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This review is taken from PN Review 209, Volume 39 Number 3, January - February 2013.

Serious Fun andrei codrescu, The Poetry Lesson (Princeton University Press) £13.99

Three quarters of the way through Andrei Codrescu's book The Poetry Lesson, he informs the reader that 'this story is not a novel or poetry, and it's no essay or memoir either, though it mimics aspects of both' (74). But by then he will have hooked his reader or not, and I don't think anyone is at all surprised by his literary caveat. The genre is less important, at any rate, than the delivery, which is an imaginary three-hour lecture introducing his students to poetry. Though less dramatic than didactic, nonetheless Codrescu fashions his talk in a highly theatrical way, almost like an old-fashioned drama; and as with a play, there are intervals to smoke a cigarette, go to the loo, or get yourself a drink. During this 'performance', he takes the skeleton of poetry and poetics and fills it with flesh, organs, and life. His 'talk' encompasses many things, and has many tangents and diversions, a bit like Tristram Shandy here, like Krapp's Last Tape there. His introduction is also Rabelaisian, Swiftian, even a little Aristophanic, though mostly he sounds like a stand-up comedian à la George Carlin or Richard Pryor, humour being a hallmark of both surrealism and post-war American poetry, the foundations upon which this poet's house is built.

Poetry is not a dour subject in the hands of Andrei Codrescu; it is alive and well, ornery, purposeful, irreverent, and annoying, like a stick in the eye. Though The Poetry Lesson is ostensibly a ...


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