• Salubrious Rights with CAConrad • 29.09.18
Updated: Dec 14, 2022
Alexandra Pereira meets CAConrad
I'd heard their name before. But not their voice, or poetry, which was to be discovered at Louisiana Literature Festival, on a sunny Friday afternoon during a freak, hot Danish summer. Post-event, I caught up with their catalogue of online material, teeming with spells and rituals nestled within the stanzas...
Most of the portraits taken of authors at this year's Louisiana Literature Festival look like stills from a Terence Malick film. Thanks to astute photography and an obscenely ethereal setting, on the North Sjælland coast at Humlebæk, just north of Copenhagen. A sprawling contemporary art museum with a sculpture park and surrounding forest and sea, Louisiana Museum is quite a place… it has a forest, surrounding meadows. It even has a swimming spot. From Thursday to Sunday one weekend in August, upwards of forty authors from all over the world congregated on neat lawns on pristine stages.
Before the inaugural 2010 festival came some notable literary moments. Throughout the 80s, Louisiana gave Eastern European renegades a platform from which to speak freely of their writings, and Nordic poetry days have been held here since its 1958 opening. In 1992, Salman Rushdie made his first public appearance since the notorious fatwa.
Even when it pours down during Anne Carson's highly-anticipated Friday night performance and people are hurriedly ousted from the gangways of a marquee, people are ambling about smiling with plastic tumblers of wine as a heart rendingly heavy gold moon hangs in the sky, reflecting on the dark waters.
Earlier in the day, though, I am stopped in my tracks by the loud voice of CAConrad (b. 1966), a poet influenced by Emily Dickinson and Eileen Myles; the latter a close friend and champion of theirs. Conrad is, it transpires, their dog sitter. I sit down in the third row of their reading and become engrossed in the poet’s teachings of their writerly sorcery, rituals within poems that are recited and explained in a matter-of-fact manner that bears zero bombast. They construct passages that are often short, powerful, hilarious. During this conversation, led by a young Danish writer on the modest Villa Stage—which sits in front of trees in the main garden of Louisiana—they recall countless road trips across the States and intensely sombre real-life anecdotes that have been crafted into poignant poems for While Standing In Line For Death (2017). All work and messaged are delivered, shared, with what can only be described as fantastic humour. The celebrated poet—all glittery nail polish and coloured headscarves containing powerful crystals—spotlights moments and reflections from a dogged past and a messed up political future all the while expressing a zest for life, nature, their nation—and crystals. I was fortunate enough to write with CAConrad following the festival.
Alexandra Pereira: Have you been to Denmark before?
CAConrad: Only for the long eight-hour layovers in Copenhagen when flying to Norway. I would take the train into the city, but this trip to the Louisiana Festival has been my longest time. My family has lived in the United States for many generations, but my ancestry is Danish and Irish. It was on my mind of course at the festival, especially looking out to sea, thinking of the first of my family who bravely decided to leave for America for what they thought would be a better life. Was it? I really don’t know. Like many American families my family from the first or second generation wanted to forget the past and move forward, so we know very little about the people we came from in the old country.
AP: What do you like about Louisiana?
CAC: Everything! The trees, have you spent time with the trees around and very close to the museum? They are extraordinary! I was so confused because the building is relatively new, but the trees are clearly quite old. When I asked someone working there they explained that the architect built in such a way to not disturb the trees, to protect them and keep them involved in the structure of the whole museum. I appreciate that, and have tremendous respect for that decision. Never mind the fact that that decision seems completely foreign to me, coming from the US where developers have no respect for anything except the market of real estate, shitting and clawing their way across the country for the sake of money and nothing else.
There is a Louise Nevelson sculpture at the museum, either on loan or part of their permanent collection, but it is one of the most brilliant objects. I am a huge Nevelson fan and was so excited to see this piece on display. There are twenty seven different dimensions I could calculate, but maybe twice as many or more. You can spend hours with her work, look at it day after day and still find a new space inside yourself to explore.
Currently they have an exhibition about our planet’s moon. I am happy to have been interviewed about the moon with other writers from the festival.
