To follow is the transcript of an email interview I conducted with CAConrad re his book of poems, "The Book of Frank"
Here's the Bio CAConrad provided to me:
CAConrad is the recipient of THE GIL OTT BOOK AWARD for The Book of Frank (Chax Press, 2009). He is also the author of Advanced Elvis Course (Soft Skull Press, 2009), (Soma)tic Midge (Faux Press, 2008), Deviant Propulsion (Soft Skull Press, 2006), and a forthcoming collaboration with poet Frank Sherlock titled THE CITY REAL & IMAGINED: Philadelphia Poems (Factory School Books, 2010). CAConrad is the son of white trash asphyxiation whose childhood included selling cut flowers along the highway for his mother and helping her shoplift. He invites you to visit him online here and also with his friends at Philly Sound
Scroll down to the bottom of this interview to see a picture CAConrad provided.
RK: Please tell us about the history and making of "The Book of Frank." I read somewhere on the internet (and by the way I really like your network of blogs) that the book (or a version of it) was ready in the early to mid 90's. Can you talk about this delay? Did you continue to work on the manuscript or did it just sit? How early on, also, did you know that the poems you were writing were going to be part of a full-length collection? How much co-opting of other poems took place as you organized and edited? etc, etc. Anything you'd like to share here would be much appreciated.
CAC: Thanks so much for this interview, I really appreciate it. The truth is I've been writing these poems all along, and the book contains 75 percent of poems written in the past 5 years. But 25 percent from the past 15. There are about a thousand of these poems now.
It's important to just COME OUT AND SAY that they are past life poems. Little levers from the corrupt miles of travel. HOW TO TRICK THE UNIVERSE when we die though, to KEEP the information for when we reincarnate, THAT'S THE TRICK. I mean, HOW do we REMEMBER we were poets, and pick up where we left off, that's the real thing. Some would say, "Well maybe you'll come back as something more useful." NO WAY! Until WAR and GREED are explained to be useful I will write my poems, and have NO GUILT in their construction, hovering over them with some of the love that war and greed intend to destroy.
THE BOOK OF FRANK is a piss in the holy water. And while it IS from the past lives, it's not an explanatory set of poems, it just IS the levers. My book coming out in June from Soft Skull Press, ADVANCED ELVIS COURSE is the explanatory note. The reincarnated Souls of Atlantis have a larder of special psychedelic snacks in store before the horrors being faced seem totally unanswerable. Elvis, He is He and dripping with unrepentant, unapologetic LOVE!
RK: Much can be said (and some of it has already been said) about the book's wildness, bible-throat-cramming, violence, sex, etc. But one thing that really struck me is the magical quietness that rests at the book's core, and which radiates through all of it, really. This Zen-like quality I'm talking about is present not only in what you say but how you say it. The book's last poem is, to me, pretty much a Death Poem (though in the 3rd person) and the next to last poem shows Frank as "a/young boy/asleep in/ancient/Tibet" and the reader's life is "really his/dream." Early on in the book (pg. 24) Frank eats around the "sleeping worm/of the apple" which is "magic." And when I say "not only in what you say but how you say it" I am referring to the clean, clear spring-water and willow-tree form of the poems themselves. The Japanese-like brush stroke phrases. Many of the poems, to me, have the feel and movement of Haiku. Could very easily be reworked into Haiku. The poem on page 88 is perhaps the most prominent of the many poems that struck me as Haikuesque (quoted here in entirety)
Your thoughts on this, please.
CAC: Thank you so much for your thoughtful, close reading. Yes, it's surreal haiku-esque. But surreal in the best sense, meaning Super Real. Too often people understand surreal to be fantasy. It's NOT. But back to you asking me to respond to what you say. Editing is my passion, second to the original writing of a poem. Editing, preening, pruning, often pruning deeply, even if it draws blood. This particular example of May flowers was so bloated at first when the IDEA of the poem originally smote me, and smote me hard. At the time it was May and I had just had FANTASTIC sex with a boyfriend, and he went back to work, and I was sitting near a patch of flowers outside when Frank entered my consciousness the way he always did. But it was bloated, I mean a runny sloppy coil of verbosity at first, the poem. Chipping away, after hacking into it, was this, this lithe magic waiting to come out. Sex had everything to do with it.
