Author of more than fifty books, including novels, collections of essays, as well as quite a few volumes of poetry, Andrei Codrescu is a prolific writer. He was born in Sibiu in Transylvania and moved to the US in the 1960s, first to Detroit, then to New York, where he met Allen Ginsberg and the Beatniks. At that time he didn’t speak much English, but that soon changed – his first poetry book in English came out a few years later, in 1970 (Licence to Carry a Gun).
Since then he has not only written, but also taught literature and poetry at several American universities. In 1989 he took the plunge and returned to Romania, to cover the political changes for American media. That also gave him a chance to reconnect with Romanian poetry. As a result he started writing in Romanian, his third language (after German and Hungarian). However, English remained and remains his main language – and this is the language of his latest poetry collection, No Time like Now.
There is a clear connection, a sturdy bridge linking his first and latest poetry volumes – both are mainly about New York. They are like two sides of the same coin: the troubled late 1960s are mirrored in the equally – albeit differently – troubled second decade of the twenty-first century. (The poems making up No Time Like Now were written between 2016 and 2018.) As Codrescu says himself, ‘Decades later the city has changed and the times are still troubled’. New York is the city of Codrescu’s youth, to which he returns after his time in Romania, the city which becomes the main protagonist of this volume, the city which lives and breathes, has red-hot blood running through its veins, little affected by ‘the hot grease of time’.
‘My farewell party is tomorrow just like my welcome / party which was yesterday. No time at all has passed but fashions / change. Explain that, science, and you can have my testes.’
What Codrescu sees is bitter- sweet, at times hilariously funny (often in a dead-pan way), at others agonisingly sad or even ominous. His poems are also brimming with absurdity and paradoxes, on a linguistic level too. He often takes words and turns them inside out, as if looking for their lining, surprised at what he finds there. He frequently reshuffles them like a stack of cards.
Codrescu is a shrewd commentator on modern life. He is puzzled by social media, by all the ‘tweets’ and ‘likes’, by OSs and Googling; he is saddened by what he perceives as the death of books; he scratches his head when faced with everything gaining its ‘reverse-Ikea’ form:
‘Jesus was lucky with King James who hung all the bad translators. / The Bible is the Ikea of Christianity, more packed than Nietzsche.’
But even when he is acutely critical, he is – to use his own term – ‘not not’ warm and generous …
Reviewed by Anna Blasiak
NO TIME LIKE NOW
By Andrei Codrescu
Published by University of Pittsburgh Press (2019)
Read The Romanian Riveter in its entirety here.
Anna Blasiak is an art historian, poet and translator. She has translated over 40 books from English into Polish and, mainly as Anna Hyde, Polish into English. She is a co-translator (with Marta Dziurosz) of Renia’s Diary by Renia Spiegel. Her bilingual poetry book, Café by Wren’s St James-in-the-Fields, Lunchtime, is out from Holland House Books. annablasiak.com.
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