Interview

You've Come a Long Way, Baby

Human. Animal. Gay. Straight. Poetry.

CA Conrad interviewed by Eileen Myles

EM: Right, the subversion is all we know. With a tune and an ad campaign that we now associate with how insipid feminism was . . .

CA: Right.

EM: It meant, “Women, try drinking your own blood,” and that meaning’s gone.

CA: I had no idea that that’s where that comes . . .

EM: But the taboo your book violates the most are the hierarchies and boundaries between things. Human over animal, man over woman, parent over child, straight over gay, alive over the whole unclear rest of the universe. The hideous secret of your work, which seems so very pagan, is on the deepest level how very fluid things and categories are.

CA: Well, as a vegetarian for the last 20 years, I want us to understand we’re animals. We have the power to cut meat out, even if it’s just to some degree, at least; do you know what I mean? Leonardo da Vinci was talking about this 500 years ago. He said he hoped that one day human beings will understand that killing an animal is like killing another human being. But we’re also living in a time where we’re just killing other human beings so much that, I don’t know, there’s just so much violence.

EM: The violence is a good connection to the measure of your message. How economical your poems are, how short, how quick they are. How did you come to that . . .

CA: I was in correspondence with Cid Corman, who was living in Kyoto, Japan, and he turned me on to a lot of Japanese poets, especially this anthology of 20th-century Japanese haiku poets who were really radical and had completely broken the form. But, you know, actually Corman hated these poems because he hated surrealism. And he was actually trying hard to convince me to stop it.

EM: Stop this project?

CA: Yeah, and I have such a problem with authority. I would go head-to-head with Corman about it. He would say, it’s just fantasy. And I . . .

EM: What’s that “just” mean?

CA: Well, I think it’s just . . . he really wanted me to do what he told me to do, and what he was telling me to do, and I didn’t want to do. And I would write back and say, listen, I’m going to continue this anyway.

“Many men I’ve heard of who are in prison for killing gay men had sex with them.”

EM: There’s just so much power in that rebellion, you know, and you can’t give that to people. When you tell them to rebel, it’s like they think you mean take your clothes off and go wild at the party. And then come back from that into responsibility. Not that going wild ever is the responsibility itself. Seeing wild. Needing seeing wild to survive.

CA: And you’re right, it can’t be given to you because some people, if you oppress them, they’ll just clam up forever. I’ve been very influenced by looking very closely at the murderers of queers, you know, looking very closely at the murderers of Matthew Shepard, for instance, and how Aaron McKinney, that very same night after torturing Shepard, went out and deliberately got in a fight and got beaten up by another man and then wound up four rooms away from Matthew Shepard in the same hospital.

EM: Wow. Wow. Wow.

CA: So it’s sort of like the sexual tension gets transferred, because it’s really about sexual tension.

EM: Yeah.

CA: Many men I’ve heard of who are in prison for killing gay men had sex with them.

EM: First?

CA: Yeah, and there’s a documentary about it, seven men interviewed.

EM: One of the most shocking poems in here for me is the chocolate man.

CA: Oh, well, that’s . . . yeah. The chocolate man is saying no and . . .

EM: Mouthing and dying and being devoured and Jesus, I mean, it’s very sexual.

CA: Yeah, I mean, it’s a violation poem. . . .

EM: Totally.

CA: And in some ways . . .

EM: A sweet, a sweet violation, and . . .

CA: It kills him.

EM: Your Matthew Shepard story reminded me of it, because we’re the murderers too. It’s not like we don’t understand it. We understand it all too well. The impulse to violate is a kind of reproduction of memory, to murder a queer is a queer act for sure, to kill a woman is feminine somehow, isn’t it?

CA: Well, what do we deserve? An old boyfriend of mine was tortured and murdered by homophobes in Tennessee, and that was very real and terrifying. And then there are gays who demand their right to join the military, put a rainbow sticker on a machine gun, I guess. Well, I don’t think so, but every one of us is complicit; our taxes buy the bullets and bombs to kill hundreds of thousands of real, breathing, human lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the end we would be nothing but surprised at what we really deserve.

EM: Our little bit of ignorance is one way that we know.

Originally Published: October 21, 2009
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COMMENTS (23)

On October 21, 2009 at 5:09pm Celia White wrote:
Incredibly interesting interview. Thanks, Eileen and CA and Poetry Foundation.

On October 22, 2009 at 10:53am PandemonYum wrote:
It's nice that CAConrad finally defines real rebellion for us in this interview. Authority suppresses, rebellion sets us free.

REAL poetry is never complicit.

On October 22, 2009 at 7:06pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:
I know it's just me, being old-fashioned and all, but I could never find any justification for vulgarity in any context.

Is this intended to tell us something we don't already know about this terrible world?

On October 22, 2009 at 10:34pm CAConrad wrote:
Dear Gary, I agree about vulgarity, you know, like over a million people killed since the invasion of Iraq.

What's more vulgar, words, or bullets? Bullets of course we pay for with our tax dollars, while words are free.

On October 23, 2009 at 9:02am Anne Waldman wrote:
Very refreshing conversation of an
alternative art/humanity view.Appreciate
the candor. Just saw the 15th century red-
skinned dakinis in an exhibit at the Rubin
Himalayan Art Museum (NYC) drinking
from her skullcup of menstrual blood, &
stomping on the corpse of ego. Exposing
how ignorant actions & deeds support the
endless war culture & violence against
people of so-called difference is really to
the point...Also CA's "roots", a powerful
story.

