This Old Poem #42:
Andrei Codrescu’s Still Life
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 12/21/02
Codrescu is 1 of those terrible poets whose whole ‘brand name’ is dependent
upon things with no real connection to poetry. In his case it has been his years
of shilling his & others’ bad poems on National Public Radio-
itself 1 of the least worthy causes a sane person can imagine. He also tries to
do monologues, essays, travel journals, & prose fiction- both on NPR &
in print. He fails at all these endeavors with such frequency you gotta wonder
if he has something on someone. Case in point is his incredibly bad on- &
offline magazine Exquisite Corpse-
part surrealist wannabe, part pseudo-Beatnik- the magazine is a near-incoherent
mishmash of literary dreck. Of course, this never stopped publishers from
soliciting from such poetasters. In fact, the infamous (& now defunct)
poetastry publisher Black Sparrow Press has long had AC as a client. The poem in
question, in this essay comes from AC’s Alien Candor: Selected Poems,
1970-1995. I happened to meet AC, once, in the mid 1990s at the infamous Hungry
Mind bookstore readings. He was shilling his really bad book on Elizabeth
Bathory, The Blood Countess, [trust me, I’ve read it- take a pass!],
when I asked him to comment on his poetry. I will give AC credit, though, as he
unwittingly summed up his poetry vis-à-vis his prose: ‘I don’t pay as much
attention to my poetry.’ A true critic could only comment that the insertion
of the word any for as much would be more correct.
The truth is that AC, as so many of his kind, is condescending, has no technical skills, relies on almost all clichés, has very hit & miss punctual rules, knows nothing of why enjambment works, & is-in short- an utterly lazy poet. The bio:
Born in Sibiu, Romania on
December 20, 1946; emigrated to the United States in 1966; became U.S. citizen
in 1981; poet, novelist, essayist, screenwriter; columnist on National Public
Radio; editor of Exquisite Corpse, a literary journal on line at www.corpse.org;
MacCurdy Distinguished Professor of English at Louisiana State University in
Appearances on THE TODAY SHOW,THE TONIGHT SHOW,THE DAVID LETTERMAN SHOW, THE CHARLIE ROSE SHOW,CNN-INTERNATIONAL HOUR,C-SPAN,ABC NEWS, NBC NEWS, CBS NEWS. Writes commentary and book reviews for THE NEW YORK TIMES,THE BOSTON GLOBE,THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER,THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE, NEWSDAY, THE KANSAS CITY STAR,PLAYBOY,SIERRA MAGAZINE, DIGITAL MEDIA, INDEX ON CENSORSHIP.
MacCurdy Distinguished Professor of English, LSU
Peabody Award for Road Scholar.
Lowell Thomas Gold Award for Excellence in Travel Journalism
National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships for poetry; editing; radio
Big Table Poetry Award
Towson State University Literature Prize
General Electric Foundation Poetry Prize
ACLU Freedom of Speech Award
Mayor's Arts Award, New Orleans.
Literature Prize of the Romanian Cultural Foundation, Bucharest
SELECTED QUOTES- ON POETRY:
"One of our most prodigiously talented and magical writers."- Bruce Shlain, New York Times Book Review.
"His command of language is superb, his writing beautifully original, and his insights piercing."- Frances Taliafero, Harper's.
is a celebration, a festive song of gratitude."- Stephen Kessler, San
Francisco Review of Books.
"With humor and grace, wisdom and tenderness, Codrescu transforms the commonplace into the miraculous. His work is cause for celebration."- Kay Boyle
Here’s a tip you that you should know to avoid this poet’s work- when even the blurbists start quoting other blurbists. On to the highly original title of the poem we will dissect:
At the end of the street stands
a little green house called
The young woman in the window is
giving piano lessons to a giant
flower in a smashed
and, across the street, in the Chinese
the tiny chinaman arranges
roots, powders and cans in patterns
as, suddenly, the girl kicks
her legs in the air and turns
her face so that we can see her
and she’s surprised and gentle and there is
light in her, she is in love
Why the title? It is meant to reference a type of painting but the poem does not play this out, nor does it work in any of the other ‘definitive’ meanings 1 could cull from the words. Stanza 1- no music, line 2 is poorly broken, & line 3 is a cliché that is emphasized by capitalization- why? Stanza 2- line 1 is poorly broken- the word ‘is’ has no existential heft in this context- why not reverse window & woman? Line 2 is banal & line 3 poorly broken in to line 4, whose image is both expected & redundant. What other sorts of pots are flowers seen in than flower pots? Stanza 3- the break at ‘Chinese’ could suggest something inside a Chinese person, but the break reveals it is but an adjective- bad bad break! Then why the outmoded racist term of ‘chinaman’? This is not used in any salutary nor educational way? Even if an early AC poem you think he’d have changed it, especially since there is no artistic reason for it. Then line 4- why not add a comma after ‘powders’? Commas act as de facto eliders in longer strings of things- be they actions or descriptions. Too few poets know how vital good punctual usage can be! Stanza 4 is a travesty- sappy, expected, clichéd, & poorly worded & constructed. Do you not want to shake your head at this poem & tell AC to come back when he has something even marginally original to say? How does a poem this condescendingly bad & poorly written get published? Is there anything here that makes you go ‘Ah! I never thought of that before!’? No. Let’s rewrite this & improve it- or try to:
At the end of the street
a little green house:
The young window in the woman,
across the street, in the Chinese grocery store,
roots, powders, and cans in patterns,
her face and she’s surprised.
There is in her,
she is in her.
what I did to improve this & what limits I could not go beyond. The title:
the mere addition of a colon (:) opens up the whole title for the
interpretations of quietude, the passage of things, etc. that the banal original
lacked. 1 fuckin’ punctuation mark! Stanza 1 has dropped the clichés & we
get a simple description. The 2nd added colon then makes the rest of
the poem either a subset of this image, or an explication of it. You choose.
Stanza 2 is 1 line & more directly apropos to the poem’s theme. We now get
the idea of penetration through & by the woman. Stanza 3 lets us see what
she sees, or what is within. By stanza 4 we see the value of commas. The added
comma after stanza 2’s ‘woman’, & that at the end of stanza 3’s
‘patterns’, allows for the elision of the whole 3rd stanza-
thereby allowing the ‘window in the woman’ to turn suddenly. Is she now
looking in or out? Is there a conflation of the outer with the inner, or vice
versa? It can be read either way. This sort of duplicity is essential to good
poetry. Not too mention well-constructed poetry being a key, as well.
Would that AC & his ilk understand these things. Then, again, TOP would have no rationale. So, keep on keepin’ on, ye poetasters of the world: I need to sharpen my blades on something!
Final Score: (1-100):
Andrei Codrescu’s Still
TOP’s Still: Life: 72
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