The Poetry Lesson by Andrei Codrescu - review by Anthony Cummins

Anthony Cummins

Exquisite Corpse

The Poetry Lesson


Princeton University Press 118pp £13.95

This slim comedy unfolds over three hours in a seminar room in Louisiana. The narrator, Andrei, is – like his namesake – a middle-aged American poet originally from Romania. He’s giving thirteen undergraduates their first class in a course called ‘Introduction to Poetry Writing’: a set-up that is a pretext for a series of zany autobiographical sketches and satirical reflections on youth, literature and academia. Andrei is curious as to what (if anything) remains of the Seventies counterculture in which he came of age, ‘when heterosexuality, marriage, and all the negative baggage those two carried became philosophically suspect’ in a

moment of visionary hubris … fertile enough to give birth to dissertations and university courses in ‘Queer Studies,’ establish hundreds of ashrams, attract followers to mass-suicide cults and Scientology, and allow extraterrestrials free access to the planet, where they are to this day conducting their experiments on us through Hollywood film.

As this suggests, the prevailing tone is cultural criticism as stand-up. Andrei plays the grumpy old man: ‘I called for a “cigarette break.” This must have sounded as quaint to them as someone calling the latest iTunes™ release an “album.” Few if any of them smoked.’ The contemporary

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