Codrescu's Mioritic Space
published in MELUS 23:3
through that hole, I thought,
that I am returning to my birthplace.
-- Andrei Codrescu, The Hole in the Flag
the Romanian folk poem Miorita, a shepherd boy is warned
by his beloved ewe, Miorita, that his fellow shepherds plan to
murder him and take his flock. Instead of resisting, he accepts
his fate, asking only that Miorita go in search of his mother
and tell her the story not of how he was betrayed, but of how
he was married to the daughter of a powerful King. Thereafter,
wherever the ewe wanders, she tells the story -- not the true,
unadorned facts of death and betrayal, but a beautiful fiction
of a transcendent wedding.
simple story, told and retold in countless versions, is Romanias
most enduring cultural text. The popularity of the Miorita
can be attributed to the power and simplicity of its poetry, but
even more to its mythic structure. The myth has been used to define
the Romanian character by several authors, including Mircea Eliade,
who has called the "cosmic marriage" of the Miorita
an example of "cosmic Christianity" -- part pagan, part
Christian, but in any case wholly Romanian -- "dominated
by a nostalgia for nature sanctified by the presence of Jesus."
But the most controversial concept of Romanian identity to be
derived from the poem is the concept of "mioritic space"
defined by the Transylvanian poet and philosopher Lucian Blaga.
Blaga, the path of Mioritas wandering delineates what he
calls "mioritic space," a geography of the Romanian
poetic imagination, or, as one recent historian of the Romanians
describes it, "a philosophical attempt to explain the Romanian
spirit through the Romanian landscape, which [Blaga] saw as the
stylistic matrix of Romanian culture" (Georgescu 205). Blagas
critics have charged that this concept has become a liability,
nationalistic, escapist and fatalistic. For political analysts,
Blaga has been criticized as a romantic aesthete, self-absorbed
and disengaged from political realities, while pursuing a mystical
communion with nature. In this view, mioritic space is an escapist
dream of a romantic nationalist that encourages political apathy.
For ethnographers, it is a romantic distortion of the Romanian
peasantrys connection to the land that ignores political
and historical reality. These critics suggest that it may even
account for the tendency of the Romanian people to suffer oppression
passively: "one cause of the seeming passivity
of the Romanian population may be the fatalistic Weltanschaaung
implicit in the Miorita" (Kligman 356). But to Blaga,
mioritic space was simply a way of locating the Romanian poetic
these theories and criticisms may seem like much ado about a boy
and his sheep, but the story has great resonance to a country
long troubled by internal conflicts and external conquerors. It
has often been noted that Romania is, geographically, "inside-out,"
its mountains in the interior, its plains on the borders, leaving
it vulnerable to invasion. More than once has the Romanian spirit
had to take refuge from the threats presented to its exposed borders
by escaping to the mountains and forests of its interior. When
the threat was institutionalized within its own borders during
the Turkish or Communist regimes, the Romanian spirit could survive
only by going into physical (usually political) or metaphysical
such exile, both physical and metaphysical, is the Romanian-born
American poet and translator of Blaga, Andrei Codrescu. Having
fled the Stalinist regime of Nicolae Ceausescu in the mid-1960s,
Codrescu traveled to a number of European countries before embracing
America, then in the throes of a mostly benevolent revolution,
as the country most likely to listen to what he had to say, in
the language that he was most likely to say it in. Since then,
he has published twenty volumes of poetry (including translations
of Max Jacob and Lucian Blaga), four volumes of fiction (including
the recent bestseller, The Blood Countess), several collections
of his commentaries for National Public Radios "All
Things Considered" program, and four volumes of memoirs.
He has also starred in the documentary cult classic film, Road
Scholar, in which he wanders across America in search of alternative
lifestyles, appeared on the Nightline and David
Letterman shows, and become a Professor of English at Louisiana
State University, where he edits the lively literary magazine,
Exquisite Corpse. Throughout Codrescus various travels
and adventures, and his accounts of them, it is clear that Blagas
concept of mioritic space has sustained him in exile: "I
left the country and changed languages but have not stopped telling
Mioritza's tale" (Outside 5).
begins The Disappearance of the Outside, his "manifesto
for escape," with his own version of the Miorita, not as
a philosophical idea but as a vivid childhood experience, when
it was told to him at age ten by "a thousand-year-old shepherd
wrapped in a cloak of smoke." True to the oral tradition of the
poem, Codrescu improvises on its details, but the changes are
enough for him to have added an apology to Romanian readers "pentru
modul oarecum aproximativ in care am repovestit mitul Mioritei"
[for the somewhat approximate manner in which Ive retold
the myth of Miorita] when the book was translated into Romanian.
August evening in 1956, when I was ten years old, I heard a
thousand-year-old shepherd wrapped in a cloak of smoke tell
a story around a Carpathian campfire. He said that a long time
ago, when time was an idea whose time hadn't come, when the
pear trees made peaches, and when fleas jumped into
the sky wearing iron shoes weighing ninety nine pounds each,
there lived in these parts a sheep called Mioritza.
flock to which Mioritza belongs is owned by three brothers.
One night, Mioritza overhears the older brothers plotting to
kill the youngest in the morning, in order to steal his sheep.
The young brother is a dreamer, whose 'head is always in the
stars.' Mioritza nestles in his arms, and warns the boy about
the evil doings and begs him to run away. But, in tones as lyrical
as they are tragic, the young poet-shepherd tells his beloved
Mioritza to go see his mother after he is killed, and to tell
her that he didn't really die, that he married the moon instead,
and that all the stars were at his wedding[....] Before morning,
the older brothers murder the young shepherd, as planned.
There is no attempt to resist, no counterplot, no deviousness.
Fate unfolds as foretold. The moon has a new husband, and the
story must be known.
wanders, looking for the boy's mother. But she tells everyone
along the way the story as well. The murder was really
a wedding, the boy married the moon, and all the stars
were present [....] She never tires of the story. She
laments the death of her beloved with stories of the origin
of the worlds.
wandering takes her across the rivers of the Carpathian mountains
to the Black Sea, a path that describes the natural border of
Romania. Her migration defines the space of the people,
a space the Romanian poet Lucian Blaga called 'mioritic.' Mioritza
herself is the moving border of the nation, a storytelling
border whose story is borderless and cosmic. She calls into
being a place and a people that she circumscribes with narrative.
She causes geography to spring from myth, she contains
within her space-bound body the infinity of the cosmos (Outside
Codrescu's version differs from the original only at a few points.
