Columns » Penny Post by Andrei Codrescu

Beach Books & How To Read Them


Everybody's suggesting what books to take to the beach, so here are some more books to take to the beach. Sheri-D Wilson's poetry collection Girl's Guide to Giving Head is a sizzler that will turn heads. Here are some samples: "This is not an angry ballad and bitters are something I take/ The place between the ocean and the warming towel/ Is my only electric shake." Imagine. You're reading this and you look between verses at legs, torsos and buttocks going by. That space is "between the ocean and the warming towel," and this poet will rock your world. (Arsenal Pulp Press: Vancouver, 103-1014 Homer St., Vancouver, BC, Canada V68 2W9, $12.95. Order now.)

Anna Karenina, a new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Penguin, $16). No matter how many times you've read Tolstoy's classic novel -- and I know you have, many times -- it is always refreshing to find these 19th century people as alive as you and I. What's more, the relentless pacing of the Russian master's narrative goes exceedingly well with interruptions from Sherri-D Wilson. For instance: "'Unharness and admit no one,' he said to the porter's question, emphasizing the words 'admit no one' with a certain pleasure, which in him was a sign of good spirits." (Karenin before writing Anna a devastating note on the subject of her unfaithfulness), coupled with "Mister P.M.S./ Post Modern Syndrome/ Is scared of becoming an abandoned Coke machine," (from Wilson's poem "Mr. P.M.S."). Long legs go by, sandy toes, blue bikini. Notwithstanding the Coke reference, a drink that did not exist in St. Petersburg in the last century, that is exactly how Karenin feels. Wilson could be Karenina writing back to Karenin before he writes his letter. How post-modern is that?

Did you say, "How is the new translation"? It's OK. The last one I read left all the French conversation in French because that is how the Russian aristocracy often conversed. In this rendering, they mostly say things in English, and when the French is left in, the translators add, "He said in French." Which is kind of confusing. Sheri-D is not French Canadian, by the way, but she is Canadian, so there are hints of French in her poetry, like sand on your beach towel. For instance: "Trance-dancing and Ohm'ing au naturel," which should not be "naked, in French" when they translate it into Russian.

Of course, Anna Karenina and Girl's Guide to Giving Head are not the only books you should take to the beach. Take also Edible Amazonia: Twenty-One Poems From God's Amazonian Recipe Book, by Nicomedes Suarez-Arauz (The Bitter Oleander Press, 4983 Tall Oaks Drive, Fayetteville, N.Y. 13066. $11. Order now). In this book are honest-to-goodness recipes from the deepest Amazon, such as: "behind a line of trees/ place tapirs, jaguars, caymans,/ huts, pregnant Indian women,/ lepers, parasitic children,/ all the ingredients of a frosting/ for this delightful tourist spot." This is an Amazonian picnic; mix it with Tolstoy and Wilson and your delightful tourist paradise of sand and ocean will triple in thrills.

Finally, if you're still hungry, pack also a copy of Transgender Organ Grinder, poetic stories by Julian Semilian (Spuyten Duyvil, P.O. Box 1852, Cathedral Station, NY 10025, $10), which goes well with the above. For example: "let them in! let them in! these are the days of the poet spy!" I'll say.

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