Magic has more to do with it. As you point out Frank pointing out. Yes, the worm, letting the worm live, eating AROUND the worm. Humans must more than ever RISE UP and surprise ourselves with our many possible generous gestures, and we MUST, must must must. We need to let music seep through. Magic is real and magic is more apt to designate us for stillness when faced with a choice to kill.
RK: More on the surreal (Super Real). When I heard you read in Philadelphia a couple of months ago some of the Frank poems made me think of Russel Edson's poems. I mentioned this to you afterwards and you gave me a puzzled look and said something like "O, no. Kafka's much more of an influence." In preparing for this interview I've read through the Book of Frank 4 or 5 times (a pleasure, a real pleasure) but I can't really see the Kafka link (or shadow, ghost, etc) but many of the poems still seem to be quite Edson-like. Can you talk a bit about the Kafka influence? And Edson (or No-Edson)?
CAC: HEHEHEHEHE! Puzzled, I looked puzzled? OK, that's quite possible. Edson's great, yes. I don't know what else to say, except that, when Jonathan Williams first contacted me about publishing THE BOOK OF FRANK he turned me onto Edson. He was surprised that I had never heard of him, said I MUST read him. But my work was already well underway before every hearing about Edson. Jonathan Williams also liked to equate THE BOOK OF FRANK with the Carl Sandburg masterpiece ROOTABAGA TALES, which, is nothing short of A TRUE HONOR! I mean HOLY SHIT, really? Because those stories are classics!
Kafka was my first love. There is no other writer I would go back in time to rescue. The rest of them would just have to suffer. Kafka's bones, where are they kept? Who keeps them? These relics. More than most things on this planet I would like to be with Kafka's bones when the chill descends on our communities. I'm NOT usually a cannibal, but Kafka is one man I would have loved to have eaten after he died. Just a little morsel, just a teeny bit of him. Like, oh, I don't know, the tip of an earlobe dipped in soy sauce and sugar. MMmmmmmmm! MAKES ME WANT TO FRY A POTATO AND PRETEND IT'S KAFKA'S EARLOBE!
YES, YES, I KNOW, I KNOW, I KNOW, cannibalism is a NO-NO! But I'm unable to help myself. Powder his dry bones for a bit of magic snuff? MAYBE have the doctor replace my shin bone with HIS shin bone? Oh dear, it doesn't end in me, the many possible excitements of Kafka's body. He's so HOT! NO OTHER writer ever turned me on as much! And that's a little sad maybe. ALTHOUGH let me tell you I dated a man who looked EXACTLY like Kafka once. And dated him because of that, of course. That was such an awful experience, probably as awful as dating the real Kafka would have been.
It's a HORRIBLE situation, knowing FULL WELL that I was born decades too late to see him, feel him, court him, FUCK HIM. He's probably glad too, if his spirit could ever read this. I'm not sure I wouldn't scare him off, but that's the risk I guess. But it kind of irritates me that my parents were SO STUPID to have me too late in time for me to meet Kafka. I think about suing them every now and then for this RECKLESS, selfish act of neglect! OH, but what's the use!? Judges always side with the parents, right? Even when it's PERFECTLY CLEAR AS IN MY CASE THAT THEY WERE EVIL AND WRONG!
RK: I'm not very familiar with Berryman and his Dream Songs (I've only read a handful of them and listened to a couple on Poetry Speaks- God, he's an interesting reader!) but I was intrigued by a couple of poems in the first section of Frank (pg 29-30) where Frank engages with "Huffy Henry sulking in a dream song." Here are the two poems in their entirety:
Frank met Huffy Henry sulking in a dream song
and zapped him
with the miniaturizing gun
Henry was kind of small anyway
Frank decapitated the
old boy with a pinch
tied his body on a
stick for a slingshot
and sent the little fucker's
screaming head up to
the great knee of Orion
"come any closer" Frank
warns Huffy Henry
"I'll pull you in
anyone wants to know
the lump is just a
meal I'm digesting."
