FRANK SHERLOCK: A discussion of the occult conventionally includes emphasis on the hidden revealed to the few. Maybe you see parallels between that and sharing through poetry at readings, for instance, since both the poetry and occult crowds are specialized practitioners fringed by the larger culture. Do you see certain parallels between them? CA CONRAD: Something I can't quote enough is from Alice Notley's poem "C-81" where she writes, "poetry's so common hardly anyone can find it." I'm glad you ask what you ask because what's conventionally seen as the occult is the very hard work our ancestors did to understand this world. Yes some of it can be seen as superstitious, but there are SO MANY THINGS that I thought were superstitious which were later PROVEN to me to be OF this world. Hands-on occult practice first came to me when I was a teenager in Philadelphia. My friend Pepi was a drag queen, about 15 years older than me, and Pepi taught me to read the tarot through the zodiac in order to compound the information. My big test came when Pepi was going for a sex change to become a woman, and wanted me to be the last person to jerk him off, literally the night before having the penis removed. It was such a challenge, and maybe a little corny now, but, I had a little red heart I cut out of felt. And I masturbated Pepi until he ejaculated on the heart. Then I placed the semen soaked heart in a pot of dirt with a crystal, covered it with more dirt, then planted a baby spider plant on top. Pepi took such good care of that plant, and when the plant had babies she gave me one of them and said, "Here, you're it's papa," which kind of freaked me out, and that little plant suffered in my dingy, claustrophobic apartment. But now I'm gearing up to conduct another series of (Soma)tic Poetry Workshops here in Philadelphia. THESE are a way to help understand how poetry IS IN every inch of this world every second of the day. The question of the occult and poetry is more about paying attention, and once someone learns to PAY ATTENTION then new ways to poetry are suddenly MOST SUDDENLY very available. SHERLOCK: So it sounds like you're viewing the workshops as a demystification process. Are you "un-occulting" for the masses, or do you think you're continuing the occult tradition of sharing secrets to select practitioners? ... CONRAD: These workshops are to demystify, yes. I even hesitate using the word teaching. These workshops are about process in motion, looking at the world, seeing how ALL WE NEED TO DO is look closely with our clearest eyes to see how language can be generated out of the fucking STONES and GRASS and yes statues and pavement. Every THING has its engine, with its own taste for fuel of some kind, consuming and burning with its resulting heat, a flame VERY alive, and if we can find our way into this we can exit with a poem, not unlike the best definition of Shamanism, meaning going beneath the layers of our world to come back out with a message retrieved. These workshops are about becoming the keenest of observers, and it's procedural, but in a way which is not stuck behind a desk, but OUT in the air WITH the world, hearing the world, tasting, smelling, USING all of our senses. I put ALL of the (Soma)tic exercises up online every month for everyone and anyone: somaticpoetics.blogspot.com These exercises are a response to "the real world" or "the adult world" of jobs and taxes and countless, seemingly ENDLESS daily grinds which carry us away from the creative core each of us has. In a sense I'm trying to get us to (RE)LOCATE the simplest of things around us by way of subtle trance. Although when I've been in the middle of an exercise, what's subtle to me is overwhelming to others sometimes. For instance, in writing the (Soma)tic Midge poems, for the BLUE poem I not only ate ONLY blue foods all day, but listened to Bobby Vinton's song "Blue Velvet" on a loop from 6 a.m. to midnight, which drove my boyfriend out of the apartment, and he's not someone who overreacts to such things. It's NOT that I have a higher threshold, it's that I willingly surrender to the set parameters of the process for the sake of poetry. While the song played on its loop the MAIN THING was the consumption of blue food, SATURATING my system with blue, even adding blue food color to the water I drank. Blue is Pisces in the zodiac, a sign ruled by Neptune, and to absorb Neptune is to negate the personal ego as much as possible, leave CHANCE open in all respects. Neptune is also an honest attempt at working on unconditional love, and being a Capricorn I knew I was outside my comfort zones. But my point is that "Blue Velvet" actually KEPT ME focused, merging with its SONIC PULSE, creating space outside my personal norm and ego to relish another possibility. This is (Soma)tic Poetry's ultimate gift. Ezra Pound said, "The only thing one can give an artist is leisure in which to work. To give an artist leisure is actually to take part in his creation." While I can't offer other poets MONEY to create leisure, I can help us find a way to have space in our lives everyday for poetry, which is (Soma)tic Poetry's goal. SHERLOCK: Your poems have a way of integrating the understanding of the occult into the everyday, and an interest in sharing of "secret" knowledge. This is something I associate more with a paganism than an occult practice. How do you understand these two terms differently, and what do you think are their intersections? CONRAD: