BIRI 2013 #2: A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon by C.A. Conrad

Books I Read In 2013

A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon
C.A. Conrad
Wave Books

(This is a book of C.A. Conrad's (Soma)tic Exercises with the poems he wrote after doing the exercises. I read the book and got increasingly enthused and ended up writing an exercise in tribute. Here it is.) 


"the / deer and / daisies are / not why it's / remembered"
- C.A. Conrad

Exercise: Find a site of dehumanization and trauma or violence or warfare. It can be something recent or something in the more distant past. Something close by or something you have to travel to. Terrorist attack. Drug violence. Perhaps a murder site. Perhaps a battle site nearby. Perhaps your own home. The thing is you should know right where it happened. Or have a good idea of right where it occured. You are going to go there.

As C.A. Conrad says, "The exercises are designed to fling us OUT OF our routines. Routine is what puts a cap on the imagination. [...] So the exercises give EVERYONE—no matter who—the frame to bust out of that routine, if only for a little while. The exercises get us to deliberately engage the world in unexpected ways."

Sit down in a spot where you can feel comfortable. First record the sounds of that particular place for a while. Like a few minutes. Or ten minutes. All the while take your notes. Just notes and notes. Think about what happened, but don't write about it. Feel your body in the space. Feel the fear of something bad happening to you in that same place.  Was the site a place where recent violence happened? Are you afraid something could happen to your body? Think about the ghosts that might run through that place, afraid. If you feel afraid in the space, write in that fear. If you don't feel the fear, then write in the feelings that you do have. Write what you see, what you observe, what you feel, taste, smell. Write down all of that. Try to make your writing of these notes match the rhythm of the scene, write notes with the same rhythm of the noise around you. Don't turn away from that noise. Stop and deeply listen to it. Let the writing of notes flow out of the scene in front of you. Don't feel bad about the writing not being good. Don't stress yourself in that way. Just write what you are able to write in that particular moment. Let the writing occur without getting in its way too much. There is a poem in there somewhere. Try to tease it out later.

This process of teasing out can be dicey. As C.A. Conrad says in an interview at the end of the book: "In shaping the poems there are often lines that jump out and present themselves as lines for the poem, yes, but very often lines present ways to entire new structures that were not even considered at the time of doing the exercise. Trusting the notes. Trusting too that at the time of carrying the notes around to form the poem is its own kind of exercise, BEING in the world with the notes. Does that make sense?"

If you lose hope, here is another quote from C.A.: "But WHY DO THIS? Because the world is beautiful, and I'm here, knowing its beautiful, and I'm tired of some people having money to BREATHE while others suffer. Suffering is a big part of what I look to for guidance. Suffering and love. Resistance is most urgent. Resitance is the real magic. As you soon as you set yourself down thte path of NOT being agreeable to the directives of others your poetry becomes THAT LIFE! It becomes YOUR POEMS, YOUR LIFE!"

And remember: "I never want to be anything but a student of this world who travels with other students, anxious, disturbed, always eager to imagine yet another kind of handle on the door."

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