CAConrad’s life manual
The Philadelphia poet CAConrad in interview after interview has made it clear that he not only wants poetry to be his life, he wants his life to be poetry. He articulates this personal mission at length in his latest book, A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon: New (Soma)tics (Wave Books, 2012), and urges the reader to sign on as an active participant.
“Poetry collection” is an insufficient term for this work; poems as poems constitute only a part of it. Yes, A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon is a poetry book, but it’s also a self-help guide, a portfolio of performance texts, a political manifesto and a textbook for a course you will attend for the rest of your life.
“(Soma)tic” (parentheses included) is a portmanteau of Conrad’s invention, a blend of “soma,” an Indo-Persian word for “divine,” and the Greek “somatic.” The essential goal of the (Soma)tic exercises, consequently, is to locate the divine within the flesh.
The 27 exercises of A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon are by turns deceptively simple (devote particular days to eating foods of a single color), cathartic (write down some of the most painful events of your life), transgressive (imagine grotesque ways you will die in 10, 15, 20 years) and virtually dadaistic (build your own marsupial pouch and spend a few hours in it). Your next assignment is to write a poem after the completion of each (Soma)tic.
As someone who has spent most of his life as a serious guitarist, I find the musical aspects of (Soma)tics particularly interesting. In the exercise which calls for eating yellow food on one day, red food on another, etc., Conrad writes that he listened to Bobby Vinton’s “Blue Velvet” for 18 consecutive hours in preparation for his day of blue food. By choosing “Blue Velvet,” Conrad re-contextualized even further a square, middle-of-the-road oldie that was re-contextualized by David Lynch in 1986. Conrad, toward the back of the book, elaborates on the importance of sound to the (Soma)tics in an interview with the poet and scholar Thom Donovan. The interview is essential reading in order to understand the origins, nature and principles of the (Soma)tic exercises.
I’m a poet not a / motivational speaker, Conrad declares in “Myrrh,” the last of seven short poems that follow the second (Soma)tic. I have to disagree with the latter part of the statement. In the early 90s, I attended conferences for my job and had to listen to motivational speakers, each more insipid than the previous one. I can’t tell you how much I wish at least one of them had instructed the audience to go for a Radiant Elvis MRI [(Soma)tic 13] instead of telling us idiotic things like “seize the moment” and “be the captain of the ship that is your life.”
A spirit of generosity informs Conrad’s book. His tacit message to the reader is, “You’re a big part of this, too. Let’s make things happen.”
I had an insight after reading A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon. It’s not enough to be a poet. As a poet, one must aspire to be.