AP: Pariah Press is an independent press with offices in Manchester and Copenhagen. Is there any British or Danish literature or poetry—classic, contemporary, anything—that's of particular importance to you?
CAC: Inger Christensen is marvelous, she was a genius! She died in 2009 and I am very sad I never got to hear her read in person. “I always thought reality / was something you became / when you grew up.” These are the stanzas that turn us inside out, provided we are interested in ruminating, allowing the force of her words to enter our lives. She constantly gives us new avenues into ourselves.
I wish I knew Danish because I would love to read Casper Eric‘s poems. A friend translated some lines to English while reading aloud and it was marvelous! I feel very fortunate that Line Kallmayer translated my book The Book of Frank into Danish, and that Rasmus Graff published it on his OVO Press. Line’s translation is more, it is a collaboration, it is her writing, not just mine from the original English. She is an extraordinary writer. Do you know her book Ten Days With an Exorcist? OH and her new book Bird will do things to you, well, let’s just say, you will never forget it, in fact you will be unable to forget it.
Sophie Robinson, Colin Herd, Nat Raha, Richard Scott, Calum Gardner, Jane Goldman, Jo Mariner, Jamila Johnson-Small of Last Yearz Interesting Negro, the UK has some of the greatest poets alive right now, meaning poets who will completely change the way you thought you knew the world.
AP: 'Fell forward, fell conjuring...' there's a wizardry to your writing. When did you start linking crystals and witchcraft to your writing practices? In fact, when did you become such a dedicated witch?
CAC: The first crystal that I worked with was when I was a teenager in Philadelphia. There was a New Age transgender goddess witch named Peppy we young queers went to for advice, for tarot lessons. She had a dildo made of lapis lazuli and she convinced me to insert it into her anus while she sang, to loosen her voice, to find another frequency as she put it. Lapis has a long history as a stone to enhance and protect the throat chakra, among its many other metaphysical properties. At the time Peppy was trying to improve her singing voice, but to be honest, as much as I loved her, she was just awful at both singing and song writing, but she loved it and I wanted to help. She was a treasure, at least to me she was, and when she died of AIDS there was a terrible missing space in the city that was quite frankly never refilled.
In 1988 I went to my first pagan gathering, called Starwood. It was the community I most wanted to find, and at first for very practical reasons, like learning about how to best prepare and use healing herbs for my many friends who were HIV positive. Later astral projection and many other experiences and tools came into my life, all to enhance my footing on the planet.
As far as crystals, my latest book While Standing in Line for Death has a ritual I did to cure my depression after the rape and murder of my boyfriend Earth. It is the crystal he gave me the last time I saw him alive that changed everything for me, made me more whole again. Of course when someone dies, and I think especially when they are murdered and destroyed the way he was, there are many things we can do to try to feel better, but I am never getting back that man I dearly loved. The crystal was clear quartz, and clear quartz are more easily programmable than other crystals. He had carried it in his pocket for over a year and a half, accumulating his life of breath, joy, footfalls, his dreams, his pain, anxiety, his beautiful being. I placed it in my hair wrap over my third eye, wanting an immediate impact into my psyche, the pain was becoming more than I could live with. I also swallowed each morning a smaller, round, smooth, clear quartz crystal, and this was the worker crystal, whose job it was to flow through my body and extract his library of information from his crystal and embed it into my bones and tissue and blood, and it WORKED!! I felt better in days, and have been improving, and thriving ever since I am grateful to report!
AP: You've talked about 'translating Shakespeare’s sonnets with crystals.' How does one go about this?
CAC: Paul Legault and Sharmila Cohen edited an anthology of English-to-English translations of Shakespeare’s sonnets, and invited me to participate. At first I was so excited, gave them an enthusiastic YES! Then when they sent me the sonnet I just did not know what to do with it, and frankly I was not liking the poem very much. So I let my crystal do it. A sonnet is fourteen lines, so for seven days I would whisper into a clear quartz crystal two lines, then sing those two lines later in the day, and later still shout them. At night I would place the crystal under my pillow for the translation application to take hold and in the morning would place it on my forehead and write.