First, Codrescu describes the shepherds as "three brothers";
in the original, the shepherd protagonist is from Moldavia (considered
the "true" Romanian heartland), while the other shepherds
are from Vrancea and Transylvania. In his own telling, Codrescu
would have us identify the shepherd boy with himself (a Transylvanian
Jew), and the others with his Romanian countrymen (Communists)
who stole his heritage and inheritance. Second, in Codrescu's
version the shepherd boy is also a poet, "a dreamer, whose 'head
is always in the stars.'" This allows us, again, to sympathize
with the visionary who has a connection to nature against the
(dialectical) materialist brothers, for whom the fair Miorita
is only property, so much mutton and wool to be sheared, divided
and shared; for the poet-shepherd she is the voice of nature,
his confidante and chronicler. Third, Codrescus poet-shepherd
is "married to the moon," while in earlier versions
the shepherd boy marries the daughter of a King at the entrance
to a mountain (or, gura de rai, literally "the mouth
of heaven," but actually a beautiful natural setting, like
paradise), the sun and moon acting as godparents. The significance
of these variants will become clear later, but what is certain
is that Codrescu is making the poem his own, through these variants,
for purposes of his thesis about the poet's role in the modern
world. In either case, however, there is "no attempt to resist,
no counterplot, no new deviousness. Fate unfolds as foretold."
would such a "nationalist," "escapist" and "fatalistic"
tale empower an exiled Romanian writer like Codrescu to create
work that displays a power that is active, even activist, both
poetically and politically beyond the borders of his native country?
I will argue that Blaga's mioritic space not only sustained Codrescu
in physical exile but, in forming the basis of his poetic identity
within a community of metaphysical exiles, allowed him to return
to Romania first in spirit and, eventually, in the flesh. The
narrative of escape and return is variously told and retold in
his several memoirs -- The Life and Times of an Involuntary
Genius (1975), In America's Shoes (1983), The Disappearance
of the Outside: A Manifesto for Escape (1990), and The
Hole in the Flag: A Romanian Exiles Story of Return and
Revolution (1991). In each of these, Codrescu returns almost
obsessively to the Romania of his youth. While the first two volumes
are concerned with Codrescus assimilation into American
culture (In Americas Shoes concludes with his becoming
a U.S. citizen), the latter two volumes, as indicated by their
subtitles, form a set of companion volumes that might be called
"Escape and Return." In these books, Codrescu more or
less consciously sets out to redeem the concept of mioritic space
by showing how escape (from the Inside of any limitation or border
of imagination, including ideologies such as communism and capitalism)
can actually facilitate a return (to an engagement with the reality
of the Outside, where the threat of originality resides as a check
and challenge to the ideology of the Inside). As Codrescu explains
in a "note to the Romanian reader" in the Romanian translation
of The Disappearance of the Outside, however, he is actually
looking for a "treia cale," a tertium quid, or
third path: "Aceasta carte pune fata in fata doua puncte
de vedere asupra lumii, si le critica pe amindoua. Se va discerne,
fara indoiala, o perspectiva romaneasca in efortul
de a gasi o a treia cale, un act de disperare de inteles,
dar si o solutie poetica" (Disparitia 206). ["This
book juxtaposes two world views, and critiques both of them. What
we discern is, no doubt, a Romanian perspective in
the effort to discover a third path, an act of dispersing
meaning, but also a poetic solution."]
Codrescu left Romania at age nineteen, he by no means left his
birthplace behind. Along with "the sensual pleasure of the sounds"
of the Romanian language (Hole 86), Codrescu also internalized
Romanian literary culture, both ancient and modern. Aside from
his claim that he has not stopped telling the tale of Miorita,
we may see in his chosen name of Codrescu (he was born Andrei
Perlmutter) the trace of another traditional Romanian verse form,
the doina, which begins by addressing the forest [codrul]
in the absence of other kinship. We might say that by the time
Codrescu left Romania, his poetic sensibility (if not his distinctive
American voice and style) was already largely formed in part by
these traditional poems, but also by the modern Romanian writers.
He pays homage to those writers, exiled like himself and well-known
in the West, like Eliade, Eugene Ionesco and Emil Cioran, or Tristan
Tzara and Urmuz, the founder and presiding spirit of Dada, and
to the Romanian surrealists Gherasim Luca and Ion Vinea. Yet in
a way, more important than these were "the invisible writers"
banned by the state and still virtually unknown in the West, such
as Ion Barbu and Matei Caragiale, whose work disclosed to him
that the "secret of modern literature, and the reason why it was
forbidden, was its autonomy" (Outside 18). Codrescus
first escape, then, was metaphysical, into the invisible underground
of literature. He tells of entering the house of a Dr. M., and
finding a new world of books and ideas. "The entrance was
unprepossessing and humble, covered with a trellis of dying roses.
But the inside!" Inside, he finds the books of "the invisible
writers," but above all "the poetry and philosophy of Lucian Blaga,"
which made him feel "suddenly transported to another world,
compared to which the shabby one we lived in was but two-dimensional
bleakness [....] Here once more was a sacred realm like Mioritza's,
which made no bargains with the profane" (Outside 17-18).
Thus Codrescu's first escape was into Romania, into a timeless
realm linking the autonomy of modern literature with the community
and ecology of the ancient Miorita.
be effective, escape -- inward or outward -- had to be not merely
from an oppressive regime, but from all oppressive authority,
and to autonomy and self-determination. So when Codrescu left
Romania in 1966, just four years after Blaga was allowed to publish
again briefly before his death, one piece of the cultural patrimony
that he smuggled into America was Blagas notion of "mioritic
space." Exile is a great preservative. Cut off from their
native soil, cultural customs, rituals, myths and even dialects
often develop very differently for exiles than they do for those
who remain behind. This applies to art forms and philosophical
notions, as well, whose glory may fade in the place of origin,
but when transplanted may take on an added splendor. Certainly,
for Codrescu in America, mioritic space was not subject to the
ideological weather of a changing Romania. What became there a
"fatalistic Weltanschauung" reflecting passivity and
defeat, in America became Codrescus special brand of poetic
activism, a poetic project without national boundaries. Perhaps
the notion of mioritic space could be preserved and developed
only in this way -- by a Romanian writer in exile, whom it in
he refashioned his identity into that of an American poet, Codrescu
cherished Blagas interpretation of the ancient poem, transplanting
this seed into the soil of American poetry and translating the
myth into his new idiom. As a political exile, Codrescu rejects
the authority of government and police, but as a latter-day surrealist
he also rejects the authority of history and fact, even in the
events of his personal history. The "deimiurge" of Codrescus
creative identity is Lucian Blaga, whose purpose was "the
enlargement of mystery." In Blagas poetry Codrescu
sees "constructs for the transport of seeds" (Yearning
xv), and these continue to blossom in Codrescu's poetic myth-making
long after his arrival in America.
philosophers and ethnographers have linked the "mioritic marriage"
of the folk poem with the Transylvanian nunta mortului,
or death-wedding. According to Gail Kligman in The Wedding
of the Dead: Ritual, Poetics and Popular Culture in Transylvania
(1988), "Both of these cultural texts -- the death-wedding and
the Miorita -- offer a dramatic resolution to threatening
circumstances [....] Temporarily disordered relations between
the living and the dead, and between culture and nature, as well
as between the sexes, are reordered [....] The Miorita
encourages an imaginative, philosophical approach to the comprehension
of paradox, notably that of sexuality and mortality united. By
the conclusion of each of these symbolic expressive forms, an
'other' is incorporated into the realm of the familiar" (Kligman
245). For the immigrant leaving behind one culture for another,
the importance of ritual and myth as a symbolic "resolution to
threatening circumstances" should be readily apparent. For the
immigrant Romanian writer, the Miorita takes on particular
significance since it speaks directly to the business of storytelling.
