Saturday, December 20, 2008
This week’s poem comes from a poet & litterateur who’s managed to make a name for himself outside the rather insular world (understatement) of poebiz—namely, Andrei Codrescu, best known to the general public (or at least the NPR-listening general public, which is admittedly very much a sub-set) as the droll commentator with an eastern European accent on public radio’s All Things Considered (by the by, here’s an interesting article on Mr Codrescu that goes beyond the “facts”).
As you can learn from looking at the Wikipedia page linked to above, Mr Codrescu has an impressive list of publications; he’s published a number of books of poetry (there are a few books pre 1973 that aren’t listed on the Wikipedia bio), prose fiction, & essays, while also serving as editor for what I consider one of the best U.S. literary mags (now an online venture), Exquisite Corpse. He also edited what I consider one of the best anthologies of late 20th century U.S. poetry, Up Late (you can read my thoughts on this work here). Unfortunately, this anthology is out-of-print, but it still can be purchased online for a reasonable price without too much time spent on Google.
Of course you can get the facts about Mr Codrescu from Wikipedia: he & his family were political refugees from their native Romania, & he teaches English at Louisiana State University. My favorite fact: he was King of Krewe Du Vieux, a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade society, during the 2002 season—another personal favorite, banjoist Danny Barker also has served as King of Krewe Du Vieux.
Codrescu’s poetry is distinctly surrealist in nature, tho it’s also noteworthy for its wry humor & a strong sense of both philosophical & political engagement. These qualities are all present in his poem “Work,” from his 1973 book, A Serious Morning—these days more readily available in Selected Poems 1970-1980. One could write a goodly little essay on what this poem is about: the relentless chaos of activity, at a cellular & macrocosmic level & everywhere in between, & the effects of same on the poet—but beyond saying that, I think to write further would detract from the poem itself.
So here’s what Mr Codrescu has to say on these matters. Enjoy!
at night the day is constantly woken up
by expolding dream objects
until our days are tired
and collapse on our hearts like loud
zippers breaking in the middle.
i sleep in the daytime with my head on the piano.
i sleep at night too standing on the roof.
i sleep all the sleep that is given me plus
the sleep of those who can’t sleep and the sleep
of great animals who lie wounded
and unable to sleep.
i'm dead tired from the work everone does
ceaselessly around me, from the work the morning
crowds are going to do after they are thrown up
by the thousand mouths of toast and cologne
into the buses and subways,
from the work the plants do to get water
from the labors of beasts looking for meat
from the labors of speaking replyiog writing
from the work going on inside me with a million
greedy cells beating the shit out of each other
from the work of the sun turning around
and the earth turning around it.
i’m tired in general and sleepy in particular.
i have a great desire to move elsewhere.
© Andrei Codrescu 1973