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The Poetry Lesson

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"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.'"- "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-si�cle 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.


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"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.'"- "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-si�cle 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.

30 review for The Poetry Lesson

  1. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    Andrei Codrescu is something of a strange bird among American writers – he fits in absolutely nowhere, outside of any tradition. He is not one of our mainstreamers or our avant-gardists, and while he's definitely a humorist, to place him in the same vein as Mark Twain would be inadvisable (and come to think of it, was Mark Twain actually funny by modern standards?). In his worldview, the only person I can compare him to is Ambrose Bierce, where you recognize that the writing is funny and weird a Andrei Codrescu is something of a strange bird among American writers – he fits in absolutely nowhere, outside of any tradition. He is not one of our mainstreamers or our avant-gardists, and while he's definitely a humorist, to place him in the same vein as Mark Twain would be inadvisable (and come to think of it, was Mark Twain actually funny by modern standards?). In his worldview, the only person I can compare him to is Ambrose Bierce, where you recognize that the writing is funny and weird and surreal, and you don't laugh. You shouldn't laugh, and you don't. But you know that this guy's third eye is wiiiiiiide open. The Poetry Lesson is a charming story about a shitty professor and his shitty students, and it fits absolutely none of the conventions of the …. ugh... campus novel. You know, the kind where the writer prevaricates about bouncy tits in varsity sweaters? Yeah, none of that. Good shit.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tim

    Is it memoir or is it fiction? It seems a mix of the two and recounts the first day of a poetry writing class at a Louisiana university, with a professor much like Codrescu, who is finishing his teaching career. It is about poetry, especially Codrescu's experience with American poets from the Beats on, but also about the teacher-student relationship and the difficulty of aging. The teacher assigns epigrams as the first assignment and gives every student a poet Ghost-Companion based on their last Is it memoir or is it fiction? It seems a mix of the two and recounts the first day of a poetry writing class at a Louisiana university, with a professor much like Codrescu, who is finishing his teaching career. It is about poetry, especially Codrescu's experience with American poets from the Beats on, but also about the teacher-student relationship and the difficulty of aging. The teacher assigns epigrams as the first assignment and gives every student a poet Ghost-Companion based on their last name. The students are characters, perhaps caricatures, but it is a fun ride down/through Codrescu's own history.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Bryan

    A stab at self-deprecating humor aimed straight for the spleen...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Aaron Belz

    http://www.booksandculture.com/articl... http://www.booksandculture.com/articl...

  5. 5 out of 5

    Yakshaver

    Brilliant! A gem - engaging, insightful, easy to read. Even if you do not know some of the protagonists (many of them poets whom Codrescu, himself a poet, knew personally) it is still absolutely worth it! You might even start to love poetry, if you don't already!

  6. 5 out of 5

    Clare Walker

    Codrescu is my hero. I adore this book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mark