Codrescu, Mioritas wandering "causes geography to spring
from myth" as she tells her story to everyone along the way.
In the progress of her narrative, Miorita takes the center with
her to the circumference, "the moving border of a storytelling
nation, a storytelling border whose story is borderless and cosmic,"
calling into being "a place and a people that she circumscribes
with narrative." In the same way, Codrescu takes the center
of his origin with him into the "storytelling nation"
of metaphysical exile. In exile, however, the necessity for escape
is not resolved. On the contrary, the freedom of exile becomes
another sort of limiting enclosure to escape from. The only solution,
for Codrescu, was to forge a kind of metaphysical passport that
would allow him to return to his homeland at will, to come and
go, so to speak, through the window of imagination, to the (mioritic)
space of his enchained homeland, which is metaphysically exiled
from itself. It is not that freedom is illusory, but that the
basis of freedom is not to be found in any actual country, but
in the "geography of the poetic imagination."
brings into focus one of the curious characteristics of Codrescu's
harkening back to his Romanian poetic identity. It is almost entirely
devoid of nostalgia, or the Romanian dor. For the modern
Greek wanderers Seferis, Elytis and Kazantzakis, the Odyssey
serves a centering function similar to the Romanian's Miorita,
with this difference: the locus for the Greek writer's homesickness
is a geographical nostalgia. Nothing less than a physical return
to the landscape will do. For the Alexandrian Cavafy, alienation
is inherent in the Greek city on Egyptian soil; return is necessarily
ahistorical and metaphorical. In this way, Blaga resembles Cavafy,
for as Codrescu has said, "Blagas exile consisted in
an acute yearning for the very place where he was" (Yearning
xvi). But the Greek Odysseus is a hero, almost superhuman, while
Miorita and her master are defenseless fatalists -- poets, in
short. In the transcendental mythology of the Romanian Miorita,
the poet-shepherd marries out of this world, he does not return
to the nostos. He is the emigre par excellence,
leaving the world without nostalgia, accepting alienation as his
fate, and creating a new nostos in the margin between inside
and outside. Miorita herself is confined to the border, a marginalized
and mobile center, whose center is defined by the circumference,
that is from the outside, or from the dual identity conferred
by the line separating inside from outside.
memory of the tale of Miorita becomes the point of departure for
the narrative of his life, the inscribed line of memory, a memory
all the more deeply ingrained for his absence from the Romanian
landscape. Near the end of his first autobiography, The Life
and Times of an Involuntary Genius (1975), Codrescu leaves
New York for California on an impulse, with his wife Alice who
is pregnant with their first child, and a German named Erhard.
On the way, they compose a poem together, a collaborative poem
that echoes Whitman, called "a song for the Average Joe":
electric fan makes him feel guilty
And the chair does too
The sofa does nothing except
Hold a dead yew
But the stove smells like hair
The window is unbearable
He'll throw himself out of it
Like a darling vegetable!
But instead he'll do a flip and
Throw himself against the wall
The fridge slams on his rocks
his head becomes a hole.
poem demonizes the furniture of domesticity, humanizes the ultra-American
appliances, brings the Outside inside and turns the Inside out,
as though Codrescu has struck a pact with his memory of Romania
and the immediacy of the American landscape in the same way that
the mioritic marriage strikes a pact with nature, sex and death.
Here is the internalized guilt of the Old World married to the
horror of the Modern, evoked in the image of the Holocaust: "the
stove smells like hair" (an ironic image, since the Romanian Jew
and his American wife are collaborating on a poem with a German).
When the Outside is revealed to be a domestic American interior
furnished with appliances of the Old World, the window of escape
becomes "unbearably" attractive and beckons to him to
jump; this is the interior call of memory, for "The memory of
the outside is also a form of interiority: the outside resides
in memory" (Outside 198). The play on words in "The
sofa does nothing except / Hold a dead yew" suggests a lost identity
(a dead you), or a lost heritage (a dead Jew), each associated
with the storytelling sheep who preserves identity (a dead ewe),
while also conjuring up a lost but remembered tradition in Romanian
poetry in which the poet addresses the wood, codrul (a
dead yew), in absence of other kinship. All of these rhymes, moreover,
echo the name Codrescu (a dead Stiu, his first nom de plume).
after composing this poem, Alice and Andrei and Erhard cross the
Sierra Nevadas into California, which Andrei notes is "as mythical
[...] as New York is to the Rumanians, as mythical as Transylvania."
As if to identify the myth more specifically as mioritic, they
pick up a hitchhiker who takes them to a "moon feast," actually
a pagan orgy for "the last virgin moon before they send their
man up." Like the mioritic marriage that reconciles man and nature,
sexuality and death, time and eternity, this orgy in the name
of technology results in a kind of transcendence: "Time had disappeared.
They were suspended. California had a feeling of [...] well, postmortem
peace" (Life & Times 184-5). This spontaneous pagan
ritual abolishes time, just as the death-wedding, in Kligmans
view, abolishes time through a symbolization of the symbol, which
is in the telling of the story. "The old story," Codrescu writes
of the Miorita, "was a time machine that abolished time,"
a "mythic" machine "that erased the borders between man and what
created him" (Outside 5).
next and penultimate section of Life and Times contains
a revealing passage on translation. In a pyrotechnic display of
free association, Codrescu defines translation as "an instinct
not an interrogation." After a poetry reading for the inmates
at Folsom Prison, "he knew that only one translation was possible:
freedom." This instinctual freedom buries itself within in the
products of invention, of creation, and of procreation, since
"contrary to [the] expectations" of "the political barbed wire
of his times, the revolutions, etc., [...] Alice carried inside
her a fantastic translation. Codrescu had translated himself already
into a version of America. His body had grown larger. His memory
was a blur" (Life & Times 189). The coherence of Codrescus
vision -- if not, indeed, his prophecy -- is extraordinary. For
this passage connects his past and future in a "high moment" of
autobiographical revelation. Miorita expanded the poetic geography
of the Romanian imagination, Blaga sought "the enlargement
of mystery," and Codrescus "body had grown larger,"
as though in sympathy with his wifes procreative translation,
who would be born Lucian Codrescu. Fifteen years after the birth
of Lucian, that "fantastic translation," Codrescu fulfilled the
metaphor by translating the poetry of his own literary father,
leaving Bucharest, Codrescu had drunkenly orated to his fellow
students how the curves of wandering could never be closed to
make circles: "Listen to me, all you carnivorous, hell-bound idiots!
