The Generosity of CAConrad

My first CAConrad reading was at a pizza joint in North Boise, and my future in-laws were there. At the time, I'd only been dating Torin for a few months and was just starting to get to know his parents, who'd come to the reading because Torin was the opening act. His parents had been really nice to me so far, but they also hadn't had time to get to know me yet. They were a nice boy's parents, and I had tattoos and loved whiskey. So I wasn't sure how this was gonna go.

That night, CA read from the first poem in The Book of Frank. In the poem, Frank's father holds Frank immediately after birth, demanding to know where his daughter's vagina is. The book sets up this kind of gender-related cruelty straight away, and also lets us know early that CA, an outspoken queer poet, doesn't shy away from using the c-word as an illustration of how this violence is enacted and also as a source of reclamation and pleasure.

CA is a great reader, the kind who projects. Really projects. And the pizza place was not large. I've been a fan of CA's work for a long time, but it's also weird to hear the c-word so close to someone's parents. Parents who you hope won't dislike you for being the kind of radical feminist who thinks men should pay a tampon tax.* What would they make of this glittery-nailed poet practically shouting about the cruelty of not having a vagina?

But this is the generosity of spirit that is characteristic of CAConrad. Something about them invites people—even those who wouldn't normally do so—to enjoy work that pushes linguistic boundaries and reclaims the kinds of language we're all inclined to reject. I'm pretty sure Torin's parents bought one of CA's books that night. I should also say that this speaks to the open-mindedness of Torin's parents, who are the kind of Midwest-Montana nice that means they secretly slip cash into our wallets when we're in town, even though we're now in our 30s and have real, adult jobs with health insurance.

After the reading, CA invited many of us back to their hotel room (not in a creepy way!) to read for their online series, Jupiter 88. They'd never heard any of our work, just knew that we called ourselves poets. And that was enough for them to include us in a literary series that features poetry monsters like Eileen Myles and Maggie Nelson. It's company I don't mind keeping.

But CA travels and lot and meets a lot of people. So years later, when Torin and I were considering who we might publish next on our tiny, unknown, chapbook press, we figured CA was a long shot. There was no way they would remember us. And even if they did, CA publishes on Wave Books. They're Big Time. Why would they want to give their work to two completely unhip chapbook makers when they could be saving their work for impressive presses?

We sent them an email anyway. It was very sheepish. And their response? Of course! Yes! More exclamation points than I'd ever seen in an email before!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Practically whole lines of !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I'm always surprised by the generosity of the poetry community. As a small press, an itty-bitty-no-clout-or-influence press, we've always found the writers we most admire to be extremely gracious with their work. Nearly everyone has gotten back to us. Almost all have said yes.**

And within an extremely giving community, CAConrad stands out. No questions asked, they sent us a book of their most recent (soma)tic poetry exercises and the resulting poems, which (shameless plug) includes one of my favorite of their poems "When We Were All/Afraid to Be Ants," which they wrote while observing a line of ants and creating an "ant map" which eventually became the cover of the book. Some of the poems from that chap are in their latest collection from Wave, While Standing in Line for Death, which everyone should buy. The questions in CA's work are as big hearted as they are, about what art can do in the world, in our bodies, and what parts of our bodies participate in art making, and their (soma)tic exercises are brilliant ways to get at those questions.

*Seriously! We spend so much money on just taking care of one bodily function that men don't have to deal with. I did the math once, the average woman will likely spend at least $1,500 in a life-time on tampons or pads.

**Maybe it's because our work will never be worth any money. (Charles Bernstein once talked about how a piece of paper is worth three cents, but if you write a poem on it, it's suddenly worth nothing.) Since there's not much opportunity for capital gain, we might as well share our work in every venue possible. I'm sure that's part of it, but I also think there is something else at work here. Something about the nature of writing poems that opens people up, that makes them see other people trying to crack open the world with language and say, "those weirdos are my tribe and what can I do for them?!" I know I'm a much nicer person when I'm writing poems.

CAConrad will visit Lighthouse for Lit Fest 2018 this June. Click here to apply for a spot in their master workshop.

Genna Kohlhardt grew up in Colorado and left in 2009 to get her MFA in poetry from Boise State University. After graduating, she lived in Washington, D.C., for two years until she could no longer resist Colorado’s charms and moved back to her home state. She is the founder and editor of Goodmorning Menagerie, a chapbook press for poetry and translation and has her own work in Fact-Simile, H_NGM_N, and Strange Machine. She has worked in literary nonprofits and taught creative writing to people of all ages since 2010.