10 Questions for CAConrad
- By Edward Clifford
My last (Soma)tic poetry ritual, “Resurrect Extinct Vibration,” used audio field recordings of animals who have become extinct in my lifetime. The ritual momentarily returned the music of the disappeared back to the air, the body, and the land.
—from Ignition Chronicles, Volume 62, Issue 4 (Winter 2022)
Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
My first poem is from 1975. My mother began making me sell bouquets of flowers along the highway, and it turned me into a reader. Think about that year 1975; absolutely nothing digital in our hands to distract us. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday became many hours of forced isolation for me, and reading was the solution.
One Thursday, when I was at the library getting my stack of books for the weekend, Emily Dickinson wound up in my bag. It was a very memorable Easter Sunday for me after I opened that book. Nothing had ever taken a hold of me quite like poetry, and I was writing poems almost as soon as I was reading them.
What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
Well, I think any writer who has influenced us is part of how we write now. The list is very long, but some main influences have been Emily Dickinson, Audre Lorde, and Eileen Myles. I have read and enjoyed the prose of Audre Lorde and Eileen Myles, but it is their poetry I most want in my life. Also, when I was a teenager in Philadelphia, Etheridge Knight, Sonia Sanchez, Lamont Steptoe, and Gil Ott were the center of our poetry community. These people taught me how to be a poet from the page to the stage. I wanted to be a poet when I was young, and I am happy to say that I succeeded.
What other professions have you worked in?
Whenever this question comes up, I feel it in my bones. I have had many tedious jobs that have wasted precious years of my life: bookshops, coffee shops, and other heinous activities. There were horrible, rude customers who would have been surprised to find out what they deserved. It was turning me into a misanthrope, which is the most boring form of self-annihilation. We will drop dead one day; we must remember this awaits us all when wasting time.
What inspired you to write this piece?
You published a piece from a new (Soma)tic poetry ritual called "Ignition Chronicles." Extinction was my last book's focus, so with this more recent work, I am striving to fall in love with the world as it is, not as it was.
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
I am writing to you from London, and in a few weeks, I will be in Rome where I will be an exhibit in a museum gallery. People can join me throughout the day and evening to build (Soma)tic poetry rituals to write poems together. It is exhilarating and something I have been working toward for years. When I step inside the museum, I do not step out again for a week.
Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
My recent book AMANDA PARADISE: Resurrect Extinct Vibration (Wave Books, 2021), was written while flooding my body with the field recordings of recently extinct animals.
Sound restructures water molecules, and we are 70 percent water, therefore very sensitive to sound. Fruits and vegetables are 90 percent water. I did a (Soma)tic poetry ritual titled "Marfa Poetry Machine in 36 Rituals." One ritual involved infusing my food with the Yoko Ono song, "Yes, I'm a Witch." I placed my food for the day in a bowl next to the speakers. I then covered the food and speakers with a basket. I covered the basket with towels, pillows, blankets, and a thick comforter from the bed then cranked the volume of Yoko's song. It is about digesting music in a new way. As Yoko says, "Yes, I'm a witch, I'm a bitch, I don't care what you say! Each time we don't say what we want to say, we're dying!"
Who typically gets the first read of your work?
If I had listened to all of the unsolicited advice over the years, I would have never written The Book of Frank. We need to be careful about listening to others when it comes to our creative bodies and lives. Even the most well-intentioned friends can destroy a fine piece of art if we allow it to happen. Approval is the enemy. Get therapy, PLEASE! The less we need our poems vetted by others, the better they will be, year by year, walking into the beautiful future of poems we want for ourselves.
If you could work in another art form what would it be?
For me, the bigger question is the relationship between poets and visual artists. Poets are the ugly cousins of the art world. They often treat us like indentured servants, invited to read at art openings and other menial activities. I am an anti-ekphrastic poet. When a painter or photographer asks me to write a poem about their work, I say, "Only if you agree to make a picture based on one of my poems." They never do, so I never do.
Poetry can take up space in new ways. Curator Angela Conant invited me to be part of a show she curated called "Boy Box." I suggested printing my poem "MEMORIES OF WHY I STOPPED BEING A MAN" on the wall. She went further and brilliantly printed it on 6-feet of chiffon to dangle it from the ceiling. It is time for poets to step up together, for one another, for a new future of poetry and art. If we poets speak up for ourselves and say what we want, we can often make it happen.
What are you working on currently?
The series of poems connected to the new work you just published. Part of the (Soma)tic poetry ritual involves watching the sunrise in a different country each day on outdoor public webcams. Some of those cameras are linked here.
What are you reading right now?
I am reading terrific new poetry by Luke Roberts, Divya Victor, Kay Gabriel, Mira Mattar, Peter Gizzi, Jane Goldman, Andrea Abi-Karam, Nadia de Vries, and many others. One book I have been waiting for for years just came out: COLLECTED COMPLETE POEMS BY ILIASSA SEQUIN (Grey Suit Editions, 2021). In 1995 we read together in London for the Mad Cow poetry anthology, and I fell in love with her poems. Sadly, Iliassa died a few years ago, but her husband Ken Sequin beautifully published the poems she worked on her entire life.
CACONRAD has been working with the ancient technologies of poetry and ritual since 1975. They are the author of AMANDA PARADISE: Resurrect Extinct Vibration (Wave Books, 2021). Other titles include While Standing in Line for Death and Ecodeviance. The Book of Frank is now available in 9 different languages. They received a Creative Capital grant, a Pew Fellowship, a Lambda Literary Award, and a Believer Magazine Book Award. They teach at Columbia University in New York City and Sandberg Art Institute in Amsterdam. Please visit their website.