Whoever it was who told you about curves becoming circles, lied,
and the lie, er, becomes, burp, a lot more trivial when one, er,
looks, burp, at Communism, this terrific, er, burp, idea, burp,
moving to the beat of a great human, burp sweat puddle...." The
speech sputters into incoherence and maudlin sentimentality, ending
on a note of lost identity: "I had no father, burp, and no one
here did...where is the gold?" (Life & Times 97). Where,
in one sense, is his father who gave him the name of Goldmutter?
Where, in another sense, is the alchemical transformation of the
given thing, identical with itself, into the valuable stuff of
the time they get to San Francisco, however, "Everything came
in circles," including his pregnant wife Alice. He has a dream,
and he is pregnant too, and "inside him there is a big empty bus
driven by his father," which stops and picks up various people,
"fictions he had created" (Life & Times 188). In the
dream, life and literature merge. The empty bus that picks up
"created" passengers is an apt figure for the various poetic personae
he had created for himself in New York, and for the endless collaborations
with others he had practiced, "incessantly, obsessively, losing
themselves in the new human combinations they invented" as they
"yielded their identities in favor of their creations" (Life
& Times 178). The driver of this dream bus is his father,
but which father? The father of "where is the gold?"
It seems clear that the bus is a literary bus, and the driver
is not his biological father, who is lost to him, but his literary
father, Lucian Blaga, after whom he will name his own son. Blaga
drives the magic bus, Mioritza, into new territory for Codrescu
to explore, the boundaries of his Romanian-American poetic landscape.
the effect of Blagas mioritic space for the Romanian writer
in exile is to expand the mystery. Codrescu's mioritic space rejects
all nationalistic, political or ideological interpretations of
it. As it is nurtured in the early picaresque autobiography Life
and Times, and developed in the memoir-essay The
Disappearance of the Outside, not as a philosophical idea,
but as a manifesto for escape, mioritic space describes an autonomous
realm of individual and communal freedom. Codrescu's view is not
fatalistic in the least, perhaps because he treats Blagas
idea not as theory but as a survival tactic. The Disappearance
of the Outside might have been subtitled a Guidebook to Mioritic
Space. Codrescu exchanges the passivity of the poet-shepherd for
the traveling clothes of Miorita herself, the boys confidante
and confederate. More importantly, Miorita is his creation who
continues to recreate him with each telling of the tale. Just
as poems are the disguise of the poet, so the sheep is the disguise
of the shepherd. Thus Codrescu, "the sonofabitch from the woods"
becomes a wolf in sheep's clothing, telling the story of the fatalist
who allowed himself to be killed only to be immortalized in the
choice between poetics and politics, visionary escape versus realistic
engagement, sets up a false dichotomy. For Codrescu it is simply
a matter of translating romantic self-absorption and aesthetic
detachment into the political arena of the imagination, changing
the world not by providing a vision for those without vision (politics,
essentially), but by providing a space in which everyone is encouraged
to provide his own vision. To do this, one must be willing to
give up one life, one land, and to go underground, or abroad.
It may be a symbolic death, like Codrescu's, or literal, like
the shepherd-boy who must die for the story to be told. The shepherd
becomes a poet in sheep's clothing to keep the wolves of coercion
and conformity at bay. In short, poetic activism in the form of
a metaphysical liberation front, a resistance movement of the
might be argued that Codrescu's most significant creation along
these lines is his long-running magazine, Exquisite
Corpse, a "journal of books and ideas." Named for
the surrealist method of artistic collaboration, cadavre exquis,
popular with the Romanian surrealists Gherasim Luca, Gellu Naum,
Virgil Teodorescu and Paul Paun, Exquisite Corpse
is a combination of communal expression and personal signature.
Indeed, it is a unique combination of ancient and modern Romanian
influences, combining the oral tradition of the Miorita
along with the printed tradition of the Dada, Surrealist, and
Modernist movements. The oral tales power resides in the
communal recognition of its value, its repetition denying the
value of mere romantic self-absorption, while individual variations
on the original text encourage creativity within the formal or
narrative boundaries. An underground magazine, Exquisite Corpse
welcomes the voices of the dispossessed, and its popularity and
perpetuation depends on word-of-mouth advertisement. (Below its
copyright notice, for example, is the statement: "We forbid
reproduction but authorize memorization"-- appropriate for
a magazine with aspirations to oral immortality.) In fact, Exquisite
Corpse is more "mioritic" than surrealist in that
the collaborative method of the surrealists is put to use less
as an example of individual psychic automatism than as a professed
"collaboration with culture." In printed form, and for
Western eyes, the communal alternative culture of Exquisite
Corpse converts the oral tradition of Codrescus native
Romania into the printed currency of Western intellectual and
cultural exchange, and its popularity proves that word-of-mouth
still has a value that approximates that of oral culture.
appearance of Exquisite Corpse in 1983 signaled a new forum
for an alternative communal utterance. Its format, in the distinctive
shape of a coffin, seemed suitable for an "underground"
magazine with the name of a cadaver. On one level, this was an
accession to the most popular Western myth about Romania, Dracula.
"By naming our baby a 'corpse," writes Codrescu, "we
had created something that was generically incapable of dying."
But the magazine owes its shape less to the portable flowerbed
of Transylvanian soil that Dracula dreamed on, than to the Romanian
Modernist poet Tudor Arghezi and his "long skinny newspaper,"
Bilete de Papagal, "whose mixture of muckraking and high
tone bohemianism had brought down two governments" (Stiffest
this ironic format Codrescu created his own mioritic space, "a
moving border of a nation, a storytelling border whose story is
borderless and cosmic," each contributor calling into being
"a place and a people that she circumscribes with narrative,"
causing "geography to spring from myth," while containing
"within her space-bound body the infinity of the cosmos."