For years I've been studying the Dakini Tarot, created by Penny Slinger, which is in a sense a study in comparative religions, and in particular holds the major arcana out of the shadows, and even holds their feet to flame. Slinger's new interpretations are holistic in that WE ARE THE responsible ones, not seeking some divine judge to ask forgiveness from and cower beneath. Her tarot is BOLD in every sense of the word, and has no interest but the interest of community and REBUILDING our war-torn, vicious, blood thirsty, greedy species. I've been learning for many years about magic and herbs and the deepest functions of our bodies, which in turn informs my poems. But also I learn things and pass them on whenever needed, and I guess the "secret" is that we've been so out of touch in this monotheistic, monothematic culture for so long that we're ALL just now coming back to making ourselves whole again. For instance when I worked at the queer bookstore here in Philadelphia I made friends with some of the drag queen prostitutes who would come in at night hoping to score a trick or two. One of the queens had a client in South Philly, an older man who liked to get fist fucked. She complained of being unusually EXHAUSTED after getting this guy off, ramming her fist and arm up his asshole. At that time I had been studying electrical currents of the human body and asked her if she was right or left handed. She was right handed, and using her right hand to fuck him. I suggested she switch to her left hand because her left was her passive, receiving hand, the hand she uses to draw energy INTO herself. When using her right hand to fuck him she had been putting too much of herself into this guy through his ass. She switched to the left hand and sure enough she started to feel GREAT all night long after fucking him, in fact she said that HE was now the exhausted one after their sessions, which also made sense since she was now using her left hand, drawing energy out of him. But that was fine too because he could take a nap and replenish, but she had work to do and needed her stamina. My point to all this is to learn information and pass it along, and you never know how or where the information will wind up being necessary. When I was a weird queer kid stuck in Pennsylvania Dutchland I hung out with old women who were friends of my grandmother's. These women painted hex signs, baked spells into pies, but the most important thing they taught me was the Sator Formula, or Magic Square, which is a series of letters arranged and drawn inside a black square. This is a GOOD EXAMPLE of the occult as secrecy because it had to be secret in a Christian world, especially THEIR Christian world. But at the same time it was common knowledge, especially among the old timers, and the Sator Formula HAD TO BE Christianized in order to preserve the craft, which persists to this day. This Magic Square has been traced back to Etruscan times so it's clearly NOT Christian. It's NOT JUST for protection this square, it's a punch! It's a mirror in a sense, sending whatever harm is coming your way BACK to its sender. Psychic warfare is its chief concern. SHERLOCK: Speaking of magical symbols, I think of The TCB lightning bolt designed by Priscilla Presley. Your new book Advanced Elvis Course is based at least in part on the mystical properties of the (hardly secret and internationally popular) Elvis phenomenon, investigating both his beliefs and the practices of his devotees. We've talked a lot about Graceland through the years, but can you address specifically some of the rituals you witnessed in Memphis during your travels? CONRAD: OH YES, OF COURSE! And I've created a Magic Square with Elvis's name, it's The Elvis Formula. But it won't work the same way the Sator Formula does, as the Magic Elvis Square will be a transformative square instead of a mirror, or I guess I mean a refinery, transforming negative psychic thoughts to positive. I worked the Norse alphabet to correspond through Elvis. And none of this is a stretch once you get to know who Elvis was outside of his movies and records. He was a reader of Blavatsky for instance, and would give new friends her book VOICE OF THE SILENCE, which was a collection of out takes from her larger volumes ISIS UNVEILED, and THE SECRET DOCTRINE. There are so many beautiful ritualistic devotionals from Elvis's followers. The thing which is most important is that IT'S A NEW PAGANISM, and the rituals are NOT set, and such a freedom is one that any church would consider perverse, thankfully, in my opinion. But yes, like Maisy, who I write about in the book with her vibrator named HOUND DOG, now that's a ritual we all could benefit from knowing about. And the Sacred Hearts of Elvis Club with their lockets of Elvis which are only opened in front of his grave. My absolute favorite though was an old woman who had a portable oxygen tank, and her husband picked grass from around Elvis's tomb and placed the grass in a small metal tube on a chain around her neck. She said that she had made a promise to The King in a dream, and that she would be seeing him soon enough, meaning she was taking grass from Graceland to the other world when she died. Elvis is BIG in the Neo-pagan movement as well. When I first met Freya Aswynn at a gathering in the deep woods of Virginia, she gave me a personal rune reading in her trailer. She's the real thing, and psychic on top of it all. She could see the Elvis book I had written and