(1966 - Present)
CAConrad has been working with the ancient technologies of poetry and ritual since 1975. They were born on January 1, 1966, in Topeka, Kansas, and raised in rural Boyertown, Pennsylvania, where much of their extended family worked at the local coffin factory. When they were eight, they began selling bouquets along Route 309 to help support their family. The following year, they discovered Emily Dickinson while visiting the public library, and they began to write their own poetry. At sixteen, Conrad left their largely right-wing small town to move to Philadelphia, where they found a loving, queer creative community. Sadly, this group and the Philadelphia arts scene as a whole were ravaged by the AIDS epidemic. Conrad lost their boyfriend, Tommy, and nearly half of their friends to AIDS during this time. In subsequent years, they lived in New Mexico; Asheville, North Carolina; and Athens, Georgia.
In 2005, Conrad was at work on The Book of Frank when they went back to their hometown for a reunion. On the train to Boyertown, the image of the coffin factory brought about a revelation. As they wrote in ecodeviance: (Soma)tics for the Future Wilderness, “I had an epiphany that I had been treating my poetry like a factory, an assembly line, and doing so in many different ways.” They realized that “not being aware of place in the present” was a threat to themself and their work. In response, they developed their now well-known practice, (Soma)tic Poetry Rituals, in which intricate rituals and attention elicit existence in the “extreme present” from the poet at work, permitting escape from an increasingly mechanized world and a reconnection to nature and other humans.
Conrad began publishing poetry books in their forties, beginning with Deviant Propulsion (Soft Skull Press, 2006) and Advanced Elvis Course (2009). The Book of Frank (Chax/Wave, 2009/2010), which took eighteen years to write, was their first book to bring them widespread attention. Initially consisting of 1,584 poems, which were winnowed down to 130 in its final form, The Book of Frank has been translated into nine languages. Conrad’s other titles include A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon: New (Soma)tics (Wave, 2012), ecodeviance: (Soma)tic for the Future Wilderness (2014), While Standing in Line for Death (2017), and, most recently, Amanda Paradise: Resurrect Extinct Vibration (2021). They also co-edited Supplication: Selected Poems of John Wieners with Robert Dewhurst and Joshua Beckman.
Conrad is the recipient of a Creative Capital grant, a Pew Fellowship, a Lambda Literary Award, a Believer Magazine Book Award, and, in 2022, both the Ruth Lilly Prize and the Josephine Miles Award. In 2022, their first solo exhibition of their poems as art objects, 13 Moons: Listen to the Golden Boomerang Return, was held at Fluent Gallery in Santander, Spain. They have also exhibited their poems at venues including the Futura Gallery in Prague, the Robert Grunenberg Gallery in Berlin, the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts in New York City, Tai Kwun Contemporary in Hong Kong, and the 2021 Riga International Biennial of Contemporary Art. In 2022, Augusto Cascales created a film of their play The Obituary Show. In Spring 2023, a second solo exhibition of Conrad’s poems, Hidden in the Cave We Forge of One Another, opened at Batalha Centro de Cinema in Porto, Portugal.
Conrad teaches at Columbia University in New York City and Sandberg Art Institute in Amsterdam. Their book Listen to the Golden Boomerang Return will be published by Wave Books in 2024.
Photo by Matthew Thompson.