As I said, I've read very little of the Dream Songs so I can't venture a guess as to why Frank (a part of you) would treat Henry (Berryman) with such disdain and violence. Or am I off base and Frank's just being playful/mischievous? Your thoughts, please.
CAC: Huffy Henry deserves it alright! Well, I'm just not happy with Berryman as a human. Suicides make me nothing but angry. Experience in despair for the loss of these lovely people can do that, and has done that to me. This planet is the BIG GAME BOARD and those chickens who check out too early are a gargantuan nightmare that complicates the rest of us trying to keep steady feet. Berryman was a fucking idiot, he and his mobster CONFESSIONAL POET friends, all of them suicides! Ah, fuck their cliche-ridden extortionist tactics of fake praise for life! I hope he comes back in his next life as a figure skater. Give him a little pizzazz, something to give him balance and JOY. Sloppy drunk, suicidal, suicided poets give the BIG GAME BOARD a tip in the stupidest direction. IF EVERY sloppy drunk were a poet, MAN OH MAN would this world be a basket of TNT! What we need from suicides is for them to find their strength, because I'm tired of feeling the guilt frankly. None of us deserve that from them. Love is no good answer, you can love them with all you've got and it still goes down.
RK: Over a 1,000 Frank poems! Wow! Getting that down to a 100-odd must been quite a task ("Editing, preening, pruning, often pruning deeply, even if it draws blood.") It's quite useful to the reader that the Book of Frank is organized, by and large, chronologically. (I- Young Frank. II- married, sad and "emerging" Frank. III- Like a God, suicide Frank.) But what I really enjoyed, and what really impressed me, is the richness and variety of tone in the poems you've selected and sequenced. An example of this is the beautiful and achingly sad poem on page 31 (first half of poem quoted here):
Frank's sister grew long blue feathers
she said it was worse than cutting teeth
she spent a month screaming in the cave
pushing them out
Frank would lie in bed at night
touching his own back
This poem comes just after the altogether different Henry poems. And a few pages later there's a kind of off-hand dreamy Far-Side type snapshot:
a pair of dice
Frank climbed the ladder
to find a five
and a two
he never saw the hand that threw them
swinging down to swoop them up
Can you talk about the sequencing, variety of poems selected, and any details of the whittling down of the book that you'd like to share (I am sure that on a manic day, Frank, the book, could be every bit of the 1000 poems)?
CAC: It makes me happy you like the book. Makes me very happy indeed. Many of these poems CAME TO ME in different ways. Recently I did a conversation with poet Brenda Iijima on DIRT (first published in ON, now online with The Wild Mag), and I talked about eating dirt with my boyfriend Robin, and how eating that dirt literally created one of the Frank poems. I woke up rather violently with the poem in total.
There were just too many of the Frank poems, and many of them no good. There were some though that I wish I had added when I think back on the choosing process. Here's one left out of the book:
kiss Frank's brow in
This is one that Jonathan Williams didn't like, and I guess I listened to him too closely about it. The truth is though it's born out of a rejuvenation of the spirit of being here, loving this planet. Allowing the dirt and it's plants to say HELLO with their quiet loving manners.
This is one that got away. But now it can live on your website, so that's nice. But you can see at the same time it doesn't have the impact of the ones in the book. It's good for poets to write all the time, write write write, write every single day. And to STAY AWAY from novel writing. Poets and novelists should be mortal enemies in my opinion. Novelists who try their hand at writing poems always IMPROVE their novels. But generally speaking, poets who take to writing novels probably wind up writing good novels, but it often ruins their poems forever. There are only a few poets who write novels whose poems are as amazing as their poems are, and who continue to write beautiful, strong poems. Prose destroys the world.
