What Sparks Poetry

Ecopoetry Now

What Sparks Poetry is a serialized feature that explores experiences and ideas that spark the writing of new poems.

In Ecopoetry Now, invited poets engage in an ecopoetic conversation across borders. In poems and poetics statements, their work describes important local differences, including bioregion and language, as well as a shared concern for the Earth. We hope to highlight poetry’s integral role in creating and sustaining a broadly ecological imagination that is most alive when biologically, culturally, and linguistically diverse.

CAConrad on Their “(Soma)tic” Poetry Ritual

Dearest Tre, it is 45 degrees Celsius this afternoon here in the Mojave Desert. I’m missing you, when do you arrive? The intense heat makes things seem further away; how is it doing that? Here is a new poem for you. Wet your finger in your mouth and spell each word onto your chest, and keep that finger moist, my dear!

When you get here, I will introduce you to the 9 animals who are part of my new (Soma)tic poetry ritual. The nocturnal animals include a band of howling coyotes who comb the sand and cactus around the house each night, looking for something delicious to eat. The kangaroo rat is one of my favorite creatures who live in this desert. My binoculars are good enough that we can watch their whiskers and little hands hold sunflower seeds to nibble while balancing on those massive legs, which actually evolved to kick their way out of a rattlesnake’s jaws! I had a dream I was breastfeeding a kangaroo rat; it was beautiful! My mother came in the room and screamed, but you calmed her down while I continued to enjoy feeding my friend whose little claws were gently tangled in my chest hair. “Queers can breastfeed?” I nodded to her, “Yes, I used to breastfeed my stuffed animals as a child, didn’t you know?” What a strange thing to dream of my mother seeing me feed a small animal with my body and that you had to intervene on my behalf. Queer needs for queer nerves revealing themselves in new ways.

Remember a few years ago, I asked you to cut my arm with your bowie knife, so I could write a poem while observing my cells in their 27-day repair cycle? There is something special about having the body be part of the writing experience, and with these birds and animals in the desert, each one is assigned a spot on my body. For instance, when the glorious quail come bopping into the yard, running across the sand together, I lightly caress my right jawline with my left thumb. Brush it ever so lightly for 30 seconds. Locating an animal on myself is an incredible way to enter the writing. You will LOVE THIS: the kangaroo rat is my left nipple. After the dream, how could it be any other part of me!? The coyotes are the backs of my ears. I can easily imagine that if one of them let me rub the back of their ears, they would like it a lot!

The lizard gets the spot just below my navel. I have no idea why my dear before you ask! You will have plenty of ideas, but hear me say the body needs our intuitive touch, the imagined cartographies of the flesh! Let’s rub our bodies when we see creatures; in fact, let’s scratch each other’s ears when the coyotes howl! Let’s do it! I’m ready! The roadrunner is the most aggressive creature who visits, and I rub my spine, all the way up and down I rub it. Chipmunks are my ankles, and I love how they stretch their bodies on the shaded cement patio to cool their bellies while eating peanuts and cherries. One day the roadrunner tried to catch and eat a chipmunk, and I was grateful for my little furry friend’s speed.

Doves are my hands, and I think it is from a television commercial of my childhood about a brand of soap named Dove. It irritates me, but there is nothing I can do about it. If I see doves or even hear them without seeing them, I feel them in my hands. It is not too much to surrender to in the end. And I like the doves and very much enjoy the use of my hands. My gratitude to doves and hands—the perfect time to say I love you! Solar plexus to solar plexus! Your private forest witch, CAConrad

Commissioned by Eoin Dara of Dundee Contemporary Arts for a forthcoming collection of letters published by DCA, Scotland.


Five Books for Further Reading

Eyes to See Otherwise. Homero Aridjis. New York: New Directions, 2002. 

Plastic: An Autobiography.  Allison Cobb. New York: Nightboat Books, 2021. 

Nature Poem. Tommy Pico. Portland, OR: Tin House, 2017. 

That Winter the Wolf Came. Juliana Spahr. Chico, CA: Commune Editions, 2015. 

Doomstead Days.. Brian Teare. New York: Nightboat Books, 2020. 

Writing Prompt

CAConrad writes, “There is something special about having the body be part of the writing experience.” Consider how your own body is (or is not) engaged with your writing practice. Write a poem examining this relationship.

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CAConrad has been working with the ancient technologies of poetry and ritual since 1975. Their new book is AMANDA PARADISE: Resurrect Extinct Vibration (Wave Books, 2021). They received a Creative Capital grant, a Pew Fellowship, a Lambda Literary Award, and a Believer Magazine Book Award. Their play The Obituary Show was made into a film in 2022 by Augusto Cascales. They teach at Columbia University in New York City and Sandberg Art Institute in Amsterdam. You can find them online at https://linktr.ee/CAConrad88