In the maiden issue Codrescu declared: "We collaborate with culture"
(Stiffest 3). Here, at last, was a suitably metaphysical
forum where everyones story could be told, and so "a
Corpse community came into being" (Stiffest 3). To
these writers of the metaphysical diaspora, "The issues were not
personal; culture was at stake" (Stiffest 1). Thus the
oral and metaphysical concerns of the Romanian folk tale were
successfully transplanted into the American grain and given an
American texture. Each issue of the magazine is a chorus of voices
from the grave by those who, like the poet-shepherd who is translated
into the sheeps tale, have been translated into a state
of expressive marginality.
Exquisite Corpse is, then, is a cultural collaboration,
a communal alternative culture, an on-going anthology of metaphysical
exiles, a flock of voluble mioritic sheep. In one sense, this
has been the real work of Codrescus life, creating a community
of expression in which everyone is his own Miorita, providing
a space for the narrative construction of a communal alternative
utterance. In a way, Codrescus collaborative method is a
postmodern revival of the oral tradition, a hip marriage between
the surrealist method and the mioritic myth with the intent of
reuniting the estranged brothers of the myth within a narrative
universe created in absentia by the exiled young brother,
the dreamer with his head in the stars.
America in the 1980s, Codrescu sensed a sort of metaphysical diaspora,
and he was right. After the communal orgy of the Sixties came
the retrenchment of the Seventies and Eighties. As he puts it
in In Americas Shoes, the crack in the cosmic egg
had closed up, cutting off another channel of freedom. In Pe
Culmile Disperarii [On the Peaks of Despair], published in
1934, Emil Cioran had described himself as a "metaphysical
exile." Codrescu describes America in the 1980s as a place
of "metaphorical exiles": "Times of great freedom
breed metaphorical exiles, while times of repression breed literal
exiles" (Outside 47). There was now a general sense
of metaphorical and metaphysical exile, and his magazine
became a place where contributors could voice their cultural alienation
and their longing for "inner emigration" (William Levy, in Stiffest
123), a place where one might even fashion "a weapon of acute
discontinuity" (Robert Kelly, in Stiffest 236). From such
a position of armed marginality, it might be possible to erode
the center and thereby "short-circuit the imaginary globe," which
is, as Codrescu concludes in his manifesto of escape, the poet's
"job" (Outside 207).
like Codrescu, Milan Kundera and Salman Rushdie know that poetry
and narrative are not just aesthetic pastimes. All art -- but
especially art created in exile -- is inherently political because
the imagination recognizes no boundaries and allows everyones
story to be told. The imaginative reconstruction of the world
is ultimately a poetic feat beyond politics. Both politics and
art have an aesthetic dimension that also engages the arena of
social and political action. Neither art nor politics adequates
reality, each being a competing medium for visions of what is
real. Whereas politics tends to close off avenues of escape and
return, however, art tends to open them. Codrescus escape
from Romania was aesthetic and political, metaphorical as well
as metaphysical, through an imagined hole in the flag. His return
was simply through the actual hole that he on the outside, along
with other Romanians on the inside, had imagined into being.
Hole in the Flag: A Romanian Exile's Story of Return and Revolution
(1990) was commissioned to take advantage of the events and aftermath
of the sensational fall of Ceausescu. Codrescu was rushed to Romania
and wrote the book at white heat during and immediately after
the December Revolution of 1989, in which he was able to play
a small part. But it is more than an "instant book,"
like those devoted to Patty Hearst, Saddam Hussein or O.J. Simpson,
bundled to market while they were still news. Codrescus
book is an extended, if somewhat hurried, reflection of his entire
life as a Romanian in exile. As James McNeill Whistler said at
the famous art libel trial of 1878, his paintings were not the
product of a few hours labor, pots of paint flung at the canvas,
as Ruskin had claimed, but contained "the knowledge of a lifetime."
the book was generally well received in America, negative reactions
to The Hole in the Flag in Romania come from two groups,
American scholars or diplomats who fault the book for certain
historical and sometimes geographical inaccuracies (since corrected
in the paperback edition), and Romanian intellectuals who fault
the book for a certain sentimentality in Codrescus perception
of their country. But The Hole in the Flag does not pose
as an authoritative history of the Romanian Revolution. The book
was not meant as either politics or journalism. As the subtitle
suggests, it is one of Codrescus several autobiographies,
"A Romanian Exile's Story of Return and Revolution." His
impressions are of a country that is only partly historical or
geographical, and largely, as Codrescu confesses, a mythical creation
of his own mind in exile. Codrescu is a poet, first and always,
whether delivering a commentary on National Public Radio, taking
us on a tour of Bathorys castle in The Blood Countess
(1995), or reporting the Romanian Revolution. He never pretends
to stick to the facts, even when they are the "facts"
of his life.
title refers to the space left in the Romanian flag after the
Communist Party emblem was cut out, first in protest, then in
confirmation of the fall of Ceausescu, but Codrescu sees the hole
in the flag with the eyes of a poet. The political gesture is
translated into a poetic symbol: an emblem for his escapes and
returns. Codrescu had been fond of saying that after he left Romania,
he was banned from re-entering the country even through the squares
in crossword puzzles, so his return through the hole in the flag
has a certain symmetry: "It's through that hole, I thought,
that I am returning to my birthplace" (Hole 67).
The avenue of his escape was as metaphysical as his return was
literal. So when the new Romanian flags began to appear of whole
cloth, without the hole as a reminder, Codrescu was troubled.
Twenty years after he had escaped, he was now able to return,
and his countrymen were already trying to close up that symbolic
space. Knowing how fleeting rebellion can be, how short-lived
independence, and how fragile memory, Codrescu wondered how they
would be reminded of what they had literally and figuratively
gone through? Once they closed the aperture of vision,
what visible symbol would there be to remind them to keep open
the avenue of visionary escape, the mioritic space, which is also
the aperture of reconciliation and return?
prefaced his anthology of contemporary American poetry, American
Poetry Since 1970: Up Late, with a poem by Kay Boyle that
minor or major, should arrange to remain slender,
to their skeletons, not batten
provender, not fatten the lean spirit
its isolated cell, its solitary chains (17).
shepherd-boy in Miorita, who Codrescu insists is a poet,
is described as similarly slender:
knows, / Who has seen / A proud shepherd boy / Slender enough
to slip through a ring?" Boyle's poem ends with an admonition
to poets, but it might be to all exiles, metaphysical, metaphorical,
or literal. Codrescu seems to have taken Boyles admonition
to heart in all his work, in all his manifestoes for escape and
memoirs of return, as well as in his roles as editor of Exquisite
Corpse, and as geographer of mioritic space: "Poets,
remember your skeletons. / In youth or dotage, remain light as
combination of memory and loss, in which the outside is internalized
to make it portable, is an absolute value for the exile and a
dominant motif in Codrescus memoirs. The past is sacred,
but it is also gone. Only narrative brings it back into being.
