(photo by Erica Kaufman)
I was really pleased with the Conrad / Elmslie reading this weekend. CA Conrad, who swept into his reading wearing a purple top and matching glittery purple nail polish, read from a series of poems called "Somatic Midge." In this series he fully immersed himself in a single color for a day, a different color each day, for a week, ONLY eating foods of the color of the day, as well as
wearing something or keeping something of that color on or around me
at all times." My favorite of the delightfully weird restrictions he imposed on himself was the blue poem which involved "listening to Frankie Valli's Blue Velvet in constant rotation for 24 hours." Conrad has a way of reading that is both propulsive and somewhat lackadasical, and a way of bringing forward moments of real vulnerability among quick-changing campy addresses and asides.
Kenward Elsmlie's reading was dazzling. Grinning devilishly, he began with a series of poetry-art collaborations which were projected behind him on a screen as he read. Agenda Melt, a collaboration with Trevor Winkfield, was very effective in this format. Throughout, a sense of goofy onomatopoetic language in the more recent work coalesced in a series of constant gee-whiz bombshell clusters. His reading was a real "performance," very expressive and tonally varied and involved certain bodily cues like shrugging his shoulders or making a hand gesture or theatrical facial expression. The second half of the reading consisted of a series of songs, collaborations with Steven Taylor and others that were simply incredible. Two of the most memorable works here included "Sneaky Pete" ("What happened to the poem / as po-em / Sneaky Pete?") and "Girl Machine" which he announced was a reference to the work of Allen Ginsberg. The sinister pizzaz of the last number was ambiguously framed as satire by the closing gesture: Elmslie whispering "Relax / just... relax..." over the sound of a CD skipping and then stopping. His voice was in top form and he absolutely took over the room with his performance.
I really enjoyed meeting Kenward. I gave him a copy of my book and told him there was a lot of crossdressing in it, and he said "nothing wrong with that." All in all a great event. Kind words from Bob Holman and others. A group of us adjourned to a bar down the street afterward for drinks and conversation. I bet you can guess where to find some photos of the event.
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Erica’s Intro for CA Conrad
CAConrad's childhood included selling cut flowers along the highway for his mother and helping her shoplift. He escaped to Philadelphia the first chance he got, where he lives and writes today with the PhillySound poets (www.PhillySound.blogspot.com). His book Deviant Propulsion was published in 2006 by Soft Skull Press.
When thinking about how to introduce a poet as energetic, generous, and brilliant as CAConrad, I kept turning back to a poem by Tim Dlugos, entitled, “At The Point,” which ends, “You/ walk into the empty parlor, sit down, and/ play the only song you know by heart.” Conrad’s work emits the same intensity of sentiment—the beautiful, the brutal, the invigorating, the necessary. As he posits in “You Not As Me But You,” “when were/ there so/ many i/ couldn’t/ see you?/ can i/ always/ see you/ now?/ please?”
Conrad’s poems are urgent--rife with political concern, radicalism, queer pride, and experimentation. These are poems to learn from. To carry in your back pocket. To read in the park or on the subway all the way home.
As Frank O’Hara writes in the opening to “Personism: A Manifesto,” “Everything is in the poems!” Or, as Conrad writes, “there’s no/ where for me/ to hide my/ feelings of/ optimal sugar all of a sudden.”
Conrad’s recent series, which I believe he will be reading from today, is entitled “Somatic Midge” and truly translates one’s body into linguistic hyperrealism. Reminiscent of Hannah Weiner, particularly her relationship to color in The Fast, these poems take on the daily one color at a time. To quote Weiner, “My aim was to become a pastel pink or green; at these colors I would never tire and have unlimited energy.” Conrad’s aim is to allow color, symbolic of a system of elements, run its course, to use the body as vessel. To quote, “distorted torque of Flora’s red,” “dear contentious nativity/ I was never weak/ merely outnumbered.”
It is my great pleasure to welcome CAConrad.
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Tim’s Intro for Kenward Elsmlie:
What would it be like to actually live inside a musical?
How do you introduce a poet’s poet such as Kenward Elmslie?
Presumably this audience already knows that he’s our queer trek sonic pileup ambassador from the future, investigating that juncture where razzamataz meets thwack.
Presumably they also know of his famous career writing lyrics for musicals such as Lizzie Borden, The Grass Harp, Postcards on Parade, and most recently Lingoland.
It’s probably also not new information that this New York poet has produced many books of wonderful, hallucinatory writing from Tropicalism to Blast from the Past, books engineered for maximum blasé goofiness. Everything has a nickname in advance in these weird kitsch rides, the world distorting and rearranging with flair as he speaks it.
I assume everyone also knows about Elmslie’s many collaborations with artists from Joe Brainard to Trevor Winkfield (most recently Cyberspace which is a Granary Books title).
So I feel there is very little that I can personally add, except to say, we are pleased and honored tonight to welcome the great Kenward Elsmlie.