I feel that I've about come to the end of The Complaint and NZTOTSN, now I'm considering where to go with my imitations project next. I've lately been considering 'imitating' another poet who I admire, C A Conrad. Here are the notes I wrote for myself, figuring out why I might do this and how I might feasibly do it:
I’ve spent almost 2 years in a giant, non-stop depression. I’ve been depressed all my life but not like this. This has been absolutely end of the line and it has caused me to throw away everything I love. Because of the nature of this depression, it won’t end until my current circumstances end, and because of the enormous unlikelihood of that (housing crises, de-funding of the arts, abysmal job market, even worse academic job market), this unbearable depression is indefinite and most likely will not be healed.
CA Conrad has been in the back of my mind since this started. Conrad was one of the first people I wanted to reach out to and didn’t, and still haven’t. I feel spiritually bankrupt and powerless, only made worse by the reliable gas-lighting and victim-blaming I experience from all those around me who (good intentions not withstanding) relentlessly tout an intellectually numb form of positivity.
Conrad’s somatic poetry rituals put pay to the idea I have long toyed with, that poetry is a form of witchcraft. With Conrad the poem is one element among many in a magical relationship with the world that one engineers, performs and embodies. The rituals deliberately place the body where it is, in relation to the seething of life and not-life and symbols. I think they are to claim a place, not to produce an artifact for the art market.
I see Conrad’s rituals as action against the bourgeois absorption of poetry into the category of useless but harmless aesthetic objects. There is little aesthetic about the rituals in that sense. But they also resist the Marxist dream narrative of return to an Edenically pure, unalienated labour. I like this, it looks like existing, which I currently don’t do, and probably never have.
I don’t perceive the rituals as a ‘cure’, I’ve seen enough of the hippy-capitalist wellness industry to know that ‘healing’ in this sense is a non-existent fetishized commodity, while the state of ‘well’ is vague, unrecognisable and unattainable enough that it can be used to sell anyone anything, usually themselves. I don’t think the rituals will make me ‘happy’ in this commodified sense, my goal in life is not to be happy. Instead I hope that they would change my relationship with the world, however briefly. I think that instead of feeling like I am pretending to exist, I might for a time actually exist, and in all the dignity of my sadness. It is on this basis that I can permit the thought that my sadness might temporarily end. This is a radical thought for me.
I come back to CA Conrad on and off, one of the times I came back, near the start of my depression, I read on their blog how, historically, the slur ‘faggot’ is related to the persecution of witches. Conrad explains that a ‘faggot’ is a bundle of tinder ignited in order to get a fire going, and this is the purpose that homosexual men served in the burning of witches. We burn together. I feel sisterhood with Conrad, even though we’ve never spoken as such.
I mostly feel uncomfortable in the company of other cis het people. Among queer people I feel the drop of a constant nervous tension, like I’ve stumbled upon international waters, a place where I am not required to pass for approval or to identify myself against a standard, being as I am is enough. The bullshit dial is turned down, I relax, I no longer expect attack. I feel in the company of family, I feel like celebrating everyone in my presence, like sailing right behind them. The direction of my attention turns to face outward, projecting a sense of affection that burns off my usual neurotic, inward-facing defense curl. I become more in the world, and less rejected from it, I pull other people into my tractor beam, they pull me into theirs. I become less afraid to exist.
I like that with Conrad the poem is not a product of the ritual, the purpose, if there is one, it's to live the ritual. One doesn’t write a poem, one determines to exist poetically/magically. If I imitate Conrad, I would do so by employing their guidelines for somatic practice, which would be to enter into this language of presence which we necessarily all speak differently and at the same time. What I want to imitate in Conrad is not the style but the mode of being, to enter into the same field of presence in the world. That might make my poems sound like Conrad’s stylistically, it might not. I might make that part of the ritual, I might not. The site of collaboration in this case then would be physical as I join Conrad, if remotely, in this practice. I do as Conrad does, but to do that I do as I do, because that is a condition of Conrad’s somatic ritual, the rituals are structured around one's life as it is.