is over, said God, looking at him through his
eyes, through the eye of a building he passed on his way
and through an eye in the sky.
hell it is, said the Devil. For the sake of prose,
must be mercifully removed (Life & Times 83).
parable shows us the dialogue between the cosmic transcendence
in the myth of Miorita and the communist interdiction against
full consciousness. The vision of the young poet passes through
a window of escape, "through an eye in the sky." But
poetry and transcendence are not enough, and may even result in
exile. Every avenue of escape should be thrown open wide. The
Devil of the prosaic would have us close up avenues of escape;
the poet Codrescu wants them left open, if only to remind us to
stay slender enough to slip through them.
status as a popular commentator and best-selling novelist in the
Gothic tradition should not prevent us from grasping the importance
of his contribution as an activist in the ongoing process of cultural
politics. Addressing different (if often over-lapping) audiences
in each of the media and genres he works in, Codrescu remains
a delightfully subversive influence in American culture. Like
other immigrant exiles, from the Marx brothers to Nabokov, Codrescu
is not only careful not to forget where he came from, he is incapable
of doing so. Haunted by a notion of freedom that was born in the
mists of Transylvania and bred in the specific milieu of an underground
literary community in Communist Romania, he has taken the myth
of Miorita and Blagas reading of it and retold it along
every avenue of the American media. In doing so, he enacts the
redefinition of the Romanian cultural space, which now overlaps
that of America. Like so many other valuable contributions to
the multi-ethnic mix of America, Andrei Codrescus mioritic
space reminds us of the essential value of freedom, the necessity
to constantly reaffirm it, and, whenever and wherever necessary,
to recreate it.
Mikhail M. "Epic and Novel: Toward a Methodology for the
Study of the Novel" (c. 1930s). In Critical Theory
Since Plato, revised ed. Ed. Hazard Adams. Fort Worth: Harcourt
Brace Jovanovich, 1992.
Alexandru and Magda Carneci, eds. Bucuresti, anii 1920-1940:
intre avangarda si modernism/ Bucharest in the 1920s-1940s:
between Avant-Garde and Modernism. Bucharest: Editura
Simetria/Union of Romanian Architects, 1994.
Lucian. At the Court of Yearning: Poems by Lucian Blaga.
Trans. Andrei Codrescu. Columbus: Ohio State University Press,
In Marea Trecere/ The Great Transition. Trans. Roy MacGregor-Hastie.
Bucharest: Editura Eminescu, 1975.
Trilogia culturii. Bucuresti: Editura Pentru Literatura
Emil. On the Heights of Despair (1934). Trans. Ilinca Zarifopol-Johnston.
Chicago and London: Chicago University Press, 1994.
Andrei, trans. At the Court of Yearning: Poems by Lucian Blaga.
Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1989.
The Blood Countess. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995.
The Disappearance of the Outside: A Manifesto for Escape.
Reading, Mass.: Addison- Wesley, 1990.
Disparitia lui "AFARA": Un manifest al evadarii.
Trans. Ruxandra Vasilescu. Preface by Ioan Petru Culianu.
Bucharest: Editura Univers, 1995.
The Hole in the Flag: A Romanian Exiles Story of Return
and Revolution. New York: William Morrow, 1990.
In Americas Shoes. San Francisco: City Lights, 1983.
The Life and Times of an Involuntary Genius. New York:
ed. The Stiffest of the Corpse: An Exquisite Corpse Reader.
San Francisco: City Lights, 1989.
ed. American Poetry Since 1970: Up Late. New York: Four
Walls Eight Windows, 1989 (2nd ed. 1990).
Ioan Petre. "O Lectie de Politica." Preface to
Disparitia lui "AFARA": Un manifest de evadarii
by Andrei Codrescu. Bucharest: Editura Univers, 1995.
Mircea. The Fate of Romanian Culture/ Destinul Culturii Romanesti.
Trans. Bogdan Stefanescu. Bucuresti: Editura Athena, 1995.
Leon. The Development of Rumanian Poetry. New York: Publications
of the Institute of Rumanian Culture, 1929.
Vlad. The Romanians: A History (1984) Edited by Matei Calinescu.
Trans. Alexandra Bley-Vroman. Columbus: Ohio State University
Gail. The Wedding of the Dead: Ritual, Poetics, and Popular
Culture in Transylvania. Berkeley: University of California
Milan. The Art of the Novel. Trans. Linda Asher. New York:
Grove Press, 1988.
Salman. Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991.
London: Granta Books, 1991.
Adelaide M. "An Introduction to Andrei Codrescu or the Life and
Times of an Involuntary Genius." Miorita: A Journal of
Romanian Studies 12 (1988), pp. 52-61.
A. Romania: Politics, Economy and Society. Boulder: Lynne
Your poetry shows a long travel from innovation to innovation.
You try new things (no capitals, lyrical prose, narrative in verse,
masks, direct aggressive love poems, images, conversational verse).
Yet you do not rebel against someone in particular, against a
poet or a tradition. You somehow rebel against your own preconceived
idea of poetry. You are an individualist through and through,
to the extent of being free from your own self. What do you value
most in a poem? Its genuine emotion, striking poetic language,
defiance of deja vu?
a stellar cloud of questions. I like to stay amused. It has the
word "muse" in it. You are absolutely right that my
own received and preconceived notions of poetry bore me. The poetic
activity consists in overthrowing poetry for its own sake. The
"poetic," I tell my students, "is the enemy of
poetry." What I really mean to tell them is "Poetry
is the enemy of poetry." I don't tell them because they already
know that superficially, and I don't want to encourage superficiality
in my field. They can stay superficial on their own turf. The
way I see it, every poem is a complete critique of all poetry
before it, whether the poet knows it or not. The fun begins when
the poet knows it. The conversation that takes place is between
the emerging poem and something outside language. Taking a position
on behalf of the outside, any outside (of language, of culture,
of various establisments and mainstreams) is vital. Vitality calls
to eros, so at least one reason for the practice is the eroticisation
of the universe. Gherasim Luca put it well, "Eroticize the
proletariat!" The materials of the work itself are available
everywhere: street talk, popular culture, obtuse treatises, scientific
discourses, public transporation, and art. There is a great cry
for "content" today from the ever-hungry media, but
"content" is a meaningless word. Everything is "content."
But only poets are in full possession of it, because they are
the only ones who move within the imaginary as easily as Hispanic
maids move within the houses of the rich on Long Island.