    The Poetry Lesson is a work of fictional nonfiction. Or at least I think so. In it, Codrescu recounts the first day of class for his final Introduction to Poetry Writing class at Louisiana State University before his retirement, in 2009. At the beginning of the class he lists the ten tools of poetry, the ten muses of poetry, then introduces us to the thirteen students taking the class. Then, what follows is a (presumably fictional) representation of what it's like to attend the first day of Codr The Poetry Lesson is a work of fictional nonfiction. Or at least I think so. In it, Codrescu recounts the first day of class for his final Introduction to Poetry Writing class at Louisiana State University before his retirement, in 2009. At the beginning of the class he lists the ten tools of poetry, the ten muses of poetry, then introduces us to the thirteen students taking the class. Then, what follows is a (presumably fictional) representation of what it's like to attend the first day of Codrescu's class. A lot of the book is taken up with Codrescu bestowing a Ghost-Companion on each of his students. A Ghost-Companion, which is one of his ten tools of poetry, is "a poet, dead or alive . . . whose last name begins with the same letter as yours. This is a poet that you will study all semester, read deeply, understand well, google till you’re satisfied, and call on when you feel some difficulty. Any difficulty. Your Ghost-Companion will be a great and generous soul, who will come to your aid not just for your assignments, but also in other situations that neither you nor I can now imagine" (15). I took several fiction-writing classes in college, but no poetry-writing classes. If Codrescu had taught at my school, I'd be kicking myself for not having taken his class. The Ghost-Companion idea alone is worth the price of tuition. (In fact, I'm half tempted to try contacting Codrescu now and asking him for my own Ghost-Companion, and I don't even write poetry.) He's an interesting, affable teacher in the classroom (or at least portrays himself to be so), and provides brief but illuminating biographies for most of the G-Cs (as he abbreviates it) that he hands out, from Anna Akhmatova to Walt Whitman. Codrescu also has plenty to say about his own life, both as a poet and as a friend of other poets, including Ted Berrigan and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. He also relates several funny, even bawdy anecdotes throughout (though many of these are shared with the reader only, not with his students). There's even a little philosophy (insofar as it pertains to poetry) thrown in as well. As I mentioned at the top, I presume this recounting is mostly fictional; some of the students Codrescu describes are real characters, in both senses of the word (most notably Matt Borden, of the Borden milk family, who claims that his grandmother insisted on being buried in a decommissioned missile silo). But whether the students are "real" or not, the story Codrescu tells with them feels true. It's a fascinating and inspiring book that practically makes me want to be a poet. (I'd say "a part-time poet" but Codrescu's book makes it clear that there's no such thing; for him, poetry is a creed--you're either a poet or you're not.) My only disappointment is that the book covers only one, far-too-short class. When, near the end, one of his students reminds him that he still hasn't elucidated most of the "tools of poetry" he wrote on the chalkboard at the beginning of the book, Codrescu says, "That's for next class, we've run out of time now." If I had my way, Codrescu would write a book for each subsequent session of his final semester of teaching. Alas, I don't think it's going to happen, and to our detriment. [Disclaimer: I am an employee of this book's publisher, Princeton University Press. Arguably, this means you should read my "review" (if you can call it that) with a grain of salt, even though I had no direct involvement in its publication and read it only because it interested me personally. Honestly, I wouldn't have even mentioned it if it weren't, y'know, the law.]

  8. 4 out of 5

    Sam Manning

    Dude is hilariously, intelligently and creatively nuts. And I mean that in the most bewitching and charming of ways. Prose all over the place and IT'S BRILLIANT.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kathy Leland

    This short book will be best appreciated by anyone who has ever tried to teach poetry or who loves and appreciates poetry. Codrescu basically takes us through the first day of his 3 hour long Intro to Poetry college class, the last course he taught before retiring. During this time, he allows us to ramble through his quite amazing mind, a crammed storehouse of erudition and poetic experience and random fact that's just very entertaining. We listen in on the stories he tells about poets, his life This short book will be best appreciated by anyone who has ever tried to teach poetry or who loves and appreciates poetry. Codrescu basically takes us through the first day of his 3 hour long Intro to Poetry college class, the last course he taught before retiring. During this time, he allows us to ramble through his quite amazing mind, a crammed storehouse of erudition and poetic experience and random fact that's just very entertaining. We listen in on the stories he tells about poets, his life, his travels, and the wisdom he's gained from poems, plus we tune in to what he's thinking as he conducts the class, an aspect of this book that college English professors will especially appreciate. (He assigns each student a Ghost-Companion, a dead poet whose last name must start with the same letter as their own, who they are to learn all about and to keep inside their heads as a constant guide.) Observations about the young students in his class are dead on perfect. His thoughts are profound, amusing, clever, and expansive, with many, many wonderful insights not only about poetry but also about young college students, aging in a modern world, teaching, and (above all else) the power of poetry. I wish I could've taken that class and been assigned a Ghost-Companion too.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Grady Ormsby

