The writer Frank McCourt wrote of his favorite graduate professor, Morton Irving Seiden, “He insisted we should know the literature the way a doctor knows the body.” Andrews seems expert on the combination of literature and the body. She explained the origin of her collection The Book of Orgasms by recalling another professor who told her not to write about sex. As if spurred by the prohibition, Andrews began writing poems such as “Defining the Orgasm” and “The Quest,” which exemplify the repressive society in which her curiosity blossomed: “We must live godly lives. God never had orgasms. Neither should I. I did my best to remain orgasmless, but curiosity got the better of me.” In her poem after Henri Michaux, entitled “The Portable Pussy,” Andrews brazenly asks, “If I have to pick between a pussy and a brain, which will it be? After all, who can choose between the player and his flute?” Andrews weaves humor into the questions she raises whether about sex or politics, the atter of which she examines in Midlife Crisis with Dick and Jane.
recently published chapbook, Dear
Professor Do You Live in a Vacuum? contains humorous questions and answers composed
by college students: “Dear Professor,/ You gave us that problem/ about driving
down the freeway at 60 MPH/ in a VW bug and hitting a truck/ that was driving
at 75 MPH,/ and you wanted to know what happened next…/ I figured the answer
was simple./ Drive a truck from now on.”
When asked whether people can develop or acquire a comic gift, Andrews
suggested that humor can be learned and that reading absurd work may be a good
first step. Humor can coexist with suffering. Part of you, Andrews said, may watch
yourself suffer, and that part can see the humor in suffering.
In The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch’s book on professordom and the joys of life, he reflects on his own path as a learner and turns to the aspirations of his students: “It’s a thrill to fulfill your own childhood dreams, but as you get older, you may find that enabling the dreams of others is even more fun.” In the manner of her own mentors, Nin Andrews concluded the forum as a professor concludes a class: by offering challenging writing assignments such as “write a self-portrait as a recipe” and “write self-portrait as an encyclopedia entry.”
It appears that Andrews has joined her mentor, David Lehman, as an esteemed poet who inspires young writers. As Lehman put it in the Writer’s Chronicle, “We writers have an obligation to both past and future. It is as though we have received the baton and must in turn hand it off to the next runner. It is up to us to keep alive as much of the past as we can and hand it to the next generation of readers and writers.” The past and future were vibrant on Tuesday night, and an eager audience of MFA students was captivated by this combination.
-- Liz Howort