Ecodeviance by C. A. Conrad
Wave Books, 2014; 150 pp
Reviewed by Annie Won
At 160 pages, Ecodeviance, by C. A. Conrad, is a whiz-bang rocket ship, overfilled with home-baked mind-altering goodies. This work runs at the heels of his popular ongoing Somatic Poetry Rituals. After reading this written compendium, you too can try this at home! Conrad begins the work with its rationale. Having grown up in rural factory town Pennsylvania, he left for the city to leave the factory; however, somehow, the factory remained in his writing process. The milieu in which you were born colors the lens through which you see. In an attempt to better embody his writing, the Somatic Poetry Rituals were born. In each exercise, Conrad creates instructions to consider what lies in front of the eyes or in the back of the brain. These instructions are not penned without his own life musings, which create intimacy and depth. Reading them is like listening to a friend. "Today there is just a small herd grazing in Yellowstone...put there to be wild on purpose...These animals are not wild they are museums of fur, hooves, and fangs, part of a well-managed safari rather than wilderness....This (Soma)tic ritual gets us a little closer to how strange and troubled we humans are."
As a hallmark to Conrad's fascinations, his narrative eye wanders into devil-may-care language, chance interactions, fluids, gender, consumption, mind-altering substances, and the occult. Interspersed in his poems is a transient consideration of the "I," on scale, of the physical body as exterior to the sentient being; the detachment is somewhat sad. "I have a / mannequin for / a paperweight," writes Conrad in "I HOPE I'M LOUD WHEN I'M DEAD." His format of live instruction, interaction, and example creates a live theater in which the reader is approached with the notions of real-time narrative and acknowledgement; it's your turn now! Conrad writes, "From Walnut & Broad St. to Walnut & 19th I stopped for every security camera...I looked into the camera, DIRECTLY IN THERE, and stuck my tongue inside a flower. Flicked it in / and out, in and out, flicking, licking, suckling blossoms...."I'M A POLLINATOR, I'M A POLLINATOR!!".../ "I WANT TO DO EVERY / THING WRONG JUST / ONCE." ("SECURITY CAMERAS AND FLOWERS DREAMING THE ELEVATION ALLEGIANCE").
True to Conrad's theatrical affections, the titles duel with their content for airtime. Somehow, there is never enough limelight, and its evanescence is no less present. This nonstop circus of pleasure seeking is sometimes toppled by an overarching uncertainty of presence and what is to come. Conrad writes, "WHAT IS THIS panting I do at / the foot of the giant / waiting for a little junkyard freedom" ("BUILT TO SHAKE OURSELVES AWAKE"). Of what we find, what can we keep? He writes, "fondle its / leaf before / chopping / it down / quiet things / assumed broken / each of us / pocketing manna from their veins" ("ISOTHERM PINPOINTS OUR MUTUAL TRANSUDATION"). In a land of action, attempting to be, trying, is a sense of alienation. "You cannot touch a stranger at the restaurant" ("UNKNOWN DURATION OF FEAR"). The work's notion of shared experience brings new life to what is otherwise one voice, sometimes lonely, penned and left for view.
In being alone, we are not alone. In Conrad's homegrown Silent Meeting Group Ritual, which took place by chance flier viewing in Philadelphia, he instructs, "Do not fear looking at the people who show up because we all came to be looked at." And in observing, having taken in, we are obligated to do something, to write poetry, without external words, so that the internal words might find the page. "GO, GET GOING, GO SOMEWHERE...Take the quiet with you to write your poem."
Why do this? Conrad writes, "a motion to strike / anger out of the house / let's just make the word for / the day something that won't / tear away the sleep we need / it's going to cost a lot to / feel alive again" ("NO MORE SONGS FOR MY DIRTY LITTLE WOW").
Because we are.
"We were all at once young and / beautiful squandering everything / it's what we came here to do / cut off engines to the child / registering disposition of / cat in the dark as the / size of darkness" ("READING STARLIGHT WITH ONE EYE LIKE CREELEY").