    The Poetry Lesson by Andrei Codrescu is a not a memoir nor is it a novel. As a sort of scenario it is the account of the first meeting of an "Introduction to Poetry Writing" class. It is based on Codrescu's twenty-five year career as a professor of Literature and Creative Writing at Louisiana State University. The non-plot consists of the Professor's dialogue with thirteen students along with his own interior monologue as a stream of memories, reactions, suppositions and projections. As a way The Poetry Lesson by Andrei Codrescu is a not a memoir nor is it a novel. As a sort of scenario it is the account of the first meeting of an "Introduction to Poetry Writing" class. It is based on Codrescu's twenty-five year career as a professor of Literature and Creative Writing at Louisiana State University. The non-plot consists of the Professor's dialogue with thirteen students along with his own interior monologue as a stream of memories, reactions, suppositions and projections. As a way of making the initial assignments, each student is given a poet (whose last name has the same initial letter as the student's last name) as a Ghost-Companion. Each student is to immerse herm (Codrescu's own possesive adjective for him/her) self into the life and work of the G.C. The thirteen student characterizations are amusing and sometimes hilarious portraits of Twentieth-first Century college-age prototypes. The generation gap between them and the professor emphasizes how much society has changed since Codrescu's (and my) college years. This is a class I wish I could sit in on.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Ed

    Fun. Should be read in an afternoon, though. I just kept leaving this book places. At work, at a friend's house, at home when I flew to Amurrca on vacation. In the meantime I kept starting and finishing other books. It seriously sat open, facedown on my bed for a week and a half with only two pages left to be read. I took those 45 seconds this afternoon, and now want to set an entire afternoon aside sometime to reread the whole thing. I really did this wrong. Though I listen to a ton of NPR I've Fun. Should be read in an afternoon, though. I just kept leaving this book places. At work, at a friend's house, at home when I flew to Amurrca on vacation. In the meantime I kept starting and finishing other books. It seriously sat open, facedown on my bed for a week and a half with only two pages left to be read. I took those 45 seconds this afternoon, and now want to set an entire afternoon aside sometime to reread the whole thing. I really did this wrong. Though I listen to a ton of NPR I've never heard this guy's schtick on there I don't think. My friend Adam turned me on to him with a review on this website. Not of this book. I now own several Codrescu books (though still not the one Adam reviewed)...and plan on enjoying all of them. To anyone who's looked for his stuff at Myopic in Chicago and come up empty in the last year or so: sorry, it was me. But try again, because he's really good.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Danılo Horă

    I'll just leave this long quote here, as this is pretty much how the entire book goes, and it is a good book if you don't expect more than this: "I had few thoughts now, but I was lightly embarrassed by my preferences in poetry, forged by mid-Sixties Grove Press anthologies and City Lights collections, and the opinions and work of my poet-friends who had been formed and had remained loyal to the very same poetry and its publishers. [...] I had thousands of stories to tell about these people and t I'll just leave this long quote here, as this is pretty much how the entire book goes, and it is a good book if you don't expect more than this: "I had few thoughts now, but I was lightly embarrassed by my preferences in poetry, forged by mid-Sixties Grove Press anthologies and City Lights collections, and the opinions and work of my poet-friends who had been formed and had remained loyal to the very same poetry and its publishers. [...] I had thousands of stories to tell about these people and their products because this was my life, a life spent hanging out, talking, writing poetry, alone or with others, seeing twisted shapes in the night and crisp aphorisms at dawn. My life is full of tragic and funny stories that happened to people known to me, and I was their sole keeper, at least in the narrative forms I invented for telling them! So who is there accusing me of generalizing, of using language like an umbrella? I have the details, I can empty my pockets. Away, demon, away!"