wanted to know about it. It's always a little disconcerting being around a true psychic since they SEE what you're up to, but she wanted to know, and when I told her about the book she gave me a big lecture about Elvis now being part of the larger pantheon and that He deserves the respect for this placement. She liked what I was doing, but at the same time wanted to let me know to do right by Him. Then there's the White Trash Coven, who I dedicate the Elvis book to for their ELVIS ALTAR. They have a traveling Elvis altar in their VW mini bus which pops up at gatherings all over the US and Canada. But the Neo-pagan communities I've had contact with have given me much HOPE for our planet because for the most part their main focus is returning us to ancient, Earth-based systems of sustainable community. Something I feel important to bring up here is the confusion between knowledge and intelligence. Knowledge is what we learn and retain. But intelligence is what is done with the knowledge, and to me intelligence is the more creative output. ANY computer can hold information. I BRING THIS UP mainly because I feel VERY STRONGLY that in America (maybe elsewhere too, but I'm in America, so this I know) we confuse knowledge with intelligence. For instance I've spent a lot of time in pagan communities, and one thing that's consistent is that THOSE high-and-mighty types who walk around spewing information they've memorized about WHICH Norse God did what, THOSE are the ones who thinkthey've done something OTHER THAN read a book. It's very much like annoying hipsters who ask you if you've heard of a particular band, and if you say No, they say,"REALLY, YOU'VE NEVER HEARD OF THEM!?" as though you're stupid. There is no REAL currency in simply knowing something, but it's nonetheless traded as such to my great annoyance. Because in the end, the hipster is merely LISTENING to music! We ALL LISTEN to music! BIG FUCKING DEAL! But CREATING MUSIC, using your intelligence, using gained knowledge, making something new, now THAT'S SOMETHING GREAT if you ask me! But I LOATHE the idea of information being something to Lord Over others with. Here is an experience that's a good marker for this conversation. It was about 8 or 9 years ago at a huge pagan gathering called Starwood. Some of us would stay up all night around the bonfires dancing, drumming, chanting, drinking homemade mead, things like that. But this one night a young man in his early twenties started a chant that went something like, "Spread your vibrations, create a pagan nation!" It was kind of corny, but we were having fun, right? Then this small group JUMPED ALL OVER THIS poor guy, lecturing him, saying that we don't want a pagan nation because not everyone was a witch, or healer in ancient times. The argument I had with these people was that TODAY we DO need to all be healers, which is what macrobiotics is about (which I was macrobiotic at that time). But not only that, C'MON, it isn't even what he was chanting. My point though is that THESE people were wanting to keep the secrecy, wanting to keep an elitist set of keys to the gate and perpetuate their stupid protocol and pedigree. So, yes there are those who do that, but for the most part, those who really STAND OUT in the pagan community, they tend to want to BUILD and SHARE completely. People like Starhawk, Susan Weed and Freya Aswynn. Diane Stein is a big one for this, the woman who brought Reiki to modern America against the suggestion of secrecy from her Chinese teachers. There's TOO MUCH AT STAKE to not share NOW! We're sharing and learning at a fast rate to match the need, things like massage, reiki, herbal remedies, runes, tarot, WHATEVER we need to do to get some real focus and healing, it's being done all over the world right now. A chant and wish for a pagan nation? Sure, why not!? This young man was expressing a REAL DESIRE to have community that CARED about the earth, nothingwrong with that. And I grew up in a very backward Christian country town, and I remember when a citizen action group was trying to force our county to comply with a mandatory bottle recycling program. One Sunday at church the pastor LITERALLY said through his big dumb smile, "DON'T THEY KNOW JESUS IS COMING!?" He actually gave a sermon about how recycling is stupid because Jesus is coming. That sermon really bugged me as a kid and it was one of those moments where I really FELT the separation, NOT the separation from God, but the separation from the body, meaning THE PLANET BODY and Her animals. And the "controversial" chant that night years later at the pagan gathering came from a place I understand in its totality from a need for hope that the gulf between us human animals and the natural world be healed to save our species. There's a type of elitism born out of wrong biblical thinking which has set far too many Christians in the direction of seeing the planet as something to shit and claw our way across and discard at the end because NOW is irrelevant, and only the future of Heaven is what counts. A doctrine set on ignoring life NOW frightens me. But of course I'm NOT saying ALL Christians do this, in fact it would be stupid for me to think all Christians are like the pastor of my childhood. But YES I've studied WITH people who I knew to be knowledgeable, people with information that I wanted to have in my head and body. And at the same time I was studying macrobiotics, which as it turns out is another study of the occult, since