Your early poetry is faintly narrative, but very strongly populated
with characters. Your later poetry builds your own mask, a tough
mood which is unafraid of taboos. What is your opinion about the
attempt at mixing literary genres, at hybridization? Could it
be a common feature to very different poets, writing all over
the world today?
religion is Creolisation, Hybridization, Miscegenation, Immigration,
Genre-Busting, Trespassing, Border-Crossing, Identity-Shifting,
Mask-Making, and Syncretism. I like the conventions of genre (gender)
so that I may play with them. American poetry is in full retrenchment
right now from prankster saboteurs such as myself. There is even
a "new" movement, called "New Formalism" that
makes its practitioners rhyme in traditional forms. This school
is the literary equivalent of right-wing ideology. In such times,
the pursuit and release of liberty into the public air is fabulously
tonic: it keeps young malcontents interested in poetry and defends
eros against the conserving instincts of the terrified socius.
My generation has been accused, among other things, of using more
than our share of the libidinal reservoir of the race. Our conspicuous
consumption has made the preceding generations timid, conservative
with language and pleasure, afraid to travel too far. This is
happily changing, as young people realize that the libidinal stores
are infinite, and that the libidinal economy depends on the ability
of the imagination to trespass, even to the point where it refuses
to make images. My journal, Exquisite Corpse: a Journal of Life
and Letters, on-line at: www.corpse.org, is a forum for the genre-gender
busting. There are some images in it, though.
You hate literary theory in the margin of real literature, and
I do not blame the feeling. Yet, I would like to suggest a label
for poets since the 1950s: I would like to group them under the
name Desperadoes, meaning they are desperate to be their own poets,
authors on their own, similar in dissimilarity. You fit the description.
You reinvent poetry. How do you feel about being included in a
group, even though on the basis of your not belonging to any classification?
dislike the term. I don't feel despair. In my work, I try to cultivate
joy. Despair is a given, it seems to me, and its effects can be
tonic (as in Cioran) if they are taken to the very bitter end
of their logic. I find it necessary to reinvent myself, to be
born again every morning (not always possible, alas!) -- I've
taken the American ideal literally. The New World has served this
rebirthing function without surcease and it has given it boundless
energy and huge creative resources. I like breaking things up
because they release energy. My work is about play: take apart
things to see what's in them, then use the parts to make something
else, invite people over to play with you, stay up all night.
If there is any "despair," it's the despair of limitations,
the tragedy of physical limits, the fact that things end. I do
like the Mexican sound of "desperado," with its hint
of bandido on horseback, Pancho Villa mustaches, and all. Maybe
it would work, after all, if you used the metaphor to describe
an undisciplined band of rowdy, drunken bandidos taking over a
quaint midwestern campus. There are poets like that, but I'm not
one of them.
In Testing. Testing, you talk about "the candles of my ideas."
Your poems rely on ideas far more than on imagery or musicality.
You seem to despise the lullaby of rhyme, but you do have a devilish
inner rhythm of thoughts. You are highly verbal in your intellectual
and sensual lines. You play tricks and thrive on puns. Irony is
your prize possession. All Desperadoes are first and foremost
ironical. Logical conclusion: would you be a Desperado in that
say such sexy things. You are right about every one of them. There
is iron in "irony" as everyone knows, but there are
different ironies. Have you ever seen "baby irony"?
A baby smiles ironically and you realize that one of the terms
of the comparison on which the ironic smile is built must be in
another world. The lacking reference is not of this world. We
can call this transcendental irony. One is being ironic on the
basis of a pre-conscious or pre-human understanding. Then there
is geriatric irony, the irony of the end, when one is, finally,
ironic about everything because the truth of the matter lies beyond
life. All the other ironies, the in-between ironies of the sexual
ages, are at the service of seduction. Wit, charm, and wisdom
at the service of Eros. These ironies are human, they belong to
everyone, not just to poets; their practice is the practice of
consciousness. Everyone's. I am very much at home in the human
business. Maybe what looks like work is what I do without effort,
without even noticing.
One more Desperado feature is the use of four-letter words at
ease. You do that, too. You are bold yet shy at the same time.
Your language is bold, your sensibility shy. Your lines are warm,
in spite of their biting irony, sarcastic at times. Your mind
sparkles in the text. What meaning do you attribute to words such
as decent and indecent? Do you mean to shock or are you just being
yourself, an uninhibited, daring self?
make me blush. You are right, I am shy in person and bold in writing.
The four-letter words are not used for shock-effect though. I
use them for weight, for gravity, for emphasis or, on the contrary,
because they are part of common speech and are used only as a
kind of punctuation. Anyway, I don't use that many. My contemporaries
are much more foul-mouthed. I prefer indecency to decency just
as I prefer candor to disingenuity.
One poem is entitled Attempt to Spell, Incantate and Annoy. You
talk about the poem as a "heresy." So you do want to
annoy and break faith. What is your poetic stand? Like all Desperadoes,
you deny what is known. You also put something instead. What is
your personal seal, the description you would like when it comes
to your own poetry?
grant you, there is a good deal of respect for religious mystery
in my work. It is not faith-specific or particularly taken with
the dogmas of any particular belief. I like ritual without solemnity,
mystery without pomp and trappings, yearning without reverence.
This penchant is doubtlessly the result of having been born and
raised in Sibiu, in earshot of bells, in sight of Gothic towers,
and under the crepuscular influence of Lucian Blaga. On the other
hand, there was also Baroque art in Sibiu, which balanced the
extremism of Gothic with its pleasurable insistence on form, decoration,
gaiety. My poetic stand, if you must have it, is Gothic Sibian
You are a fanatic fan of freedom. In Junk Dawn, NYC, you write:
"there is nowhere to go/ save inside yourself: there everything/
is slightly demented and free." Does this have anything to
do with your being born and spending your teenage years in a communist
country? Linguistically you have grown into your language of adoption.
Is there still anything left of your Romanian soul? Did communism
exacerbate this wish to be and stay "demented and free?"
started writing poetry in Sibiu at the age of 16 in the early
Sixties, and I knew from the very beginning that I was part of
a revolutionary generation. The Romanian poets of my generation
were overthrowing socialist-realism and reaching to the mystical
and avantgarde pre-war poets. At the same time, our contemporaries
in the Western world were beginning a social, political, philosophical,
and literary revolt. On both sides of the so-called "Iron
Curtain" (by 1969 it became the "Ironic Curtain")
there was an energy of rebellion and desire for freedom. I was
imbued with the esprit-du-temps, but I never understood freedom
to mean the renunciation of anything I was or knew. On the contrary,
this esprit demanded the fresh use of everything I knew and was,
including Romanian, Jewish, Sibian, Pioneer (never made it to
the U.T.C.), lover of mountains, sheep, and country girls. All
of this was to be used, but not solemnly, piously, reverently
or chauvinistically, but daringly, innovatively, freshly, generously.
I perceive of differences as gifts, not barriers. I am a hunter
of distinctions: the more the merrier. The more differences you
can bring to the table, the more interesting the world becomes.
