Thursday, January 26, 2006

C.A. Conrad

Thank God! C.A. Conrad's poems will finally arrive in bookstores. Soft Skull is putting out his "Deviant Propulsion" probably in a matter of days. I imagine this book will save many teenagers from spiritual and mental entropy all across the Midwest. C.A. Conrad, a close friend, is someone who looks at the world with awe and joy and humor and wisdom. This comes through in his poetry. I can't tell you how happy I am that this book will soon enter the world. I've posted the Publishers Weekly blurb below. All hail C.A. Conrad, gentle poetry king and goddess of Philadelphia.

Deviant Propulsion
C.A. Conrad. Soft Skull (PGW, dist.), $13.95 paper (102p) ISBN 1-932360-87-5

Sexy and outrageous, Conrad's debut fuses the confidence of the beats and the casual demeanor of more recent downtown New York performance poetry into short lines, exclamations and admonishments. Conrad's sentences can include a whimsy bordering on randomness: "It's True I Tell Ya My Father Is a 50 Cent Party Balloon," one title insists. He can also turn suddenly profound: "all the/ death has a/ way of/ getting us/ the love." If the specter of HIV looms heavily, it does battle with the happier spirit of Stonewall: Conrad imagines a "transvestite boxer... willing to wear pink gloves with drawings of Judy Garland's face" punching out Mike Tyson, and portrays himself "in a bishop's robe bless[ing] rush hour traffic with one hand, with a sign in the other 'IGNORE THIS BLESSING YOU HAVE ALL YOU NEED!' " Though he invokes celebrities and poetic mentors from Robert Creeley to Kevin Killian to Courtney Love, the best analogy for the Philadelphia-based Conrad is Allen Ginsberg, who also shocked America with his frankness, denounced hypocrisy in prose poems and in verse declamation, and who also hoped to embody the queer life of his times. (Jan.)

Monday, January 23, 2006

James Purdy

Something that has not happened to me in years: I got obsessed with a writer. James Purdy. As I was a cockey Spicerian through my very late teens until my early twenties, I did not allow myself to read fiction. I told myself I could only believe in poetry. And then I started writing a novel. Don't ask. So now I am trying to make up my deficiency in prose. A few months back Ben Marcus wrote an article against Jonathan Franzen in Harper's. Inside the article Marcus took time to mention writers whom he respected and admired, but who were largely ignored. I used his lists as a starting point. I googled James Purdy, liked the description of his work, and went out the next day to purchase "Eustace Chislom and the Works." Now I am the slowest of slow readers, but I read this book in a few hours spread out over three days. I stayed up late to find out what would happen next. The story is set in Chicago during the depression and focuses on a series of younger men, one who wants to be a poet (Eustace). The characters are gritty and tragic. And some ugly things happen, like an illegal abortion. That scene is so horrible, so difficult to read because of the violence of it. It's an excellent scene, and yet I hope to never read it again.

My speed reading of this book made me ask myself if a good story made a good writer. I don't think it does, or my prejudice is that it doesn't. This is seen through my propensity to read novels in which nothing much happens. And my habit of reading the last sentence of any novel I start. The story is not the point. And yet with Purdy I wanted to know what would happen. I lost the face of the language, though the language has a syntactical beauty to it. The characters and the landscapes they inhabited were the beauty in reading Purdy. The artifice of the language was not something I was very conscious of when reading him. It wasn't like reading Joyce, or Faulkner, or Cormac McCarthy. Purdy made me like his books for a different reason than I usually like books. I let go the questions of language and wondered about the lives of the people in the books and the choices they made. And it was great. I didn't feel cheated. I felt like I was taken to the next level. He made me ask myself questions that were greater than language, but could only be posed through the world he created with it.