Part of the joy of imitation is giving up the pretense of originality and with it the value of originality. My anxieties become differently located. The ‘original voice’ is a commodity fetish in an economic system which dis-empowers and disenfranchises poetry, ironically alienating poetry from our actual, individual lives. Conrad's somatic practices are an innovative way to resist that alienation, the rituals insist on integrating poetry into our creaturely existence, creating a commodity is secondary.
What do I sound like when I speak in Conrad’s present mode, where Conrad also is? I am not currently where Conrad is, not in the way I want to be at least. In fact, I am never where I want to be.
I’ve articulated my reasons for identifying with Conrad, which is what makes this sub-project more than a pretentious exercise in avant garde dick waving (to me at least). This imitative relationship is different to the others, in a way I’ve taken my collaborator up on their invitation, rather than let myself in unannounced. In this imitation, the ‘being with’ I would like feels more available. The point is not so much that I evoke Conrad's vocal material and insert it into my own act of voicing (which is riddled with ethical anxieties) but that I join in the ritual as ‘next to’.
Some initial ideas for somatic poetry rituals:
Scroll through twitter. Make a dash each time I see something that makes me jealous or bitter. Eventually I’ll have a number of dashes counting the amount of times something made me jealous. The jealousy is physicalised, inscribed on a page in the real world. The number of dashes is the number of minutes I will spend sitting quietly. For each time I was made to feel insufficient and frustrated I will honor it with a minute of quiet. I will acknowledge that time spent and its dignity. In this sense I will feel grateful for it.
I will then collect a number of objects equal to the number of dashes - sticks, flowers, small stones, something non-pollutant - I will take them all to a river and I will put them in the river. This is not to symbolically ‘wash away’ my jealous feelings, but to gift them to the river, who will perhaps gift them to the sea. The river and sea are not improved by my gift, and the gifting of something does not make it valuable to the receiver, the point is to interface with the river, whose water permits me to feel jealousy at the world, permission which I may then consider a grace.
Make notes for the poem.
Do some stretching. Grind up some charcoal, place a charcoal mark on the inside of each of my wrists. Go out and pick a sprig of rosemary. Place it behind my ear, keep it there for the rest of the day. These things mark out the boundary of my body, which is my home. Choose a crystal, carry it round in my pocket, this crystal is a guest in my home today. For lunch eat something salty to cleanse my home. Quietly sit somewhere green and peaceful, pay particular attention to the ground and to trees, they are the places I am inhabiting.
Establish possession of my own space, recognise myself in the world and see the places where my place can’t be taken from me, not easily. This is not to pliantly accept the reality of housing crises, or to mitigate the suffering they cause me, this is to empower me to leave them, to create in myself the possibility of a home.
Then make a list of house options, don’t shut any down as impossible. Where can I see myself living? What kind of home? Consider obligations, but do not allow them to set the limit of my imagination. How do I envision my home? If possible, if I have the energy, do some research into accessing these homes.
Makes notes for the poem.
Go to a place where there are trees. Meet a few of them. Sit on the ground by the trees, place my hands at the base of each tree. Don’t try to do anything, just be in the presence of the tree. Know that although we experience the world on different planes, our paths are crossing at this point. Assume nothing about what the tree thinks, feels or wants, don’t even assume that it does these things. Feel the alienage between me and the tree. Imagine the forests of the ancient past. Imagine that I inherited something from this forest past, but don’t try to remember what it is.
That day eat tree fruit and also meat. Absorb the flesh of the tree world and the flesh of the animal world. Together they are building me. Then spend some time thinking about my breath, remember how trees turn air into wood. Meditate on the fact that you are a material, living testament to the passing of these two life-worlds like ships in the night.
Make notes for the poem.
Find Li’l Chub [my cat], wherever he is, and sit or lie with him there. Put my face in his fur and my ear to his belly. Listen to his organs and hear him breathing and purring. Stay there, listening to Chub. Don’t try to imagine what Chub is thinking or what the world is like to Chub. be there for Chub and stay until he falls asleep, consider that Chub is dreaming, be there while he dreams.
Make notes for the poem.
Further reading about C A Conrad and their somatic poetry rituals on their blog http://caconrad.blogspot.com/