Q&A: CAConrad, Poet and Author of A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon

CAConrad is in the magic business. What he calls magic and what you call magic, however, may be two different things. The PEW Fellowship 2011 winner is the author of several books of poetry including The Book of Frank, Deviant Propulsion, Advanced Elvis Course, and The City Real and Imagined, on which he collaborated with Philly poet Frank Sherlock. Conrad revels in the weird, taking stock of the felt potency of iconic and ordinary things in a uniquely queer way. His next volume, A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon : New (Soma)tics, collects what he terms (Soma)tic exercises, a series of radical steps — later, workshops — for writing poetry designed to return us to our senses in an alienating world. His focus is on the body. As he explains it, “(Soma)tics are the combination of the Greek word somatic (the flesh), and the Indo-Persian word soma (the divine).” Channeling the divine through the body we tap the secret mystic qualities of the everyday.

Our Sharon Margolis spoke with CA over e-mail about the soon-to-be-released book, the impact of music on our brains, and taking back the world.

You have a way of making people feel comfortable — or at least curious — in the realm of the strange. Did you consider including poems you’ve received from other (Soma)tic practitioners in this collection?

I like that you say I make people comfortable with STRANGE! HAHAHAHAHA, I LOVE THAT! Poetry really IS the CENTER of my world! Poetry is in my life every single day! I cannot imagine a day without poetry in some way! But no, I never considered including work by others. I think that I spend a fair amount of time talking about other poets though, mostly my friends. My friends are all over this book, and no one more than Frank Sherlock… When I visit another city my mind is always around THE POETS living there, you know. A map of poets, that’s what I see instead of street names.

In your interview with poet Thom Donovan at the back of A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon, you call poetry your religion. Is it fair to say that the (Soma)tic exercises are a kind of religious ritual?

Yes, I like that you put it that way. The first (Soma)tic poems were in 2005 when I ate a single color of food for a day for seven days. The first day I ate ONLY red foods, and wore a red wig that I found in a dumpster near a beauty academy downtown. This evil drag queen named Shaylee stole it from my apartment, but that’s another story. The exercise was about taking a color into my life, taking the full force of that color into my body and then into my writing. For white I used my boyfriend’s semen to write the number “108” on my forehead, which made my third eye pulse in FANTASTIC ways! OH THAT WAS FUN!

Creativity is the religion, or the permission towards it. EVERYONE is creative, everyone is filled with unused potential for creating.

You held a poetry workshop in Seattle that involved sitting and listening to Donald Byrd’s “Christo Redentor”, a jazz song in which no words are sung by a gospel chorus, and writing out of that experience. You’ve also incorporated songs from Elvis, Philip Glass and “Blue Velvet” into this practice. How does music engage our awareness in a way that words or sensory experience alone do not?

This is a great question. I had been studying Ernst Chladni’s technique of discovering the actual shape of sound. He put sand on a metal plate, then ran a violin bow along the edge of the plate, and the sand vibrated into the shape of the body of a violin. WOW! That just blew my mind! So the shape of sound was something I really wanted to find in SOME WAY in order to expand the concept of (Soma)tics.

Further research led me to the information that when we hear SOUNDS which are NOT LANGUAGE, they go to one part of the brain. But as soon as we hear WORDS spoken or sung they go to the part of our brains that decodes the message. “Blue Velvet” all day long just made my CRAZY! The words were always THERE! But with “Christo Redentor” my day was much richer, like I was able to fall inside the song and have it infiltrate many aspects of the day. I eventually did a (Soma)tic where I listened to “Christo Redentor” nonstop for 108 hours, which is four and a half days.

Certain exercises require you to get naked, others, to plant yourself in a mall or museum in such a way that might lead to an uncomfortable exchange with a security guard. How is awkwardness a form of resistance?

We need to CLAIM this world from the corporate structures! I’m not even saying RECLAIMING it because I was born into a world where the maps were already printed and handed out to all the schools of the world to show all the kids what DOES NOT BELONG TO THEM!

The resistance inside art will only make art stronger, it’s like isometrics of the soul, HAHAHAHA! YES! FUCK ALL THESE bullshit hurdles being put in our way. We must do our best to make this world OUR WORLD, and we can do it through our art.

For someone who openly denies the compulsion to reproduce and worries about the overpopulation of our planet, you seem awfully drawn to the genitals and their excretions. Forgive the obvious question, but — why?

HAHAHAHA! I’m a faggot. And I don’t mean one of these new kinds of faggots that want to join the army and get married either. I’m a faggot of the faggotry schools of yore! Sex is GREAT!!!! And yes there are TOO MANY people on the planet, but I’m not reproducing my DNA and that’s just fine with the rest of the world I’m sure, HAHAHAHA! Hey, I know that I’m living in a world that HATES FAGGOTS, so I’m not out there looking to make everyone LOVE ME! I’m just doing my best to enjoy my life while I’m here. That’s all.

CAConrad reads at Giovanni’s Room Bookstore in Philadelphia (corner of 12th and Pine) with Lonely Christopher tomorrow night at 5:30PM. Read more Philebrity interviews here.