I’m not sure that CA Conrad‘s work deserves such extensive treatment (I’ve read maybe a dozen of his poems and can’t remember a thing about them except a sort of free-floating fatuity), but Curtis Faville’s consideration of the Philadelphia poet’s The Book of Frank is an intelligent exploration of Conrad’s negative example. By that I mean that it’s less about Conrad than about the poetic values that Conrad’s work fails to engage. This failure isn’t personal; it’s cultural. It springs from a certain mindset that can’t distinguish between poetry and stand-up comedy—or, more accurately, which doesn’t recognize that such a distinction exists. As a result, we are awash in poetry like Conrad’s—a kind of hipsterized entertainment that the atomized publicity engine of the Internet can easily position as art.*
Let me suggest that this mindset can be and is active in other dimensions of our culture. For example, a recent survey of GOP voters in Alabama and Mississippi revealed that half of those surveyed believe that President Obama is a Muslim. The response by pundits is to say that “Obama has a problem.” No, these voters have a problem: they suffer from a mindset that can’t distinguish information from propaganda—or, more accurately, which doesn’t recognize that such a distinction exists.
In any case, Faville’s assessment is subtle and honest, and I highly recommend it to all Perpetual Birders.
* Let me note that the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage doesn’t share my low opinion. Conrad is a recipient of one of the Center’s 2011 fellowships. This may sound disingenuous, but I have to say that I don’t begrudge Conrad this windfall. There are precious few rewards in our culture for poets, and even if it seems to me that Conrad’s poetry is bad, it’s heartening on a human level when any poet is acknowledged. Of course, I would prefer to have my tastes affirmed by elite institutions, though such judgements are often ephemeral. In a hundred years, Conrad may be seen as the 21st century Rimbaud, and readers of poetry, if there are any, will be glad to know that some prescient entity saw him for what he was.