Q & A: American Poetry

Q & A American Poetry: Andrei Codrescu

i'm not sure why i'm even considering this hackeneyed and long-gone-thru theme but it's raining out & my reading of ted hughes' lucubrations just took something out of me, but here are some answers to your chauvinistic cluster:

Are there essential ways in which you consider yourself an American poet?

yes— i walk the walk and talk the talk & the talk came to me from living americans not books, so that their hands & mugs & hips put the english on it.

When you consider your own "tradition," do you think primarily of American poets?

i think of romanian, french, german, english romantics, and americans— in that order.

Do you believe there is anything specifically American about past and contemporary American poetry? Is there American poetry in the sense that there is said to be American painting or American film? Do you wish to distinguish American poetry from British or other English language poetry?

duh. of course there is. the specifics are in the poets, but not all of them. american poetry, film, painting, yes. i certainly distinguish american poetry from all other poetry written in english. the particulars of the american language are not, however, "national" because america is not a nation but a collection of impulses proceeding from a fundamental writ.

Which historic poets do you consider most responsible for generating distinctly American poetics?

whitman, pound, williams, mina loy, gertrude stein, hart crane, louis zukofski, carl rakosi, george oppen, kenneth rexroth, allen ginsberg, gary snyder, robert creeley & television.

What import does regional poetry occupy in your sense of American poetry?

what's regional poetry? what import?

What significance does popular culture possess in your sense of American poetry?

it renews the language. i'll take bart simpson over many of my contemporaries any day.

What about the American poets who lived primarily in Europe (Eliot, Pound, Stein)? What about the European poets who have recently lived or worked in America (Heaney, Walcott, Milosz)?

what about them? the americans who lived in europe found out just how american they were; the europeans who live in america usually find out just how american they wanna be.

Are you interested in poetry written in America but not in English?

now what difference does it make where the poetry's written if it's not in english? lorca's "poet in new york" is not an american poem, not even a new york one. ditto blaise cendrars' "paque a new york." i'm interested in those poems— in french. i'm glad they were written in america but what does that matter?

Are you more likely to read a contemporary non-American poet who writes in English or a contemporary non-American poet translated into English?

i like to read poets but, alas, many are called...what the hell is a non-american poet? do you mean a non-native? an illegal immigrant caught writing poetry? i'm as american as they come and as romanian as they go but when they ask me to put it down i say: american poet. that's because the language i write in is american not english non-american. do i read myself? yes, and celebrate, too. i like this question though because in its pristine stupidity there hides a fear of the barbarians. please, as cavafy said, this would be boring w/out the barbarians. traduttore/traditore, etc.

Do other aspects of your life (for instance, gender, sexual preference, ethnicity) figure more prominently than nationality in your self-identity as a poet?

nationality is a stupid fallacy— it figures only in the verses of neo-nazis— every other aspect matters as much as it matters to one's life, no less, no more— how could something matter more to one's verse than to one's life? who wrote these questions anyway?

Do you believe you could readily distinguish a poem by an American poet from a poem by other poets writing in English?

yes, especially if McDonald's comes up.

What do you see as the consequences of "political correctness" for American poetry?

p.c. is incompatible with the fearlessness required of poets— if the young colts being tamed in our writing programs mind their ps and qs on account of p.c. they are doomed— weren't poets to start with.

What are your predictions for American poetry in the next century?

it will be a sparer domain, but the culture at large will embrace the art in various populist forms; a goodly number of our amurricans will still be read; the multi-media anthologies will occasionally go for the black & white look of the beat & the surreal; helen vendler will be forgotten.

Published 1999.

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