On October 23, 2009 at 12:23pm pam lu wrote:
Fantastic. I wish every little girl hiding in a closet could have had a brother like you.

On October 23, 2009 at 6:19pm Gary B. Fitzgerald wrote:
Mr. Conrad:

Touche!

On October 24, 2009 at 8:46pm James Hoch wrote:
CA Conrad was brilliant turning heads
twenty years ago when he was
searching and searching...It's great to
see him still brilliant, still alive and
mythic all at once...

Thanks,

James

On October 25, 2009 at 6:36pm kirsta wrote:
i think that it is great that he is useing his abilitys t send out a message not only of his life but of the lives of many if you liked his book then you should read "child called it" really interesting but a bit disturbing

On October 28, 2009 at 5:14pm Ammiel Alcalay wrote:
terrific, on both sides - so refreshing to
get a shot of the real every now & then.
thanks to you both...

On October 29, 2009 at 1:07am Valerie A Szarek wrote:
Bravo to you both! Thank you for standing up for truth and edgyness and poetry forever! Disturb the comfortable and comfort us disturbed! Love ya CA

On October 29, 2009 at 10:28pm Dorothea Lasky wrote:
This is more than a little likely the very best interview I have ever read in my life. Thank you to CA Conrad, Eileen Myles, and The Poetry Foundation for creating and making these ideas available to me. This is truly a gift.

On October 31, 2009 at 8:03pm Michele Belluomini wrote:
Reading this incredible interview appropriatley enough on Samhain. Having known and loved CA's poetry for the longest time, very glad to see the recognition coming his way. He's a shaman. Thank you Eileen for the interview and your marvelous ideas and poetry as well.

On November 1, 2009 at 9:40am Cara Benson wrote:
I love this idea of shaking a fist at capitalism by examining its smallest unit. I think this is one of the reasons why autobiographical aspects of work do work. I’m suspicious with you, CA, of the claim to be able to successfully remove the “I” from any project. Great, great!, conversation on so many levels. I thoroughly appreciate the candor and concern. Thank you both!

On November 2, 2009 at 1:28am Lee Ann Brown wrote:
This interview rocks! Such a multiple
portrait - CA is an amazing tarot reader
too in addition to being Frank

On November 2, 2009 at 11:51am hassen wrote:
thanks to both of you for this interview. conrad, you're a real hero & i mean hero of what's seriously and hysterically real. i'm glad to tears that you & The Book of Frank both shine in our world/time.

On November 3, 2009 at 12:32pm Chloe Joan Lopez wrote:
Rargh! Queer Culture lives!

Sex = Truth.

"Now I know how to go on."

On November 4, 2009 at 10:45pm Nick Demske wrote:
When you left I lost a part of me (Together)
It's still so hard to believe
(Come back, come back)
Come back baby, please
(Come back, come back)
'Cause we belong together.

A child called it.

On November 6, 2009 at 3:24pm Don Yorty wrote:
Thanks to all involved for the great interview.

Conrad you are flowing from the source
and (for me) you also brought back memories of Philly in the 70s, Bacchanal and Gil Ott particularly.

On November 11, 2009 at 2:09pm jonas wrote:

Fabulous interview, Cuzzin of mine! So happy you and i got out of Pennsyl-tucky and survived. If we hadn't been queer, we might still be there, working in the casket factory--well, that closed years ago but we'd be working as automatrons somewhere, disconnected, numb, walking dead, smiling fake smiles, worshiping the money god that wears a jesus mask. Yeah. Thank the gods and godesses i am queer. To Gary, who can't justify vulgarity in any context...Vulgar, I believe intially meant the common people and their language and fuck and other words like that are so deliciously direct and anglo-saxon, yes, common so how could you never justify that kind of honesty and truth. Kisses, your cousin, jonas

On November 15, 2009 at 8:07am Naz Pantaloni wrote:
Thank you Eileen Myles for expanding Poetry Foundation's horizons with this interview. CAConrad has been a Philadelphia treasure for nearly 20 years, and I, like countless others in Philadelphia who know, love, respect, and admire him, are delighted and proud to see him becoming a national figure in contemporary American poetry. His is a truly unique yet universal voice that is the product of extraordinary talent, the circumstances of his life, and years of working on his craft.

On November 16, 2009 at 8:46pm Marie wrote:
Your Grandmother's comment has stayed by my side all these years Conrad. I love you.

On August 10, 2010 at 10:45am Jesse Nissim wrote:
Wonderful. Inspiring. Validating. Thank you
for outing the honesty & courage that is
available through poetry (including or
especially through its fictional elements). I
will treasure this interview. Thanks to you
both!

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Biography

Eileen Myles was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1949, was educated in Catholic schools, graduated from the University of Massachusetts-Boston in 1971, and moved to New York City in 1974 to be a poet. She gave her first reading at CBGB's, and then gravitated to St. Mark's church where she studied with Ted Berrigan, Alice Notley and Bill Zavatsky. She has published more than a dozen volumes of poetry and fiction including Not . . .

Continue reading this biography

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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