Interview with Andrei Codrescu
by Richard Edwards
Essayist, National Public Radio columnist, novelist, poet, screenwriter, and editor of Exquisite Corpse, Andrei Codrescu answered our questions about Exquisite Corpse and his recent book New Orleans, Mon Amour: Twenty Years of Writings From The City. Codrescu was born in Romania in 1946 and came to the United States in 1966. He is a regular on NPR’s All Things Considered and a MacCurdy Distinguished Professor of English and comparative literature at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. He has published a vast body of work. For more information about Mr. Codrescu and his works please visit him at http://codrescu.com/. He answered our questions by email.
EWR: It is said that the surrealist method exquisite cadaver is similar to the old parlor game Consequences. Have you ever played that game?
Andrei Codrescu: Never played Consequences, but I’m quite sure that the consequences of writing Corpses are dire. People are transformed, Eros is thrilled. In the mid-60s in New York and San Francisco I collaborated with all the poets I knew. Some of that may have been Consequences. We wrote “classical” corpses, but invented other forms of collaboration as well, from variations on Renga (Japanese linked haiku) to trance epics composed without sleeping until they reached some arbitrary dimensions (like one hundred pages!) I taught students the Way of the Corpse in Baltimore, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans. In the mid 90s in New York at the Drawing Gallery I conducted the composition of a “living corpse” by a large audience armed with magic markers who inscribed a naked man for a full two hours. Is that like Consequences?
EWR: You’ve talked before about how much work it takes to edit Exquisite Corpse, and you have even said that your submissions tripled when you took the publication to an online format. Why did you decide in 1999 to begin publishing Exquisite Corpse online?
Codrescu: The delusion of cheapness and the delusion of ease. Paying the printer became exorbitant. I also thought that anything was easier than pasting, folding, mailing, and licking envelopes. Boy, was I wrong! Online publishing takes even more attention, plus constant monitoring of submissions. We tried a “Corpse Cafe” for a while in real time, but it ballooned quickly into hundreds of topics that couldn’t be managed. The graphomaniacs had a field day, even as the editor collapsed.
EWR: Many academic journals refuse to take online submissions. Why does Exquisite Corpseallow writers and poets to submit so freely to such a prestigious publication?
Codrescu: Many academic journals are not worth either reading or submitting to. The reason they don’t accept online submissions is for fear of encountering material that might upset their world-view. At the Corpse, we keep hoping for submissions that might overthrow us altogether. Unfortunately, the very word “submission” erases all revolutionary potential.
EWR: What submissions do you most enjoy reading?
Codrescu: Craven ones. If you are going to submit, submit wholly. Surrender everything. Unfortunately, writers who submit to online publications are not very different from writers who submit to paper mills. Most writers haven’t yet realized the potential of the internet, the possibilities of integrating sound, images, links, live cams, etc. For that matter, neither have we, the editors. The Corpse only recently, and timidly, began to use audio and video. True, we didn’t have the server space for a long time, but things move fast in pixel land.
EWR: Do you ever get any submissions from Romanian writers?
Codrescu: Yes, many. We published in several languages for a time. We serialized a Mexican novel in Spanish and English on facing columns, and used Romanian and other foreign-language texts. The problem there was proofing: those diacriticals can kill you.
EWR: The landscape of publishing has changed a great deal since 1983 when you started Exquisite Corpse. The internet has created a proliferation of online literary publications.
Do you ever surf the web to read literary zines?
Codrescu: I don’t. I can barely read mine. I like old books. I’m not a natural at this surfing biz — I was born at a time and in a country where you could go to prison for a HANDWRITTEN poem, for chrissakes. You could get ten years for typing some stupid thing. If you actually printed a pamphlet that made fun of the dictator’s chin, you could be executed. I know it’s hard to believe, but printed words still give me a chill. What if somebody catches me reading? I still lock up all my writings at the end of the day, either with a password or in a fireproof safe with an exploding timer device.
EWR: Do you have any words of wisdom for editors thinking about starting their own literary publication?
Codrescu: Make sure you’re young. You can do that by counting how many times you become sexually aroused when you read something in praise of your work. If more than once, you’re young. Secondly, only publish what truly turns you on. Don’t pay old debts by publishing bad stuff. Don’t make a “career” out of either publishing or writing. Use your organ (of dissemination) as an investigative tool into the mysteries of the universe. If you encounter a mystery, make it bigger and more mysterious, to quote Lucian Blaga. Don’t suffer fools and have a sharp cadre of in-house critics.
EWR: What do you recommend editors do to help New Orleans, your adoptive home and iconic American city?
Codrescu: Sponsor a New Orleans writer to your writing colony, home, or institution. Come to new Orleans and become great. Every serious American writer did, from Whitman to me.
EWR: What projects can our readers look forward to from you in the future?
Codrescu: A film featuring the Mississippi River. An epic poem about upstate New York utopias (the Shakers, Oneida, the Mormons). A book/novel called “Channelled Wisdom.”
EWR: Thank you.
Codrescu: De nada.