  13. 4 out of 5

    Phil Overeem

    A slim but powerful and thought-provoking ramble about teaching poetry. The "narrative," such as it is, involves Professor Codrescu assigning each of his "Intro to Writing Poetry" class a "ghost-companion" (a dead poet with the same first letter in his/her last name as the student) to study and receive advice from. Along the way he dispenses much interesting advice and many piquant observation about the durability and teachablity of poetry and why the youth of America (circa 2011) need it. Very A slim but powerful and thought-provoking ramble about teaching poetry. The "narrative," such as it is, involves Professor Codrescu assigning each of his "Intro to Writing Poetry" class a "ghost-companion" (a dead poet with the same first letter in his/her last name as the student) to study and receive advice from. Along the way he dispenses much interesting advice and many piquant observation about the durability and teachablity of poetry and why the youth of America (circa 2011) need it. Very glad I read it--and may use it to warm up with every August.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Walsh

    "If there was sarcasm no one cared. She read from the notebook in front of her, something in scrawly script: Road Song: My mother is a golf-cart My father is a four-wheeler My boyfriend is a foul-mouthed driver I'm a wheeler-dealer We are a family of assholes. Great poem. Were these, I wondered, the lyrics of a pop song I didn't know because I hadn't listened to a pop song in decades, and not only wasn't I hip to what the kids were listening to, but I was reasonably sure that it was crap?"

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sam Mills

    As fond as I am of Codrescu's public persona, I never have found his writing or his magazine to live up to the promises of their premises (although I keep hoping). They entertain briefly, and they amplify my fondness for this witty Romanian transplant, but usually I find there is little there there. Still, this book is clever and entertaining, I think, and I'll probably keep it around instead of passing it on.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Chelsea

    While Codrescu is undoubtedly a fantastic writer and has an extraordinary creative mind, this particular form of memoir did not entirely appeal to me. Codrescu's "character" is very pompous and he does more name-dropping then poetry-teaching; in fact, there is little of a poetry lesson at all. It is entertaining, however, and has some interesting insights. Therefore, it's not a book I will return to, but I don't regret reading it at all.

  17. 5 out of 5

    David

    I was bored with time to kill and sat down for this and was pleasantly surprised. It led me to many more books and poets and Codrescu has lived a life with many interesting stories to tell and many interesting students. I would recommend to those who haven't gone too deep into poets if your interested in that. His poetry writing rules are fantastic and I want to have a ghost companion in the future.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Carolyn

    I would place this on a shelf beside The White Goddess by Robert Graves. But then no...maybe next to Allen Ginsberg's Howl? No...next to Memoirs and...yet... Oh well it will definitely go on a shelf of reread withing 5 years. If I'm still alive then maybe I'll be able to decipher it as bio, memoir or text book...Definitely a great and thought provoking read.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kerfe

    Codrescu used the context of a college "Introduction to Poetry" class to ruminate on poetry, people, and life. It helps to be familiar with some of the poets he talks about and assigns to his students, but the expressions of humanity in both words and actions are ancient, continuing, and universal.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Martin Cerjan

    I like the book better the more I ponder it. It is witty, but I did think it was a bit of a mess as I read it. Partly a memoir and partly a tour of poetry and the selected poets who wrote it. I liked the prose--and I laughed out loud.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sorin Hadârcă

    Fascinantă "lecție" mai ales că Andrei Codrescu e din gașcă și-i român și știe el ce știe. Bună de înghițit într-o șezătură și de-l însușit pe autor drept "tovarăș-în-duh" după moda pe care el însuși a lansat-o.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Nate

    This book. It made me laugh.

  23. 4 out of 5

    j.c.

    Funny stuff. A light-ish, witty, and entertaining read.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Shana Brown

    Meh

  25. 4 out of 5

    Pam

    Many of the poetry insights were lost on me, but I still could enjoy the narrative which is centered around the first day of an Intro to Poety class at LSU.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Lora

  27. 5 out of 5

    Tori Lewis

  28. 5 out of 5

    Brett Schwaner

  29. 5 out of 5

    Tracy

  30. 5 out of 5

    thebookmenagerie

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