CAConrad: ‘My Poems Are Breathing Wild Creatures’

The American poet reflects on the ritualistic process of composing their latest collection, Listen to the Golden Boomerang Return, and presents three new poems exclusively in ArtReview

Portrait of CAConrad © the artist
Portrait of CAConrad © Courtesy the artist

I wrote the poems from my book AMANDA PARADISE: Resurrect Extinct Vibration with a (Soma)tic poetry ritual which had nine ingredients to it. The primary ingredient involved lying on the ground in different locations throughout the United States to flood my body with field recordings of recently extinct animals; another was to leave postcards of animals in public, inviting people to respond to the email I provided to have conversations about fragile ecosystems and how to change our definition of progress. Foundational here are the memories of loved ones who died of AIDS, the daily struggle of existing through the coronavirus pandemic, and the effort to arrive at a new way of falling in love with the world as it is, not as it was. Finished during the Covid lockdown, the book ends with an extended sequence poem titled ‘72 Corona Transmutations’, weaving, sometimes entangling ecocide, war, and violence against LGBTQ people.

After focusing on extinction with AMANDA PARADISE, my most recent collection, Listen to the Golden Boomerang Return, focuses on animals learning to thrive in the Anthropocene. The new work started in Seattle, Washington, during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. For the past decade, I have been living on the road, writing while spending time with wildlife in North America and Mexico. If you do not know Seattle, it sits inside one of the world’s lush and abundant non-tropical rainforests and is home to one of the largest populations of crows. They are everywhere in the city, and in their vast numbers, they are unafraid of human beings. Each morning when I woke, I would fill a small container on the window ledge with berries, crackers, and peanuts. The crows found them almost immediately; different groups would visit throughout the day. I ate my meals with them by the window, and one of them in particular liked to eat with me, looking through the window as I smiled and ate my food. Eventually, I could hand this crow food, and I was even allowed to pet their beak. This connection was one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had with a wild animal. Soon enough, the crow started to bring me gifts.

Joshua Tree, California, was my first destination after the lockdown ended. I spent time in the Mojave Desert feeding wild coyotes, quail, and kangaroo rats. From dawn to dusk, I would assign each animal a part of my body. When the coyotes were in the yard, I would rub the backs of my ears while writing, twist my left nipple for the rats, etc. I also spent time feeding and writing with rats and pigeons when I was a writer in residence at the MACRO in Rome, Italy. As a result, my poems are breathing wild creatures. They stand on the bottom of the page, vibrating in the center of their bodies. If they were to come off the page to live with me, I would work hard to buy a house with many rooms. We would share a large bed; if they learned to jump back on the page when needed, I could take them wherever I went!         

Three Poems by CAConrad from Listen to the Golden Boomerang Return

CAConrad hosts a workshop and performs at live reading events across Poetry International festival at the Southbank Centre from 21-23 July. Listen to the Golden Boomerang Return is forthcoming with Wave Books in 2024

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