By Mark Fernquest
Long ago, when I was a youngster in the 1980s, my bookish older brother brought home an unusual literary magazine he’d scored at City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco. It was narrow and long, this lit mag, made of stapled white paper with no real cover, and absolutely packed with avant-garde poetry and experimental prose. It was called Exquisite Corpse: a Journal of Books and Ideas.
At that time all I knew was that in a stultifyingly plastic and soulless time and place, Exquisite Corpse was a literary magazine of notable content and quality, one that superseded my own intellectual ability to fully understand. That situation never actually changed, for what it’s worth— I remain perpetually unable to grasp all cutting-edge intellectual content—but I found out many years later that the experimental lit rag was the brain-child of an internationally famous man named Andrei Codrescu.
Codrescu—American-Romanian poet, novelist, NPR commentator and one-time local Monte Rio resident (1973–1977)—immigrated to the United States in 1966 and proceeded to take the literary world by storm, writing more than 20 books, including two due out later this year, as he rotated through various cities and locales around the country. He also achieved some high degree of notoriety and fame by accruing several literary awards, including the Ovid Prize for Poetry and—twice—the Pushcart Prize, and by publishing work in The New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Harper’s and The Paris Review.
Many not-quite-so-bookish people will recognize Codrescu from NPR’s All Things Considered, where he has been a commentator since 1983 and where many of his essays are now stored in a digital archive. He has also taught poetry and literature at Johns Hopkins University, Louisiana State University and the University of Baltimore.
The New York Times has called Codrescu “one of our most magical writers,” while Lawrence Ferlinghetti said he “creates a craving for the subversive.” It is safe to say that Codrescu has worn numerous creative and intellectual hats during his dynamic lifetime, all of them culture-changing. His latest books, a poetry collection, Too Late for Nightmares, and a fantasy fiction novel, Meat from the Goldrush, are both slated for publication this fall.
Next Thursday, May 5, at 7pm, Codrescu will return to his one-time home in West County to roil the air with a solo poetry reading at our very own Occidental Center for the Arts. Be forewarned: This one-night stand will comprise the entirety of his California tour. Refreshments will be provided and books will be available for purchase. Tickets, which are limited in number, are available for $25 for general admission and $20 for OCA members. To mark the occasion, ticket-holders will receive a poem by Andrei Codrescu in a limited handset letterpress broadside edition of 100, designed and printed by Pat Nolan and Eric Johnson at North Bay Letterpress Arts.
As for my brother’s mid-1980s copy of Exquisite Corpse, it ended up in my possession and now resides somewhere in one of my 40 boxes of books. If I can mine it out by Thursday, I’ll flash it from my seat in the OCA and see if I can get it signed during Codrescu’s brief stopover in our tiny, but magical, corner of the world.