RK: The Book of Frank is indeed a piss in the holy water (by the way I love the poem on page 33. "every churchtop crucifix" etc. maybe my favorite.). Yes, definitely, a piss in Holy Church Water. But Frank is also a piss in the holy water of all large and almost (sadly) inevitably xenophobic grouops. Lynch-mobs lurk in all nice quiet communities. When Frank's house burns down
his neighbors circled around him
"you will lose everything
you love today
But in spite of this all, and his outbursts of violence, Frank still manages to fill with love: "'they're waiting/ for me' he said/tears filled his eyes. 'good people/waiting/just for me.'" And here I can sort of see the Kafka comparison in that Frank is helpless against the large, cold machinery of humanity. Your thoughts on Holy Water,etc, please?
CAC: The circling mob and Holy Water have many links. Not that pagan cultures were peaceful (they invented war), but there were places in those cultures for us that have not existed in our Christian, Jewish, Moslem world where we CONSTANTLY seek fresh air to keep the lungs working. These modern and increasingly academic explanations of gender and sexuality for instance are attempts to build general acceptance, but by intellectualizing instead of actualizing. Most pagan cultures didn't need Queer Theory PhD programs, they already understood the value of multi-gendered, mixed-gendered beings. As a child Frank had crows for hands, crows being THE SOURCE for weighing the divine and human laws, always opting for the divine. Divine not as in Holy Water. Holy Water has as much lurid splash to the palate as a toilet drained into a jewel-encrusted goblet. Mother HATED Frank's crow hands. Mother was a Christian, his crow hands were nothing but dirty, and she was never sure if they were clean or not, and assumed the worst. Our TOTAL intolerance campaign against our bodies has controlled us with precise church and governmental enforced measure FOR CENTURIES! We have been working hard on our extinction plan.
RK: Gay-Drag-Frank emerges sometimes and somewhat in this The Book of Frank. But poems like pg 109 do not take over the book. Fyi, that's one of my favorite poems in the collection. Maybe I like it more than page 33. I've read it over three times while i've been phrasing up this slowly emerging question. Damn it's good. Okay, now it is my favorite. And here it is.
Frank added milk to the
instant Cowboy Mix and
herded himself into
the living room
the cowboy rode him slowly
around the TV playing a
when this was finally too
sad and boring
Frank ignored the warning label
and stirred a few more cowboys
his wife came home
to find him snoring
tied naked to the ceiling
bleeding from the rump
with a smile on his face and
a fresh brand upon his thigh
So, can you talk a bit about the overtly and brightly-feathered Gay-Drag Frank poems and why, in a way, they're a bit of a minority in the book? I'm guessing you didn't want too much spice in the broth. Didn't want those poems to take over. But didn't shy away from them either. Respond as you wish. Of course.
CAC: Frank sublimates and achieves desire through his own progression of anxious, personal napalm. To be honest I didn't choose Frank to be mostly straight, he chose that. And that is not my life. I've never been near a vagina, not even at birth as I was a C-section baby. But at the same time I LOVE vaginas and have seen many of them in person in many capacities. I'm just not interested in having sex with one, or in having one of my own. If I could replace my cock with an ice cream cone I'd be perfectly content. But Frank is Frank's own Real Fiction, to answer Bernadette Mayer's question on the back of the book. My past lives as a straight man, a fag, a thief, hermaphrodite, mother of twelve, none of it can be denied, and none of us should deny who we've been. When the courts finally get a grasp of past lives and past life regression techniques we will sure enough see lawyers lined up to make us pay for all we've done. Karma is a quagmire of opportunity in a REAL modern sense just waiting to be exploited. Frank reincarnated as a goldfish his wife fed to her piranhas named after my own childhood bullies.
