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Book Review: A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon – New (Soma)Tics by CAConrad

May 3, 2012
           wondering how to love
    this world without
       sounding silly?
              ah, too late

A poet must be intimate with the world, must have a deep appreciation for her connected-ness, for her inter-dependency with everything that is. Most of us who write poems are content to display the products of that intimacy. CAConrad is not. He wants to guide his readers to achieving that intimacy themselves. A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon is not just a series of poems, but a series of opportunities for our own creativity. These opportunities, or poetry exercises, he calls (soma)tics, and here’s an excerpt from the first one in this volume, “Anoint Thyself:”

Visit the home of a deceased poet you admire and bring some natural thing back with you. I went to Emily Dickinson’s house the day after a reading with my friend Susie Timmons. I scraped dirt from the foot of huge trees in the backyard into a little pot. We then drove into the woods where we found miniature pears, apples, and cherries to eat. I meditated in the arms of an oak tree with the pot of Emily’s dirt, walking to the flutter of a red cardinal on a branch a foot or so from my face, starring, showing me his little tongue.

When we’re children, we take all associations seriously; all adjacencies in space or time, all similarities in the way two things strike the senses are considered important, are believed to hold something essential. As we get older, both as individuals and societies, we become more discriminatory, dismissing more and more as accidental. Few adults today, even among those who love her poetry, would be willing to attach any special significance to dirt having come from Emily Dickinson’s back yard. But CAConrad wants to bring us back to an earlier way of believing, an earlier way of perceiving and grasping connections. As readers and writers of poetry, we should be perfectly comfortable with this. It should seem the most natural, reasonable thing for us – we who look to find meaning in similarities of sound, a class of associations most philosophers would consider arbitrary and meaningless.

The (soma)tic exercises themselves often feel like ritualistic imitations of childhood. We’re being asked to again take fascination in our bodies, again explore ways in which our physical selves might connect with the physical world. (I’m sorry; I don’t know how to talk about this book without using the word “connect” a dozen times.) We’re being asked to give up the self-consciousness and insecurity that becomes so dominate after adolescence. Consider this (soma)tic “reading enhancement,” in this case the exercise is meant to be done while reading the book The Shunt by David Buuck:

Take your laundry to the laundromat… This is about reading poems while feeling machines in public. Set washer to the longest possible cycle. Sit on it… At some point OPEN THE DRYER and stick your head inside with your eyes closed and FEEL the intense heat and humidity, then close it and go back to reading.

It is by creating such a web of experiences that CAConrad means to guide us to “seeing the web of life that we are part of on this planet, forgoing the simpler Tree of Life model.” Though somewhat tangential, I cannot resist mentioning the work of biologists like Lynn Margulis. They have shown that a major part of evolution has been disparate species combining into a single species through one injecting its DNA into the cell of another. That is, the old view of species branching, never to come back together, no longer holds; species both separate and come back together. Life, as evolution has created it, is not a tree but a web. (Or an Ewok Village, if we want to be silly, and think it’s been established that we do in fact want to be silly.)

Hamlet’s lament at how much the body is shared, is passed around the world (“Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth into dust, the dust is earth, of earth we make loam, and why of that loam whereto he was converted might they not stop a beer-barrel?”), becomes CAConrad’s cause for celebration. From “seperation is natural SHAKE WELL:”

I'm going to have
    my planet and
       eat it too
                it's rude saying
                pterodactyls are
                extinct their molecules
                eaten by something to be
eaten by something to be
             eaten by us
                at noon tomorrow
                let's squeeze
                our nipples to
                remember our
                pterodactyle flesh

The molecules, the molecules! Those are CAConrad’s words, but I want to use them without quotations, because it’s my celebration too.

It’s not just these obviously fun connections that are being considered, but we also confront those that we might initially recoil from, as in these lines from earlier in the same poem:

                  I saw my friend's 
                  turd in the toilet
                  I was amazed and
                  looked closely to see
                  the hard work as
                  amazing as my own our
   blood and muscles at the
   mercy of food to survive
 that's a good looking turd
   vitamin's absorbed by my
                  friend's healthy body
                  the turd discard floating
          we eat apples for
violent nutrient extraction
       it's a beautiful day
     apple trees everywhere

Also, these sentences from “The Right to Manifest Manifesto:”

It’s ALL collaboration. Anyone who ever fed you, loved you, anyone who ever made you feel unworthy, stupid, ugly, anyone who made you express doubt or assuredness, everyone of these helped make you.

Simultaneously, resistance plays a central role in CAConrad’s poetics – “resisting what is said by others has always been my strategy, so as not to build my life around THEIR ideas.” This is a paradox that is never directly confronted. Why should we need to resist in a world of perfect inter-connectedness and inter-dependency? After meditating on these poems for awhile, here is how I’ve some to understand it: Resistance promotes diversity, and diversity is what makes a deeper unity possible. Unity can only come about through diversity, for without distinction there would be mere nothingness. Unity and diversity are themselves interdependent. This is not so much said in the book as it is manifested.

CAConrad has written several volumes of poetry. New (soma)tics have their own blog. A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon is published by the wonderful Wave Books.

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