Exigency in Writing: CAConrad in Providence

by Nicholas DiBenedetto

“A security guard asked, ‘What the fuck are YOU DOING?’ I replied, ‘I’M A POLLINATOR, I’M A POLLINATOR!!’” CAConrad “Security Cameras and Flowers Dreaming the Elevation Allegiance”

“CA Conrad, the Book of Frank on Vimeo” (vimeo.com)
“CA Conrad, the Book of Frank on Vimeo” (vimeo.com)

On the evening of Friday, April 22, I found myself driving a car full of undergraduates to Ada Books in Providence, Rhode Island, where two poets, Brian Blanchfield and CAConrad, would be reading. Running on camaraderie and being familiar with some of CAConrad’s work, we barreled down Route 6 towards the state capitol. We reached the street the bookstore was situated on, a few minutes behind schedule due to a group message fiasco and an incident with a blowdryer, and noticed a car getting ready to depart just outside the bookstore. As the vehicle departed, I pulled into the spot a hair too close, and my side-view mirror kissed the side-view mirror of the car just behind it.

Suddenly, we were parked right in front of a car we’d just nicked, and realized the owner was sitting in the parked vehicle, now exiting and moving towards my window. I rolled down the window and was greeted with “idiot!” I anxiously garbled out something that resembled a profuse apology, and he made a comment regarding my status as a resident of Connecticut. The next few moments were filled with immense discomfort as we stared at each other, inches between us. He turned back to his car, and I rolled up my window, locking the doors. We sat silently until the gentleman departed, U-turning into the opposite lane.

Although frightening, it seemed like an appropriate preface for a CAConrad reading. I was immediately reminded of the ritual “Suspension Fluid Magnificence,” from CA’s book Ecodeviance: (Soma)tics for the Future Wilderness. The ritual consisted of CA pacing up and down a boulevard in Philadelphia, asking the men walking down the street to rate the consistency of their semen. Describing the process of the ritual, CA notes that “(o)ne man grabbed me and THREW ME against a light pole, ‘GET OUT OF HERE YOU FUCKING FAGGOT!!’ How thrilling!!” My experience was, perhaps thankfully, not as extreme.

I’m jumping ahead a bit, however. To better understand CAConrad’s poetry involves understanding CA’s (Soma)tics. Described in the introduction to Ecodeviance, CA describes them as “ritualized structures where being anything but present (is) next to impossible.” CA describes the rituals in the book, and gives readers the poems that resulted from the ritual’s notes. CA describes these rituals as creating “an ‘extreme present’ where the many facets of what is around me wherever I am can come together through a sharper lens.”

For CAConrad, the connection with the present in these moments keep the writer ahead of the mental editor that too often stops the process of writing before it begins or while it is happening. The poems resulting from the notes during these rituals are urgent. Sometimes personal, sometimes political, CA’s work has a certain exigent charm to it that lends itself to an honesty of the moment that this “extreme present” state elicits.

My fellow undergraduates and I entered the bookstore as Brian Blanchfield began reading from a lyric essay from his collection Proxies, recounting his former lovers, and a medical scare. Blanchfield found out that he was diagnosed with HIV, and was forced to confront his previous partners with this fact. The story was intense; the dim lighting settling over the chapbooks and ink drawings hung on the wall, suited the piece’s atmosphere.

CAConrad took the stage (or, more accurately, the front of the room) after Blanchfield. On the heels of such an emotional story involving former lovers, CA related a tragic story of a former lover who was brutally attacked and killed by police, and the messy emotional aftermath thereafter. While telling the story, CA apologized for having to read off of a laptop, explaining that a busy schedule and lots of traveling had left no time for printing out hard copies of pieces to read. Also, CA directed the audience to a video of Mary Wigman’s “Witch Dance” to dance along to on a morning-by-morning basis as a potential ritual.

Alternating between the prosaic descriptions of various (Soma)tic rituals and more lyric poetry, CA had an acute balance of humor and serious emotion. CA’s reading that night included a tirade against surveillance in Philadelphia in a ritual titled “Security Cameras and Flowers Dreaming the Elevation Allegiance,” which included the phrase “FUCK YOU WATCHING US ALWAYS!!” Also included was blowing bubbles to turn children in North Carolina into the greatest queers they could be, even though bubbles only have the power to be bubbles, and CA making a declaration (via poem) that “I love walking on flat surfaces, if mountains were flat I’d climb them all!”

When the reading had concluded, my friends and I were able to briefly chat with CA and get our copies of Ecodeviance signed. On writing, CA stressed to us the importance to stay ahead of the internal editor when writing, to capture that sense of urgency by writing as quickly as one can. Afterwards, we walked down the road to a package store and bought some… packages. On our way back to the car we saw CA walking with a few people to dinner. Upon reaching us, CA said “See you later!” and I fumbled “Later see ya!” back.

At the end of the night, as our designated driver drove us back to campus, I was sitting in the middle seat of the back of my car. I thought about the gentleman who’d approached me earlier and regretted, other than finding some better way to apologize, not taking notes immediately following that extremely present moment. CAConrad’s (Soma)tics and poetry are innovative, and approach writing in an urgent manner that resonates with its results. Rereading through Ecodeviance, I noticed a series of lines from the poem resulting from the security camera exercise, titled “I Want to Do Every / Thing Wrong Just Once.” They seem to resonate with the idea of subverting the internal editor: “will it help to / kill the one who / hypnotizes you? / we can try / we can always try.”


CAConrad. Ecodeviance: (Soma)tics for the Future Wilderness. USA: Wave Books, 2014. Print.

Nicholas DiBenedetto is a senior at the University of Connecticut double-majoring in EEB (Ecology and Evolutionary Biology) and English. He is a member of the LRR 2016 poetry panel.

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