But Frank getting fucked by the cowboys, yeah, sure, why not? His ass was bleeding because he's not a pro, and he didn't seem to mind, in fact he was more than pleased with the whole affair. They branded him, and that shit never goes away. The branding iron gives you something to touch and remember when you need a little pick-me-up.
RK: So, you want to eat and fuck Kafka. Interesting. What other writers and artists and great or not-so-great men or women would you like to get a hold of (in bed and/or at the dinner table, or kitchen floor, or phone-booth or bathroom stall, or boardwalk, or alley, or flower bed, or field of corn, wherever, wherever, wherever)? Madonna, Faulkner, Genet, The Bee Gees, Prince, Ghandi, Margaret Thatcher, Pink Floyd, Ryan Eckes, Angelina Jolie, Catullus, Dan Quale, The Moody Blues, Van Gogh, Renoir, Hitchcock, Will Smith, Mozart, Ron Silliman, Ron Silliman's father, etc, etc? (I'd like here to remind you that in the lead-up to this interview, the foreplay if you will, you said you planned on answering questions with "the most insane part of (your) brain." Well, I think you've been holding out on us. I think you've been circling towards that most insane part. Made some runs at it. But, ultimately, have kind of shied away. Ha, Ha. Could you try now, please, to break with almost, almost, almost all of reality's strings and hinges and really engage the core, slop and all, of that "most insane"
part of your brain?)
CAC: The Moody Blues? I'm feeling vomitty. Prince, I mean who wouldn't?
Kafka is my only true love. My dance card is full. I mean being a fag has its advantages. Straight people think we're pigs, and they're right, I mean, fags are men after all, right? If women would fuck straight men as easily as men fuck men no one would question it. The straight men who call us pigs are just Haters. Lesbians are the coolest bunch in my opinion. Lesbians are the only ones OUTSIDE the consumption of men and don't give a fuck. Lesbians are a universe straight men think about but have no real clue. Well, it's all generalizations here of course, right? But I've had more lesbian friends than any other group, and working class lesbians mostly, and I can tell you from watching them punch one another in the face at the bars that they're not perfect.
Have I really been holding back? Ryan Eckes is in your list, and he's a good friend, and straight. I don't like fucking men I like, I prefer fucking men I don't like, it's far more fun. Fucking is our way back to pagan relief after all, right? Fucking and sex are the things boring poets like Louise Gluck snarl at. SEX is our best point of making it right again. SEX is how we get to enjoy ourselves if we give it a go. SEX is the absolute reigning champion of all we have at sharing instances of light. I've had "serious" relationships, but they were always open, which was the best way. I mean shouldn't you have sex with someone if you both want to have sex with one another? We spend SO MUCH TIME on this Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah Blah crusade of WHO IS CHEATING, and WHY are they cheating? Cheating? I think the person being cheated is the person who DOESN'T have sex with someone they want to have sex with at any given time frankly. THE ABSOLUTE WORST THING IN THE PRESENT TIME is this bullshit of queer people wanting to give respectability a shot. AH! NO! HOW degrading! I came back to Earth this time to HAVE FUN having sex and taking it all the way and now I have friends saying that I have a fear of commitment. I'm now in the mood to just say Yes, I have a fear of being miserable like you, OK? Eliminate the whispers, just shut the fuck up and have fun. Why is fun so hard? We're all going to die. It's a terrible TERRIBLE fact. I LOVE being American because although queers are murdered everyday here, we have places we can live and not have our heads chopped off in public through the wishes of religious-governmental decree. Being queer in Saudi Arabia must be the worst thing. Or Amish in America for that matter, as I've met queer Amish who were shunned because they wouldn't conform to straight Amish ways. It must be awful being a dyke or a fag if you're Amish. And JUST IMAGINE being Amish and being transgendered, wow, that's just too much horror to put up with to even imagine! I'm so glad my white trash family was too busy with their selfish addictions to care to make me conform. There is NO freedom like the freedom of NOT being asked to be someone you have no desire to be.
Autonomy is possible in poetry. Novelists are slaves.
(photo by Janet Mason)