ECODEVIANCE, by CAConrad. Seattle, Washington: Wave Books. 160 pages. $22.00, paper.
CAConrad’s latest book serves as a how-to guide—through (Soma)tic rituals, we see the prompt and the resulting poems, pulling the curtain on the revered role of poet. The reader’s invited to perform the same writing exercises, however deep they may be in crystal-fused ritual, and in turn the identity of the writer is opened up into a communal, multi-faceted movement against the world.
This method provides more opportunity for autobiography and insight, background and context, but the quiet invitation to grab the wheel, as the reader, challenges a great deal of what a traditional book of poems does, where the podium being rocked by context angers those seeking meaning straight from the mouth of the poem. Here, there are many mouths and many many teeth.
Let’s be honest about our culture and say that anyone who makes us remember we are naked animals under these clothes is dangerous.
Politically critical and thoughtful, touching on topics of environment (as one might guess from the title) and war, the book strategically avoids broad-brush terms that erk me to death (and perhaps even back as an annoyed zombie). The enormous issues are handled as they should generally be handled: by providing a digestable, pallatable entryway into a productive thought process about that issue. Everything in this book is personal and intimate, thus such connectivity, and so even enormous topics get treated as though the topic were actually a close friend, a family member, a puppy. Everything is a puppy.
I claim a hundred feet of / air above my head / making use of tiny instruments needing / their music absorbed / roller coasters are / my favorite form / of transportation
If nothing else, this book forces you to question. To question understandings of identity, of morality, of social acceptances and norms. This book questions gender identity in content, and therefore singular identity, but also does so in form. And it’s punk as hell about it. Each (Soma)tic exercise can yield any number of poems, creating a varying number of identities for that exercise’s conclusion. In other words, there is no singular answer. In other words, instructions on how to interpret the world guide us toward narrowing many senses into a singular poem-generating one.
Go out into the rain. Lie on the ground. Look into the sky through binoculars with your mouth open. Drink DIRECTLY from the air while watching the streaming drops fall onto the binocular lens. Open an umbrella and take notes to the beating of rain. You are a drought that is cured. You are a body sponging back your life. Shape your three sets of notes into one poem or three.
There is such duality here so as to nearly stun the reader into accepting one voice as many and many voices as one. Not only are we provided an instructional set of introductions alongside the resulting poems—the ritual guides incorporate both yoga-teacher-esque tones and frantic dormmate inflections. They themselves are complicated and beautiful, autobiographical and topical. And all of this leads me to ask—is our understanding of what a poem is limited enough so as to include only the rituals’s results, or can we include all of it? Identity is constantly questioned on every plane of existence.
More than anything, the book really is serious about what it has to say but does so with such flamboyance and energy as to make the reader more receptive to such topics. It’s addictive and open and pure. Admittedly—and this is terribly embarrassing—this is my first CAConrad book and I can tell you that if the reading of his books always feels this intimate, this honest and real and relatively insane, I’m looking for more.
CJ Opperthauser has a bachelor’s in English from Central Michigan University and a master’s in poetry from Miami University in Ohio. He is a copyeditor for Midwestern Gothic and an editor of Threadcount. He was born near Detroit, Michigan, and is now stationed in Providence, Rhode Island.