both magic and macrobiotics are about the study of the physical world and what we need to do to change it up, be clear about it, bend it in the directions we want it to be bent. And the study for knowledge was good, but it didn't make me intelligent until I started to PUT IT TO USE, where I was MAKING it happen. And with poetry, while I NEVER studied in a school, or other such things, poetry itself has always been a direct entrance into the spirit world for me, and I felt this verified when Timothy Leary gave a talk at a pagan gathering and said, "Music is a direct link to the gods." Language, pronouncing, annunciating, getting the alphabet FLYING around our heads is like a CONSTANT runic sigil or magic spell set into motion. SHERLOCK: It's funny that you talk about macrobiotics as an occultic practice. Brazilian Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil is macrobiotic. I wonder if the USA would ever have a publicly macrobiotic cabinet member. The idea of balance in the Western world is a strange notion to most folks. CONRAD: That's really terrific news. Macrobiotics needs to not be seen as this WEIRD, ugly thing. It's how we all ate before global transit. I mean, the main focus is LOCAL, being LOCAL, and seeing how LOCAL is not only good for our bodies, but good for the planet. For instance a banana is GREAT for you if you live in the tropics where it grows, but in a climate like Philadelphia bananas create more mucus our bodies don't need and is hard to digest, and hard on our lungs. Not only that but if we choose to eat local fruit, not just because it's better for us being suitable for the climate where it grows and where we breathe and live, but local fruit DOES NOT acquire all the oil and gasoline bananas do in order to ship them to us. Local food is better for many reasons beyond these even. Macrobiotics literally means "the big life" and it's what helped me find (Soma)tic Poetics, seeing how poetry is possible in EVERYTHING, every single moment! Jonathan Williams was important to me when I was younger because he ENCOURAGED me and other young poets to create our own poetics. He was all about being self taught, and was THE ULTIMATE kind of anti-mentor-mentor. He shared books, shared music, shared all kinds of things because he was generous, but at the same time he wanted to instill in younger poets the idea that THIS IS OUR WORLD TOO and that we need to take up some ROOM and make some NOISE. Alice Notley is also important to bring up here. I'll always remember this amazing lecture she gave at Temple University in Philadelphia, it was sort of an anti-lecture-lecture, because she decided to read an anti-manifesto-manifesto by her son Edmund Berrigan. You were there Frank, you remember this, it was great, we were in the front row with Magdalena Zurawski. At the end of reading this anti-manifesto-manifesto there was Q&A, and I asked her about poets we should be paying attention to, and I'll ALWAYS remember her saying that it's the younger poets she's interested in because the poets her age are too bogged down in their dogma. She was excited by the anti-dogma in poetry today. Then Samuel Delany, who was sitting several rows behind us, started up a conversation with her about Crystal Cities, and the two of them talked about these Crystal Cities for a good ten minutes or so. I wish that whole talk had been recorded so we could go back and hear about the Crystal Cities again. TALK ABOUT POETRY AND THE OCCULT! That was so fucking terrific! SHERLOCK: We've passed the old house of Madame Blavatsky and the Theosophist Temple hundreds if not thousands of times as a couple of pedestrians in Philadelphia. Talk a little bit about your time inside the temple walls, and the impact Blavatsky has had on your work. CONRAD: The Lodge is on Walnut, right at the edge of Rittenhouse Square, which I consider a real FUCK YOU kind of political move in a sense, being so close to the money and cultural elite. I'm not the BIGGEST fan of Blavatsky, but I've certainly learned a lot from reading her, and listening to the elders at the Lodge. One of the things I realized quick enough when going there was how Americans confuse karma with sin. The lure around Blatvatsky is interesting but not very useful. I mean, was she a hermaphrodite? I don't know, but it might be important if we knew, but only in the sense that transgender folk are those walking on both sides, sometimes more than two sides, and have greater insight as a result. Blavatsky is a Philadelphia celebrity of the occult, but in the end my practice is outside of her own, and she would not at all approve of my astral projections for instance. She wrote passionately against astral travel, explaining that it was dangerous, and I think she's right, but I do it anyway, and do it at this point mostly for the poems that come out of me as a result for the experiences. Her awareness and insights REALLY AND TRULY are what brought the New Age to America. It wasn't until I found Blavatsky's SECRET DOCTRINE at the Edgar Cayce Institute Library in Virginia Beach that I started to really DELVE into what both Cayce and Blavatsky had to say about the lost continent of Atlantis, and how those of us born at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st century in America will be the reincarnated souls of that continent. They spoke of a New Age, they spoke of CLONING, and a counterrevolution to bio science of healers who would learn to harness crystal and water.