Columns » Penny Post by Andrei Codrescu

News of a New Industry

The Codrescu Poetry Combine took to the streets of New Orleans two weeks before Mardi Gras and penetrated deep into the psyche of the city through the media of some of its most distinguished inhabitants. The Combinators, consisting of LSU writing students Colleen Fava, Robert Bloom and Megan Volpert, as well as producer Larry Massett from Washington, D.C, met at Croissant d'Or and laid out plans for the next two days. They identified "interview targets," readied notebooks, tape recorders and cameras, and wrote a preemptive collective poem called "exquisite corpse." This poem, obtained by writing spontaneous lines, gave directions to the nature of the Combine's work. For instance: "running through the channels in our naked/brains spilling out her ears onto her shoulders/mixing with raven black hair/strawberry tipped and snow-white wrists/kissed by thousands of lepers." At the time of writing this, the Combinators had no idea what those things meant. But as the day unfolded, the meanings became apparent. In its first foray, the gang tagged along with poet Paul Chasse on a tour of St. Louis No. 1 Cemetery and learned through Paul's forcefully poetic and factually chilling presentation that people with strawberry-tipped raven black hair were buried there, along with people of varying skin color, and that the mestizo reality of New Orleans was often engulfed by epidemics such as yellow fever and that "lepers" were indeed not uncommon. A brief post-tour interview with guide Chasse revealed that he had channeled the deep roots of his own history through intuitive investigations of his own house and family. For the next two days, the Combinators explored the minds of Dave Brinks, poet and owner of the Gold Mine Saloon and founder of The New Orleans School for the Imagination; GiO, the burlesque queen of New Orleans; Dr. Bob, the folk artist who recycles signs into colorful works of mysticism; and Woody the Lucky Dog man in Jackson Square who wrote 100 copyrighted songs. From Dave Brinks, they learned that poetry is not about process but actual news produced in dreams and tested by reality; from GiO, they learned that literal flames tattooed to erogenous zones maintain the libidinal strength of the city; Dr. Bob provided them with a model for transforming reality into a chromatic cornucopia, and he hipped them as well to the nocturnal uses of a slingshot aimed at rude targets; and from Woody the Lucky Dog man, they received the practical knowledge that the greatest efforts of poetry will not ensure a decent living to the producer. After each exploration, the gang met at suitable venues such as a Decatur cafe where three hookahs sat on a low table and at Molly's Bar and wrote more exquisite corpses, as well as original poems provoked by their interpretation of the experience. At the end of their two days of work, the Combine produced three corpses, 10 poems and 10 hours of audio tape that, when edited, will air on National Public Radio in April, poetry month. Since then, several Combines were formed in different cities by other poets, and they are now sweeping through these burgs, milking poetry from the vast deposits found there. To support Combine activities in the future, the Combine Corp. Inc. will sell shares and is planning to go public on NASDAQ on May 1, International Workers' Day, and thus, perhaps, end the perennial penury of poets.

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