AP: In an interview by Eileen Myles, you reference the power and queerness of Joan of Arc—her transvestism, refusal to conform and say the Lord's Prayer, her psychic visions. Her magic. Have you seen the Dreyer silent film? Does cinema play a big role inspiring you?
CAC: Oh yes, that film is amazing, and we get to see Artaud in the film! When you read the transcripts of her trail it becomes clear that the monotheistic fear and fury for queerness of any kind is what sealed her fate. She refused to wear women’s clothing was requested, and it upset the good Christian men sitting in judgement against her.
AP: In works such as 'You don't have what it takes me be my nemesis' and your political series of LOVE LETTERS to Haters, you manage to strike the balance of vitriol and apathy so well in a poem such as this one. When does someone deserve your words, and when does someone not?
CAC: To be honest I do not get to say who deserves my poems. But the ritual you reference, “You Don’t Have What It Takes To Be My Nemesis,” that is my rejuvenating spell to cleanse me of the hateful people I have known in the literary world. There are so many of these bastards, jealous, envious, calculating, nasty people who should spend more time improving their own poems instead of trying to sabotage others who have been working hard. For many years no one bothered me. It was after my first glimmer of success when the treachery began, and I can only imagine it never really stops. The ritual blasted them out of me, and I felt a tremendous, deep sigh at the end of it.
AP: The writer Caspar Eric described you as 'a Facebook warrior in the best sense' with his introduction of you at your Louisiana reading. Social media is a battleground. How do you manage your use?
CAC: Yes, I remember him saying that. I actually wish that I had addressed it more directly. The social media platforms are there for us to share what needs to be done, but this online armchair activism yields little more than opinion. Getting out into the world and changing it is activism. I have seen people wield their so-called online activism with wrong information and cause great harm. My dear friend Anne Boyer was wrongly accused of being the anonymous person mentioned in an article where transphobic comments were made. A few young poets assumed it was her and went with it. By the end of their fucked up temper tantrum many people were wounded and an entire event at a museum was upended with an enormous cost of time, money and anxiety. I want to say that many women writer friends of mine, about a month or so after they gain success with awards or publishing, are unexpectedly ravaged online. There is quite often a thin veil hiding the misogyny behind it all in my opinion. The excellent news is Anne Boyer is resilient, her genius writing incapable of being blocked by the petty tyrants trolling the web.
AP: You also mentioned on your blog (Soma)tic Poetry Exercises) that it's good to ignore the lines on lined paper. What routine and order do you attribute to your success/productivity?
CAC: I firmly believe efficiency breeds brutality. I write every single day, and not because I feel required to, or are driven to, but because it is a natural part of my life. As a poet I write inside my life as it is, I have no separate writing life.
AP: This is a hard one I know, but you're so vocal about today's America and voting and rights without being isolationist or seemingly, fearful or exhausted which is how so many people feel now about Trump. And Brexit, in the UK. What do you love about America? What is Americana, to you?
CAC: Hard? Things are hard for those in the US who have been asleep for the years leading up to Trump. He is the tumor from the ignored disease of the United States. We were in wars that have massacred millions of lives and left many millions more in chaos, poverty and suffering for years before he was elected. The neoliberal Democrats are just as guilty as the neo-fascist Republicans. Frankly, I am sick and tired of the neoliberal democrats whining about how scared they are of Trump. Yeah, go ask how the mothers of Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, Pakistan, and Yemen feel after our decades-long campaign of murdering their children for oil and other resources.
What do I love about America? The land, the animals, and some of the people. I drive across the United States often and gasp plenty of times on these drives at the beauty. I am in Europe while you interview me, but when I return I will drive from Denver, Colorado to Marfa, Texas where I will be dog sitting for Eileen Myles, and that is a drive I am looking forward to.
AP: Finally, to end. I was scolded today for having messy glittery fingernails. How long have you been a glitter aficionado and do you see yourself as glamorous? I think you were the glammest person at Louisiana.
CAC: WHO scolded you! That’s so nice of you, thank you. The historical records of glitter claim Henry Ruschmann of New Jersey invented it in 1934. And to an extent that is true because it is the glitter you and I use and talk about, but gold dust was used by Cleopatra as eyeshadow in ancient Egypt.