Three Questions for CAConrad

By Andre Gianfrancesco

CAConrad is coming to Lit Fest this June, and ahead of their visit, we asked them a few questions about the (Soma)tic rituals they've developed, the impact of extinction, and paranormal visits.

Q. Where do your (Soma)tic rituals come from? And what can people learn from them to create their own?

A. Thank you so much for asking.  I have successfully used (Soma)tic poetry rituals to overcome depression after the murder of my boyfriend Earth. I have also created writing rituals using the night sky to design homemade star constellations, another ritual to experience what the impact of hearing the word “drone” has on the human body, and many others from talking with trees, ghosts, translating Shakespeare’s sonnets with crystals, and coping with the destroyed wilderness of our planet.      

First it is essential to point out that all human beings are creative.  Not everyone has kept those skills sharp and intact since childhood. It is also important to say that almost all poets stop writing. I had several hundred peers in the creative community when I was a teenager in Philadelphia. By the time we were in our late twenties, about half of everyone had stopped painting, writing, sculpting. Now that I am in my fifties, it is difficult for me to find anyone my age still making the art they love. It is important that those of us who are dedicated to our creative practices encourage everyone around us to reunite with their creative vital organs.

Our culture is designed to destroy our creativity. The evidence is in how quickly the most conservative legislators cut funding to the arts. It is not so much that they do not believe we need it, it is more that they fear we MAY ALL FIND OUT just how essential being creative is to making up our own minds about the world, how it works, how it can work better, where bridges could be made to combine power between different groups of people. Nearly everyone I met at Occupy Wall Street was a creative writing student, an art student, and I watched them combine their skills and talents every time the police put a new barrier in front of them. Creativity is ESSENTIAL to not just survive, but to thrive! Art funding cuts are always done ruthlessly and are always done out of fear of what is possible among the general population becoming fully literate in their skills, heading everyone toward self-actualization. The power structure much prefers our ignorant obedience, period!

That said, our culture is designed to destroy us creatively in other ways as well, such as the ever growing routines, driven by an increased productive efficiency. I cannot say it enough, that efficiency breeds brutality. (Soma)tic poetry rituals have helped many people build pathways back inside themselves to connect again with their creative core. The tools I teach are tools for life. When these rituals help people create again, they are really showing the way to a richer enjoyment of the day. 

If anyone is interested about the brief story of why and when I first created (Soma)tic poetry rituals, please click here.

Q. Ecopoetics has such a broad and varying definition that it can be difficult to understand. How would you define Ecopoetics and what is your relationship to it?  

A. Ecopoetics is not so much nature poetry as it is an awareness and study of our many different ecologies and a concern for the breaking fabric of those ecologies. I am currently working on a large nationwide (Soma)tic poetry ritual rooted in Ecopoetics titled "Resurrect Extinct Vibration." The United States, a nation with 4 percent of the global human population, consumes 25 percent of the coal, 26 percent of the oil, 27 percent of the natural gas. A World Wildlife Association study shows a loss of nearly 60 percent of all the wild animals on our planet in the past fifty years. In Europe, 75 percent of the flying insects have vanished. Fifty percent of all coral reefs have died. My step into Ecopoetics is to go beyond the study of degraded soil, air and water to include an investigation into vibrational absence. When a species leaves the planet, they take all of their sounds with them: hoof and footfall, flutter, breath, heartbeat, cry, all gone. We of course fill in the planet's devastated wild songs with our din of humanity: cars and other machines, bombs, drones, cellphone and internet signals, and of course, the sounds of the incarcerated animals we allow to live, like the sixty billion farmed animals raised for their flesh, and the billions more for their milk, fur, wool, eggs, crowding in for a new global anthem of the very singular and more orchestrated top predator human species. 

A main ingredient of the “Resurrect” ritual involves lying on the ground with small, powerful speakers playing field recordings of the many birds, mammals, insects, and reptiles now extinct or extremely depleted in numbers within my lifetime. The speakers are placed by my feet first, then are slowly moved up my body, my cells incorporating the sound waves. The altered pattern of our planet’s assembled resonance is my focus. When I was born over half a century ago, my infant cells proliferated on a significantly higher organic, wild vibration than the cells of children being born today. The conversation around generation gaps needs to be expanded to consider this very real fact of cell growth being affected by vibrational depletion of the wild. The “Resurrect” ritual momentarily returns the music of the disappeared back into the air, the body, the land. 

Q. How does the occult influence your poetry? And how can poetry be used to better understand the paranormal or the supernatural?

A. When I give my Occult Poetics talk, half of the poets I focus on are deceased, the other half living, and this is to examine how occult and paranormal experiences and practices of poets in the past show us the way to trusting these same forces are also alive and at work for us today.  When I say "experiences and practices" I really do mean to separate them. Some poets have had a hellish time with occult experiences they never asked for, like Hannah Weiner and Merle Hoyleman, both plagued by spirits who present words or themselves to write and bind the poems. Whereas poets like Jack Spicer almost valorize our connections to the spirit world for writing our poems.

You ask how poetry can be used to understand the supernatural, but honestly I feel the investigation is the other way around. The final ritual in my new book, While Standing in Line for Death is an actual ghost walk-in which was witnessed by multiple friends, including Frank Sherlock. The ghost of Black Mountain College poet and publisher Jonathan Williams. So that is a ritual guided, purely guided by Jonathan Williams. The others are orchestrations of these powers, with a combination occurring in the opening ritual, the one I did to overcome my depression after my boyfriend's murder. In that one, I used a crystal he gave me the last time I saw him alive, and this crystal had been in his pocket for the better part of two years, absorbing his days. It was a library of the man I loved. I would adhere it to my forehead by suspending it beneath a hairband. Then I would swallow a smaller, round, smooth clear quartz crystal, and this would be the worker-crystal whose job was to extract the information from my boyfriend's crystal and embed it into my bones, blood and tissue. It worked, it cured my depression in less than a week, and none of the harrowing symptoms of the depression have returned since. Twenty-seven poems resulted from this healing poetry ritual, and I am grateful that poetry did this to me, changed me, showed me the path back to a healthier, more beautiful way to live.

CAConrad will be teaching two craft seminars at this year's Lit Fest: Occult Poetics on June 4 and Ecopoetics: Resurrect Extinct Vibrations on June 6. CAConrad is the author of nine books of poetry and essays, the latest is titled While Standing in Line for Death (Wave Books, 2017). 

Andre Gianfrancesco is Lighthouse's spring intern.