine (aided sometimes by Xanax and Adderall), you blindfold them and lead them by the hand into a labyrinth made from bones. Then you tell them their assignment: 'Find the Grail. You have a New York minute to get it.'"--The Poetry Lesson
The Poetry Lesson is a hilarious account of the first day of a creative writing course taught by a "typical fin-de-siècle salaried beatnik"--one with an antic imagination, an outsized personality and libido, and an endless store of entertaining literary anecdotes, reliable or otherwise. Neither a novel nor a memoir but mimicking aspects of each, The Poetry Lesson is pure Andrei Codrescu: irreverent, unconventional, brilliant, and always funny. Codrescu takes readers into the strange classroom and even stranger mind of a poet and English professor on the eve of retirement as he begins to teach his final semester of Intro to Poetry Writing. As he introduces his students to THE TOOLS OF POETRY (a list that includes a goatskin dream notebook, hypnosis, and cable TV) and THE TEN MUSES OF POETRY (mishearing, misunderstanding, mistranslating . . . ), and assigns each of them a tutelary "Ghost-Companion" poet, the teacher recalls wild tales from his coming of age as a poet in the 1960s and 1970s, even as he speculates about the lives and poetic and sexual potential of his twenty-first-century students. From arguing that Allen Ginsberg wasn't actually gay to telling about the time William Burroughs's funeral procession stopped at McDonald's, The Poetry Lesson is a thoroughly entertaining portrait of an inimitable poet, teacher, and storyteller.
were lounging about the place, smoking cigarettes. A sixteen-year-old boy was sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk reading a book. Mr. Dynamite, the painter, looked to see what the book was. It was The Beat Reader, an anthology of writings by the Beats. “What are you reading?” asked D.B. “This guy, William Burroughs,” the kid said disdainfully, sure that the old geezer in the cheap suit before him would have no idea what planet was being discussed. Taking his time, Mr. Dynamite lit a cigarette,
days, and Sharon was rumored to be a considerable beauty, so the whole thing must have sounded fishy because when she showed up, and she did, she came with a retinue of grim Chicago poets wearing leather jackets doing their best to impersonate thugs. I sniffled through a painful interview, amused by my own legend, but in the end I’m not sure that it was a good idea to bring thugs. I might have been healed if she’d come alone. Her grandfather might have burst through her to lay hands on me. Yes.
immensity of time. That fossil cannot be anything but what it is, no matter what anybody might say or think about it.” Trudy Helmick followed the argument with interest. “Sure, but what if it’s a fake? Our church believes that the world is six thousand years old and that the devil planted a lot of fake evidence. I’m not saying that I really think that, but I don’t know.” She closed her eyes and said, “Ugh! I can’t believe I just said that!” “You might have a point, Miss Helmick!” I did not
cycles dating from 2500-2000 BCE were written before iron. Everything associated with poetry, including the divine, the erotic, the pastoral, the personal, the humble, the plaint, the lament, and the heroic, were already present before the first iron-tipped arrow entered human flesh. When they had all gone, I sat in the empty classroom and waited for the familiar wave of futility to wash over me. I checked my e-mail. The first one was from a student: Professor Codrescu, I’m sorry I had to miss
the aggressive shape they took. My pedagogy was guerrilla warfare against war! I wasn’t sure if teaching this young woman poetry was right or wrong. Suppose that she was going to fulfill all her assignments before she was killed! What then? If she fulfilled all her assignments she’d become as antiwar as I was, but it wouldn’t be so easy for her to shed the uniform and skip the country like many people had in my youth. For one thing, she would be barely aware that she was drinking antiwar poison