I first met Andrei Codrescu when he visted Stockholm last April. His book “The Posthuman Dada Guide – Tzara and Lenin Play Chess” had just been translated to Swedish (Swedish title, “Tzara och Lenin spelar schack”, was published by the 2244 press). And now he came to Sweden again. The 16th of March he spoke at the Umeå Literary Festival, mainly about his dadaist book. The 18th of March he appeared on the Romanian Cultural Institute in Stockholm, and talked about and read poetry together with the publisher Jonas Ellerström, the poet Gunnar Harding (long-time friend of Codrescu) and the actor Christian Fex, who read some of Codrescu’s poems especially translated to Swedish for this evening.
Codrescu, born in Romania, emigrated in his late teens to the US in the 1960’s and is an author, poet and professor of literature. He’s interested in dadaism, avant garde, and most literary things odd, strange and fantastic. That also includes science fiction, eg Philip K. Dick and Wiliam Gibson who he’s a fan of. His dadaism book is a history of that movement full of fascinating details and ideas, and moving into modern concepts like virtual reality, cyberspace and posthumanism.
Here’s more info: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/8846.html and here a snippet from a favourable review: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/apr/10/philosophy-roundupreviews
“Codrescu’s wonderfully surreal and subversive guide tells the story of dada and puts you back in touch with your inner avant gardist. Behind the archly ironic playfulness is a serious-minded plea for creativity
and a revitalised language. This book may damage your career, but it could just save your life.”
The meeting on the Romanian Cultural Institute was about poetry. Codrescu (in English and Romanian), Harding (in Swedish) and Fex (translated to Swedish, by the Institute’s director Dan Shafran) read poetry and then discussed especially the dynamic poetry scene that emerged in America in the 1960’s, which both Codrescu and Harding had experienced first hand. These two poets met in the US in 1968, Harding on a scholarship and Codrescu as a already then teacher in literature. They both took part in the new avant garde literary movement and knew all the guys, Ginsberg, Burroughs, and many more. They talked very much about their friend Anselm Hollo, a Finnish poet who had emigrated to the US in the 1960’s and sadly enough died in January this year. Hollo had been of particular importance to Codrescu and Harding.
They had many interesting stories and details to tell about the flourishing literary scene of those way back wild 1960’s days, which they seemed to have loved. There was a struggle going on between the avant garde and the “traditionalists” that made life more exciting. It was a time of hippies, flower power and very direct interaction. There were many magazines (as in New York) where you could get your poetry published, and you didn’t have to wait for a year – just give it to the editor and see it in print in a fortnight. And in worst case, there were always someone with a mimeograph cranking out an avant garde zine. (It reminds a lot of the goings in SF fandom, in fact !)
In the poetry they read this evening, Harding showed his interest in jazz (he has lived in New Orleans, and himself plays drums; he too has a new book out) and Codrescu played a lot with words on a meta level, something I personally like and it connects to the dadaism book, which is much in the same style. I remember for instance a line saying approximately “…two poems met / but then one of them escaped to an anthology…”. The avant garde and tradionalists used to do their own anthologies, which were totally different. Codrescu even made an impressive impromptu translation of a poem from last year, first read in Romanian, and then in on-the-spot English, a piece written during his 2012 visit to Stockholm.
A very enjoyable, fantastic, enthusiastic evening full of stories and the poetry of life. Despite the Swedish capital experiencing a cold snap.
In fact, next day they’ll have a World Cup skiing competition around the Royal Palace, next door to the Institute. But then, poetry meeting skiing isn’t stranger than the chance meeting of a sewing machine and an umbrella.
Let me add what a marvellous job the Romanian Culture Institute does. It has for many years become known as a golden nugget in Stockholm’s cultural life, connecting Romanian Culture with both Sweden and the rest of Europe. They have fantastic poetry evenings, seminars about modernist architecture, they do historical dissections (eg of WWII and the Holocaust or Ceausescu and communism), they invite Nobel laureates like Herta Müller and Tomas Tranströmer, they had an evening about vampires, many art exhibitions, concerts, everything. Unfortunately, they have recently experienced painful budget cuts, which seems to originate from internal political struggles in Romania and is nothing of their doing. I hope the obstacles can be overcome, and a proof of the Institute’s work to promote Romanian culture is that Romania is the theme of next autumn’s big Book and Library fair in Göteborg.