Friday, March 23, 2012

CA Conrad interviewed at "Experience outside norms force disequilibrium"

CA Conrad

imagine tasting

wind through

field of

wheat in


(CA Conrad)

Philadelphia poet CA Conrad is obsessed by a variety of things, not limited to Elvis and macrobiology and a vegan diet. Earlier this year he incurred the scorn (and column inches) of Philadelphia magazine when he showed up at editorial offices and objected to their inclusion of the city's historic annual Mummer's parade on New Year's Day as something Philadelphia could do without.

Not one to rest after battles, this was just the latest in a series of issues Conrad has taken up over the years. A recent interview at illustrates Conrad's wide ranging interests. His developing of (Soma)tic poetry, which is a kind of synaesthesia between word and world, image and involvement, is something new but with some interesting antecedents, including two of his favorite poets: Emily Dickinson and Charles Olson. There is, also, his own unique poetic voice:

some mornings your hair is EXACTLY the way you want it when you wake up and you don't shower to not mess it and you want the trees of Philadelphia to smell EXACTLY who you are sweat and semen of your lover MY GOD IT'S BEAUTIFUL OUT HERE it feels good until it feels superficial and then you feel guilty and if you are lucky you stop…understand guilt as someone else's idea AND YOU GET THE love again

It's a poetic style that accepts as its touchstones Andre Breton as well as Mayakovsky's dictum "Poetry is at its very root tendentious." Here's a brief excerpt from the much longer interview by Thom Donovan, in which Conrad describes the development of (Soma)tic poetry, among other topics. His answers are an instruction manual for other poets to discover "the interconnectedness of all things to bring forth poems."

CAConrad: ... the first formal (Soma)tic workshop—although there was nothing formal about it—was in 2008, but after the first (Soma)tic poem, the one I deliberately wrote as a (Soma)tic poem in 2005, I began a series of collaborations with others to make (Soma)tic poems. A year later I began growing my WAR HAIR, but that first poem, which became seven poems, was subsequently published as (Soma)tic Midge. And I called it "midge" because a midge is a little bug, an insect, and it flies around, buzz buzz annoying.

And I knew that THIS was merely the beginning of some THING and some WAY to SEE how poetry is everywhere. It was liberating to finally trust in the world this way. A poet learning TRUST is essential learning. Trusting the world, trusting the audience. When a poet is verbose in the line it's usually a result of their thinking the audience isn't capable without them. They are, they very much are capable, and the sooner we learn it the better for our poems, frankly.

As for other poets who precede me, who have inspired (Soma)tics, this is a long list, but let me make a few clear. A big one is Charles Olson by way of Jonathan Williams. I say by way of Jonathan Williams because one of my FAVORITE things to do when visiting Jonathan was to get him to talk about Olson at Black Mountain. One conversation that had a deep impact on me was Jonathan's describing a class where Olson instructed them to listen to a piece of music by Dvořák, then RUN across an open field to write their poems where the natural light was better. Olson told them the field and sun would be in the poem.

To me this statement of Olson's wasn't saying the field and sun should make cameos in the poems. This was instead an acknowledgment that the infinite qualities of our world are inherently THERE; they are ALWAYS IN the poems. There is no such thing as NOTHING. Try for nothing and the very cells of your brain hunting for nothing are themselves something. Olson wasn't merely accepting BUT WELCOMING the interconnectedness of all things to bring forth poems. THIS IS WHY poetry is my religion, because it is the place where we are permitted to sit and gain access to our Soma no matter who we are.

But think about what Olson was instructing at Black Mountain that day. You're listening to Dvořák, and according to Jonathan it was AS LOUD as Olson could get it to be. THEN you RUN across a field of grass, flowers, your body involved AFTER the Dvořák melting down your eardrums, THEN there is this light, the light he asks you to participate WITH, to write the poem IN. Run, you must run, through the light, in the light, AFTER the music settled into your bones.

CA Conrad, Baltimore (2011)

It's marvelous, and became windows for me into the ways experience outside norms force disequilibrium. These states not only garner a momentary new set of awareness for the senses, but also present the possibility of changing the structures of thought for entire new ideas and new practices of forming ideas.

When I was a kid I spent many hours along the highway selling bouquets of flowers for my mother. That forced isolation became time for reading and learning under the cloud of car exhaust. Poverty—believe it or not—gave me the opportunity to SIT STILL AND READ! I remember reading NADJA by Breton, and the line "Beauty will be convulsive or not at all" GRABBED ME! Breton instantly made poetry something you taste and smell, TRULY VISCERAL, he brought it to the body. He was saying you have to feel it, actually feel it. I wanted nothing more than to feel it!

When I was fourteen I discovered the poems of Mayakovsky in an anthology at a flea market and liked those a lot. I remember not having the money for the anthology so I bought a little paperback by him instead, How are Verses Made? It had some poems in it, which is why I bought it, but mostly it was this HOW-TO through a political structure, which was interesting but also annoyed me at times. What stuck with me the most was the line, "Poetry is at its very root tendentious." I remember this because I had to look up tendentious, a word not part of the vernacular where I grew up.

When I found the word in the dictionary I thought, "Really? Because a lot of poetry is boring and seems to stand for NOTHING!" At the time I knew I LOVED poetry, but liked none of the poetry we were made to read at public school. Well that's not true as I loved Dickinson a great deal, and still do. Today however I fully embrace this perception of Mayakovsky's, but I had to find it out on my own.

Resisting what is said by others has always been my strategy, so as not to build my life around THEIR ideas. But today I also understand the statement differently, as poetry being something you are willing to stake your life against. Like Breton was saying we must FEEL IT! Because when you do you have arrived inside it, and can truly know it.

Top photo of CA Conrad by Pam Brown at Jacket magazine. Photo at bottom by Justin Sirois from his blog Secondary Sound.

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