The Poetry Lesson by Andrei Codrescu

In the narrator’s own words, “this story is not a novel or poetry, and it’s no essay or memoir either, though it mimics aspects of both.” An English professor takes his last semester of “Intro to Poetry Writing” and assigns each student a Ghost-Companion. But he digresses wildly, into the lives and deaths of poets, his thoughts about the sex lives of his students and their futures.

In an interview Codrescu explains:

As for what this book is, I’m convinced that I invented a new form. I wrote it at Highlands Coffee in Baton Rouge, after my three-hour undergraduate poetry seminar. In the morning, before class, at the same coffee house, I wrote The Posthuman Dada Guide. After class, I had fun using the class to expand into a kind of synthetic expression of all my classes and teaching poetry for a quarter of a century. I shouldn’t even call it “teaching poetry,” because it was mostly playing and instructing students in the poetic mode, in thinking poetically, and even living that way if they had strong livers. I used some composite of youths of the 21st century and wrote without fear of digression because I would inevitably return to class the next week and come back to my characters. So, it’s a lived piece of reportage, in one sense, an autobiographical invention on the other, and a meditation on poetry scenes that had a bearing on the “lesson.” Writing this it occurred to me just how boring “teaching creative writing” is these days, and how many unimaginative drones who were themselves “taught” by unimaginative drones are fouling the air in our institutions of so-called “higher” learning. Most teacher-poets of the last four decades in America were dull bastards who nearly destroyed the art. Maybe they did.

If Codrescu was teaching “Intro to Poetry Writing” locally, I would sign up without hesitation. I read this wonderful book in two bites, and could have read twice as much. It made me want to read poetry, it almost made me want to write poetry, again. Almost.

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