It Was Today: New Poems by Andrei Codrescu is a book of poems divided into three parts. Part One is a collection of poems with a light-hearted spirit. It is whimsical with a childish sense of wonder and playfulness. The poems share a similar voice without any overt theme to bind them. Andrei Codrescu's voice is vibrant. He writes without pretense as he remembers the revolutionary years of Beatnicks and Rockers. He explores sex and fatherhood, takes inventory of his life and paints magical scenes out of the most common moments. Many of the poems are simple snapshots that resonate with meaningful epiphany.
Part Two, titled "Len Li and Weng Li" is a compilation of poems written as letters between a courtesan and a warrior who lived in China around the Mongol Century (1279 - 1368). First published in Exquisite Corpse: A Journal of Life & Letters, they were alleged to be appearing for the first time in English as translated by Codrescu, writing under the nom-de-plume Len Darien, which he used as a pseudonym for the editor of Exquisite Corpse. When a Beijing professor was unable to find the original Chinese texts and wrote an article in which he expressed skepticism at their authenticity, Codrescu admitted to having written the poems himself.
"Len Li and Weng Li" is sensual. The poems are emotionally charged. Codrescu tries to place himself in the mind of Len Li, as she relates obligatory sex with men of the court to her distant lover. Codrescu conjures powerful tension as he contrasts Weng Li's jealous passion with the cold-hearted distance of a warrior.
Part Three contains some longer poems that take a critical look at modern culture. Codrescu explores subjects ranging from aging to consumerism, religion to mass media. Even in dealing with these heavier subjects, Codrescu avoids the heady trap so many poets fall into with overzealous, socially conscious poetry. He chooses his words carefully and keeps his language simple so that his thoughts carry across clearly. The poems are concise and meaningful without pretension.
As a whole, It Was Today is a varied collection that gives readers a sense of Codrescu as a multi-faceted writer. It fits well into a career that includes a diverse range of credits from radio essayist on National Public Radio, award winning film-maker, travel writer, poet and professor. Having heard him on NPR for so many years, it was easy for me to hear his unique accent and acerbic tone when reading his poems, which made them feel all the more intimate. As with his commentary, certain poignant lines continue to echo in my thoughts long after I've absorbed them.