For famous poet, New Orleans is ‘paradise’
Romanian poet Codrescu addresses the people attending the Global Awareness luncheon at viterbo Fine Arts Center . Dick Riniker photo
By DAN SIMMONS | La Crosse Tribune
Andrei Codrescu started his journey in a small Transylvanian town. In 1963, Allen Ginsburg’s poem “Howl” found its way past the Iron Curtain and into his imagination.
“I started to hear the rumblings of a broader world,” he told an audience Monday at the Global Awareness Fund Luncheon at Viterbo University. “It changed our world, turned us inside out.”
Soon, the songs of The Beatles flooded in through the radio and young people’s imaginations expanded across Eastern Europe. Through arts and music, they found solidarity with young people worldwide in the midst of a cultural flowering. And they traveled.
Some came back. Codrescu didn’t.
A generation later, his spare, gravelly voice has found its way into the imaginations of millions of listeners to National Public Radio. In oral essays and poetry, he observes American life through the lens of a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe.
To most, he is “the guy on NPR with a cool accent,” as Rochelle Hartman of the La Crosse Public Library joked in introducing him. But the audience got a deeper look into his life and work.
As a young man, he moved to the U.S. with his mother. He settled in New Orleans. And he began his lifetime task of chronicling the wild, dysfunctional, exuberant global city at the mouth of the Mississippi River.
He views it as a “poet’s paradise,” a place with a long history of catastrophe.
Which, he said, “is why I like it.”
Since the hurricanes, he said, it has become a grand laboratory, a place of profound extremes: government dysfunction and human idealism.
“You can’t get any more complexity than what’s going on there now,” he said.
Codrescu also is working on a film chronicling people’s lives up and down the Mississippi River, from its base in Minnesota to his adopted city at its southern tip.
“The river is still an important part of our national psyche,” he said.
And while he acknowledged that travel has become harder in this age of terrorism and war, he predicted another movement toward global cooperation.
But in classic irony, he said he didn’t see much hope for New Orleans.
“I’m not hopeful,” he said. “I’m not an optimist. I come from Romania. Optimism is not an option.”
Dan Simmons can be reached at (608) 791-8217 or email@example.com.
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