In 1966 I assumed the identity of a woman poet named Maria Parfenie,
whose poems were published and warmly introduced by M.R. Paraschivescu
in "Contemporanul." I felt very much that I was this
slightly naive, religious, sexy young woman. I knew that Gender=Genre
in a more than perfunctory way. I later became other women and
wrote their poetry. I was also a Puerto Rican terrorist, a lesbian,
a fascist, and a monk.
In Opium for Britt Wilkie, you reject the "melodramatic hearts",
which is again a Desperado reaction. Desperadoes smash love-interest
in novels and in poetry. The feeling wears a scary mask, rejects
soap-opera reactions from readers. Your love poems are not endearing,
they are firm and create a certainty of the feeling, which you
do not choose to utter, though. Are you a sentimental poet or
do you see yourself as the cold juggler of words?
am neither sentimental nor cold. I prefer my love sexual, earthy,
human. Sex is warm, funny, profound. Sentimentality is a form
of fraud; in literature it extorts the reader's emotional energy;
in life it perpetuates lies. I am against platonism in any shape
or form, beginning with Plato himself (who justly threw the poets
out of the Republic) to all the later meanings of the adjective.
There was no ideal ("platonic") world before this one.
Paradise is a pretty invention and utopia is an ugly lie. I believe
neither in original sin nor in utopia. We make the world by being
in it, playing in it, loving in it, having sex in it. One of my
recordings is called "Plato Sucks." He does.
In Sadness Unhinged you state "I am not satisfied with ambiguity."
Desperadoes usually are not. They need to be clear. Clear, yet
complicated. So are you. The image is like a bushy moustache,
which you trim with the scissors of intelligence. Do you ever
bet on the load of ambiguity of a line, or is it always directness
of statement (supported by ironical understatement, of course)?
actual line is "I am not satisfied with ambiguity/ it takes
two of them to get me off." That's a funny allusion to my
favorite sexual passtime: threesomes. Of course, being ambiguous,
they each divide in two or more, so we may be talking about a
real fellinesque orgy. I love your mustache image, but I have
shaved off my mustache in Venice in July 2000. My girlfriend was
scared when she saw me. "Why did you do it?" she asked,
shading her eyes. "Stalin is dead," I said. "Enough
is enough." All mustaches are stalinist. I had been carrying
the shadow my childhood around long enough. She's used to it now.
I have a small goattee, like a goat, and a pristine upper lip.
If the surface of the poem is like a roulette table, I like to
put money on black or red (directness) and scatter some at random
in the ambiguous universe of numbers. Luck is very important.
In Sunday Sermon, you write: "People who half-listen are
half-inspiring." How do you expect your reader to approach
your text? With the same irony as yours, with sympathy, unconditional
surrender, active denial? Are you a tyrannical author, unlike
most Desperadoes, or do you welcome an ambiguous reading, ending,
just like your poems, in a question mark? How do you feel about
inconclusive texts (which poems should be, by definition) and
inconclusive readings (half-readings, in a sense)?
am a tyrannical author of the most exacting sort. I expect my
readers to understand my intentions, even when they are radically
different from what they say, but mainly I expect them to surrender
to the poem. I feel triumph when I am able to bypass quickly all
their livresque critical objections and render them defenseless
for the next line. I want to take them out of their minds so that
they can understand (and approve) with their bodies. For this
purpose, I have become quite a good reader. I can't leave the
whole job to my written brilliance alone. All texts are inconclusive.
On the other hand, texts that are purposefully inconclusive smack
of unbearable self-importance. My least facvorite orthographic
symbol is the ellipsis. My skin crawls when I see ... at the end
of a line. The assumption that the reader should be told that
there is more to the universe than the pathetic piece of paper
she has just honored with her attention, is an offense to all
intelligent life. Of course the universe goes on when the text
is finished. What moron thinks otherwise? I try to get as much
as I can and end a text as well as I know how, but I won't cmmit
hubris by withholding information, god forbid.
In Against Meaning, you write "Everything I do is against
meaning./ This is partly deliberate, mostly spontaneous."
Your poetry is indeed a crusade against meanings, a search for
the Grail of the absolute fresh meaning. You fight language to
the least automatism and mock at comfortable statements. You are
a highly uncomfortable poet, from the point of view of inert readers,
who expect to be pleased, not challenged. This fight against the
peace of reading is Desperado, again. Would you say you are at
war just with language, or is it a vaster battle, against mentality,
human nature, that you initiate?
only solution for "inert readers" is to be dipped in
saline solution and connected to electrical wires. If that doesn't
work, they should lose their "reader" status and made
to work the copy machine. "Meaning" is an arrogant claim
of power. Authoritarian structures cannot function without fixed
"meanings"; they draw occult power from them. Unsettling
"meaning," knocking it off its ritual perches is the
highest calling of a creative language user. Language is a battlefield:
it is littered with the corpses of words killed by ideologies,
strangled to death by advertising, assassinated by political opportunists,
drowned in the urine of bureaucratic sadists. On this field, poets
have the very big job of rendering the killers of words inefficient
through paradox, irony, erudition, and sound. At the same time,
they must save the still-living words from the intensifying hunt
for them by the purveyors of "content." (Who are, sometimes,
the same as the assassins above). The battlefield of language
is also the battlefield of mentalities or "human nature,"
as you call it. "Human nature" is generally used as
a synonym for "stupidity." In that sense, yes, human
nature is definitely to be overthrown.
Intention ends with "Forgive us our intentions, dear reader."
What are your intentions as a poet?
sort of listed them above, but in that particular poem I was refering
to the unsavory intention of the poet to monopolize the attention
of his readers/listeners and to relieve them of their minds, cash,
Your poems (Franchising the Fight) mention the "Exquisite
Corpse." It also is the title of your poetry review. What
are your goals as an editor? What are you trying to achieve with
your review? What kind of poetry do you promote?
started Exquisite Corpse in Baltimore in 1983 because I
was bored with the low level of the intellectual conversation
in the literary press of the time. Eventually, the journal evolved
to find a tone and writers hip to the tone. Today it is still
an organ of discovery (more than half our writers are unknowns
who find us), an international anthology (we have published many
Romanian poets, for instance), and a soapbox for the editor. (www.corpse.org)
The Juniata Diary ends with: "I only take up the critic's
job to be an ontological reminder, to keep us (me) from forgetting
the reason why we took up the art in the first place." I
do not think you have a great liking for criticism, so I shall
ask bluntly: What do you expect of your critics? Like a true Desperado,
being an editor, you are a critic yourself. Being an ironical
spirit, you are even twice a critic. What do you expect of yourself?
expect to stay awake; I expect to meet you some day.