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Issue 10 - A Journal of Letters and Life
Critiques & Reviews
Captain Codrescu's Thumbnail Reviews
by Andrei Codrescu

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ANSELM HOLLO: Notes on the Possibilities and Attractions of Existence: Selected Poems 1965-2000. Coffee House Press, Mpls.

Every decade is marked by a brick of a book, on which is inscribed: "All is not well, but the art keeps on going on. Onward, whippets!" Over three and a half decades, Anselm Hollo has advanced both the art of poetry and the pleasure of intelligence as if they were one and the same thing. He has been an indispensible philosophe of the word who has taught us that to play and to know that you are playing is nearly enough in this (overall) unfair setup. Hollo has done this cornucopically, with humor, irony, and music. This collection shares the shelf in my home with Ted Berrigan's So Going Around Cities, Robert Creeley's Selected, and the collecteds of Williams, Pound, Olson, and Mina Loy. We are strict here at Canon HQ. Poetry teachers, teach this book! In my quarter of a century teaching I found few poets more inspiring to the young and better equipped to put them in the know than Master Hollo. An event! A magnificent book!

AIME CESAIRE: Notebook of a Return to the Native Land. translated by Clayton Eshleman and Annette Smith, with an introduction by André Breton.
Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, CT.

Eshleman and Smith are the translators of Cesaire's Collected Poems (University of California Press). In bringing out Cesaire's early tour-de-force in this elegant Wesleyan volume, they have given every young poet a book to put in their back pocket. This is one of the essential poems of the 20th century by one of the founders--with Senghor and Damas--of the Negritude movement. Aime Cesaire is also the founder of modern Martinique, a great statesman who steered his country masterfully into the new century. The 90-year-old Cesaire granted me a rare interview in Fort-de-France Martinique on August 14 this year (2001, alas!). I asked him what was the secret of his longevity and he said, "Always looking for yourself. But never finding it, no!" We discussed his literary beginnings in Paris in the Surrealist epoch, his friendship with André Breton and others, the influence of the Harlem School on his work, his French Communist Party period (when he became acquainted with Tristan Tzara, dadaist-turned-commie), his founding of the PPM (Progressive Party of Martinique) and the complaints of his critics. I quoted something from Edouard Glissant about the younger (in their 60s!) generation's differences with him, and he defended himself vigorously. Younger writers, such as Glissant, but also the late Franz Fanon, and the now lionized Patrick Chamoiseau and Raphael Confiant, have all paid homage to Cesaire and consider him the founding father of Martinican literature. The quarrel, if there is any, is en famille. I glanced twice at his secretary to see if my time was up, after an hour of conversation, but Cesaire insisted each time that we stay longer. Laura snapped pictures and Cesaire talked.

Aime Cesaire reads Exquisite Corpse. Andrei Codrescu grins. Photo by Laura Codrescu, Fort-de-France, Martinique, August 14, 2001.


TOMAZ SALAMUN: A Ballad for Metka Krasovec. Translation by Michael Biggins. Twisted Spoon Press, Prague.

Tomaz Salamun, whose work has been translated by many fine American poets, including Anselm Hollo, is quite dazzling. The long poem that opens this collection is sheer condensed delight, cross-hatched with near-familiar American sound and metaphorically rich Slovenian. Salamun is one of ours, that is to say, a four-star trans-cultural carrier!

LOUIS ARMAND: Land Partition. Textbase, Melbourne.

The work of this Australian-born Prague resident and philosophy professor bears some affinity to the work of the American Language School poets. The language of "internally fissured realities" (in quotes in the original) is dense, sound-driven, and erudite. The territory being mined is somewhere between language and geography, but there is a stubborn (and tenaciously coherent) essay on the modern here, particularly modern art. The equally tenacious reader will be rewarded by a sober sensibility.

JOANNE KYGER: Again: Poems 1989-2000. La Alameda Press, Albuquerque.

