Susan Salter Reynolds
The Poetry Lessonby Andrei Codrescu
"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
"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.
Susan Salter Reynolds
"Andrei Codrescu's The Poetry Lesson, the description of a single, three-hour poetry-writing class, is genuinely entertaining. . . . [I]t is . . . funny, moving, daring and even, at times, profound. . . . The book is a kind of ode to eccentricity, to imagination within the institution."Jonathan Taylor,Times Literary Supplement
"A series of zany autobiographical sketches and satirical reflections on youth, literature, and academia."Anthony Cummins, Literary Review
"Beneath Codrescu's wacky, self-amused teaching methods, perfected poet-in-a-phrase descriptions, off-kilter teacher-student dialogue and old-timer digressions, there can be found a pestering ambivalence toward the university and a suspicion that he is a hypocrite."Yelena Akhtiorskaya, Forward
"You should read this book and absorb its lessons as soon as possible."J.C. Hallman, Quarterly Conversation
"This genially disillusioned, free-associative romp delivers plenty of pleasures in the course of 118 pages. . . . Faced with time and mortalitythe quintessential poetic subjectsCodrescu does what great artists have done for millennia: He tells stories, writes poems, and, yes, he teaches."Chris Waddington, New Orleans Times-Picayune
"Codrescu proceeds headlong in an altogether entertaining 'pedagogical-memorialistic mode.'. . . Ultimately, this book is about Codrescu's prickly narrative voice and the delight he takes in blabbing. It's a voice confident in its charming idiosyncrasies, spicier than his NPR pieces."Ron Slate, On the Seawall
"Not a creative writing 'how-to' manual, not an essay, not a novel, not a memoirThe Poetry Lesson resists genre classification with all the radical aplomb of an angry beatnik refusing to tick the 'which-age-demographic' box on a government census form."Chris Jones,Times Higher Education Supplement
"The Poetry Lesson is a lucid yet playful book, that slips between memoir and fiction, jaunty anecdote and pure tangent, as it describes the first lesson of an 'Introduction to Poetry Writing' course."Rupert Thomson, Berlin Review of Books
"A fast-paced bit of pedagogical stand-up, interspersing personal recollections of various 20th century poets with whimsical observations on poetic craft and modern culture in a stream-of-consciousness style that blurs the line between inner and outer monologues. . . . A witty and heartfelt case for poetry's end being its beginning."Alex Good, Toronto Star
"The Poetry Lesson finds Codrescu hovering over the borders between fiction, the conventional essay and even the poetic forms."Ben Steelman, Star News (Wilmington, NC)
"[O]ne feels incredible gratitude to and connection with this living poet. Andrei Codrescu makes clear not only that poetry does matter, but that our lives depend upon it. For him, poetry is not so much a mystery as it is a knowable entity, even a teachable one. From all the evidence in this short, gorgeous work, it seems equally clear that Andrei Codrescu was a great teacher."M. G. Stephens, PN Review
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Meet the Author
Andrei Codrescu is an award-winning poet, novelist, essayist, and NPR commentator. He edits the online journal Exquisite Corpse and taught literature and creative writing at Louisiana State University for twenty-five years before retiring in 2009 as the MacCurdy Distinguished Professor of English. His recent work includes "The Posthuman Dada Guide" (Princeton) and "Jealous Witness: Poems".
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