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Present Tense: CAConrad’s While Standing in Line for Death

By Colin Herd.
While Standing in Line Waiting for Death

CAConrad, While Standing in Line for Death (Wave Books, 2017)

Since 2008, the work of CAConrad has increasingly centred around a practice of bodily rituals, a practice that unfolds on his blog as well as in the pages of his poetry collections A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon and Ecodeviance: (Soma)tics for a Future Wildnerness. The rituals, which are close in a sense to Fluxus “happenings” and Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit: Poems, Drawings and Instructions for Life, sit alongside the resulting poems. He describes the process in ‘The Right to Manifest Manifesto’ as:

(Soma)tic poetry is a praxis I’ve developed to more fully engage the everyday through writing. Soma is an Indo-Persian word that means “the divine.” Somatic is Greek. It’s meaning translates as tissue, or “the nervous system.” The goal is to coalesce soma and somatic, while triangulating patterns of experience with the world around us. Experiences that are unorthodox steps in the writing process can shift the poet’s perception of the quotidian, if only for a series of moments.

While Standing in Line for Death, Conrad’s latest collection, continues and extends this approach, discovering deeper connections between writing, the body and the earth. The connections are urgent, and often painful, as the poems tap into a raw eco/nervous-system of emotion. The book begins with a ritual ‘Mount Monadnock Transmissions’, in which the first sentences are “Yes poetry can handle this. This is the third ritual I did to overcome my depression from my boyfriend Earth’s murder.” The resulting poems, ‘Sharking of the Birdcage’ are jagged, uncompromising, amorphous lyrics that form organic shapes on the page. They are an intense reminder of language as a shaping force in the world:

CAConrad extract 1

In Precarious Rhapsody, Franco Bifo Berardi writes, “What is the meaning of the word emotion? Emotion is the meeting point between body and cognition: it is a bodily elaboration of information that is reaching our mind.” These poems repeatedly remind us that emotion is bodily, cognitive and a meeting point between the world and ourselves. As one ritual puts it: “We are time machines of water and flesh patterned for destruction, if we do not release the trauma.”


If CAConrad’s work explores the intertwinings of our bodies and the world through writing, this is always rooted in direct consequence and reality. He is concerned with what he calls in Ecodeviance, “an extreme present where the many facets of what is around me can come together through a sharper lens”. One of the most provocative challenges of his work is its simultaneous willingness to push the boundaries of consciousness but its resistance of detachment from contemporary social and political reality. For example, in ‘Power Sissy Intervention #1’, Conrad manifests the conjunctive (the join between bodies) in the form of a bubble, putting into play what Peter Sloterdijk has called “microspheres”, rooting the poem an intimate experience of community:

I occupied a busy street corner in Asheville, North Carolina, to bless children with bubbles that will make them queer. Not gay and lesbian, but QUEER! Bubbles of course do not have such powers, bubbles have only the power to be bubbles, and some parents knew that and thought the whole thing was funny and would say, “That’s cool, I will love my
children no matter what.” I took notes for the poem.
But MOST parents were not happy about Queer Bubbles at all.

This ritual, and the resulting poem ‘Every Feel Unfurl’, enact a profound insertion of poetry into the political and social strata, which is itself subversive. An enaction because even at the level of syntax, CAConrad’s poetry puts things in motion: “there is nothing little about little lights in the sky / now the pronunciation is perfect for another / morning of lips performing their duty to verb.” The “duty to verb” is the compulsion and responsibility through language to shape, and to do. In Denise Riley’s The Words of Selves: Identification, Solidarity, Irony, she writes that “language does not so much express feeling but (to use American English) in itself it ‘does’ feeling”. The distinction is vital, because not only does it stress that feeling and emotionality are integral to language but it also opens up a possibility for feeling and language to be seen to “do” something, to articulate and constitute a praxis. “To distinguish here between language as carrier of emotion and language as emotion is impossible, and pointless,” writes Riley.

CAConrad’s poems continually erupt the feeling and emotion of their language from within, making extensive use of visual markers of feeling, through capitalisation, italics and tab shifts across the page.

CAConrad extract 2

The shape of the poems themselves – angular, stepping, bulging and pressurised – makes manifest the ways that our bodies are constantly impacted by the violence of the world around us, something we are conditioned not to notice. This is fearless and brave poetry. As one poem puts it: “in the midst of war / even our shyness / must cease.” Killer drones, institutional homophobia, police violence and racism, ongoing wars, While Standing in Line for Death makes all of these things impossible to ignore, and by waking us up to these realities, this uncompromising and powerful poetry also wakes us up to the agency of tuning into our own bodies and the ways they are joined to the world. The poetry is radically inclusive and generous: “giving myself the miracle of / keeping present present / please try it at home.”


Colin Herd

Colin Herd is a poet and Lecturer in Creative Writing at University of Glasgow. Books include too ok (Blazevox, 2011), Glovebox (Knives, Forks and Spoons, 2014), Oberwilding – with SJ Fowler (Austrian Cultural Forum, 2015) and Click & Collect (Boiler House Press, 2017). He edits www.adjacentpineapple.com and co-organised Outside-in / Inside-out: A Festival of Outside and Subterranean Poetry in 2016. www.colinherd.com

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, October 12th, 2017.