Delve birdlike, or densely like a turtle, into Kyger's verses! Her work has been variously described as elegant, elliptical, and quick. I hear the crunch of semiprecious stones on Bolinas Beach, and suspension, not of disbelief, but of everything that isn't suspense.

ALICE NOTLEY: Disobedience. Penguin Books, New York.

What expectant delight and slight fear in opening up a new Alice Notley book! Delight because she always zips the art to novel zones, and fear because I may be too yellow to follow her! Her long poems are woven like spiderwebs, and there is no getting away from the hypnotic threads of dream, reportage, lyric essay, movie images, and vertiginous sentiment. I could go on at length about her chromatic range, her disregard for the boundaries between dream and life, her unanswerable polemic with all frozen forms of language, but that's what I make my students do. Personally, I pace around her text like someone stranded on one of those islands constructed from tightly bound reeds.

ARAM SAROYAN: Starting Out in the Sixties. Talisman House, Jersey City.

The tender reminiscences of this poet, memoirist, and cultural critic include a sweet moment in the Seventies featuring (much too kindly) yours truly. Since I have had nothing but affection for Aram over the years, and read his books with great delight, this announcement is a mere fan's note. So, buy the book!

FIELDING DAWSON: The Land of Milk and Honey. XOXOX Press, Gambier, OH.

One of the Corpse's faithful contributors, the legendary Dawson has written 20 new stories, collected here in a handsome volumette. "Voices wise...deeply human...and searching," is what I once wrote, about another book by Dawson. Still true.

JON WEINER: Gimme Some Truth: The John Lennon FBI Files. University of California Press, Berkeley.

A sharp look at the dour mind of the FBI, compiled and commented on by a first-rate historian. An essence of esprit-du-temps, a whiff of pure paranoia rises from these pages as if from between the steamy toes of an FBI gumshoe writing down with a straight face all the mega-muffins yippies feed him. It's astounding how much taxpayer money the FBI spent on shuffling memos of pure BS from one grim bureaucrat to another. At one point, the agent refers to John Lennon as being a member of "a group known as the Beatles." Jeez. Interestingly enough, I was reading this while Katerina Witt was being interviewed on television about her Stasi files. She was talking about a lawsuit to keep her files closed so they wouldn't fall prey to tabloids. The one solution would have been for Jon Weiner to handle the material. Alas.

JIMMY SANTIAGO BACA: A Place to Stand. Grove Press, New York.

FRANCINE DU PLESSIX GRAY: At Home with the Marquis de Sade. Simon & Schuster, New York.

Baca's is a story of triumph over bad breaks. He became a poet in prison, like Marquis de Sade, but unlike the Marquis, Baca turned into a good man. Sade just kept going crazier and getting fatter.

JOHN D'AGATA: Halls of Fame. Graywolf, St. Paul.

Here is an essayist who fears nothing and treats language with aggressive humor. She reciprocates.

ILAN STAVANS: On Borrowed Words: A Memoir of Language. Viking, New York.

Stavans is a Mexican Jew translated to New York some ten years after I was. I can empathize and delight in his remaking into English, while finding, simultaneously, some of his livresque agonies somewhat precious. Still, the guy can write and the yarn is most readable.

JOEL DAILEY, Ed.: FELL SWOOP #57. 3003 Ponce de Leon Street, New Orleans, LA. 70119. Three issues of this "all bohemian review" cost only "ten bucks american," and the dime is well worth it. The writers herein hail from various layers of the fame pie, avantgarde section, but the deliberate xeroxy look and stubborn graphic insistence on spontaneous collage, make Fell Swoop one of the redoubts of an unblinking lit stare.

SUSAN M. SCHULTZ, Ed.: TINFISH. English Department, University of Hawaii, Honolulu, 96822. Various literary products, also avantgarde fall fashions. Of a younger vintage than Fell Swoop, Tinfish is graphically deliberate and linguistically clean as a whistle (or some kind of bone tool, anyway). Tremendous fun as variety of shape and unexpected utterance pose problems of storage.

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