Saturday, October 31, 2009

Dale Smith & CAConrad discuss Dorn, AIDS, and community that holds us together & holds us to it 

For years I've admired Dale Smith's poems and his undeterred route for expressing his thoughts and ideas. Even if I didn't agree with him I've been nothing but grateful that he was always forthcoming with sheer unapologetic honesty. There's not enough of Dale Smith's brand of frankness in my opinion, the kind of space needed for new ideas to shake loose. We had this often tough conversation over the last couple of months via email.

Hope you enjoy it,

There are many things I want us to talk about Dale, but let me just start off with a big one. Ed Dorn. Let's just go ahead and be dramatic by having his name stand as its own sentence. Ed Dorn. It's important, at least it's important to me, to find out some of the details behind his fateful pronouncements. I'm not holding back about being VERY ANGRY when I read his book Abhorrences, being that I'm a queer man who had a boyfriend die of AIDS, saw many others die of AIDS, worked with herbalists on Essiac distribution and other herbal cures, being as desperate and traumatized as anyone else who lived in queer American inner cities in the late 80s and early 90s. And was paranoid that ACT UP was infiltrated and working with the pharmaceutical companies and on and on I could go with the wrath of our emotions at that time. But I feel enough distance from all of that now to REALLY WANT to understand how an American poet of note could write and say the things he did at such a time. In some ways the things Dorn said has put him in the category of Pound's open support of fascism for some people. I'm assuming this is a complicated answer, but please shed some light on this for us. For instance I'm feeling compassion for Dorn in that maybe he was angry at the loss of friends at Naropa? Meaning those who died of AIDS? And the means by which they contracted it? I don't know, but hope that you do.

Conrad, thanks for inviting me to speak with you. I can't imagine what it must have been like in the 1980s and 90s to be gay, to watch people I loved die from HIV/AIDS. Life is brutal enough without feeling targeted by disease, and the opinions and prejudices that went along with AIDS in the early years. I was a straight white kid in Texas, very male in the sense I didn't have to question what that meant. At least not consciously. AIDS was a distant thing--something in the news--something that happened to others. It also brought queer sex into public view and into a mainstream imagination. And that was interesting to me. But I don't know. My sympathies have always been with everything that's not triumphant and celebratory in this craven and sad, crushed nation. I don't know why I feel this way. I lived in Yemen in the early 90s and had my suspicions of America confirmed there in many ways. It was like stepping outside a bubble. Life was raw and vivid there, if less defined. AIDS was beginning to affect life there, too, though the Muslim institutions that governed that small republic refused to acknowledge queer sexuality. I remember a teacher asking me if it were possible for boys to catch venereal disease by sharing a towel. I suggested that there may have been more going on.

This is all just to lead up to saying this: I don't think I can say anything to ease the complications you see in Dorn's late work. I don't want to be his defender, though I admire his writing. I met him once, spoke with him a few times on the phone, and so I have always been thankful for this very impersonal relationship to him. The impersonal is what I find most interesting in anyone. And Dorn was masterful at opening that impersonal space, a space that is scary and human and real. And sometimes the force of the personal can erupt-and that can be difficult. It brushes up against the space of the actual, really. And so for Dorn I always felt that the personal was in service to something other, and always something that must submit to other human capacities of thought and feeling. There was no chit-chat in his conversation, you know? He was the real deal, and complicated, and performed roles he felt necessary to perform. That anyone can associate him with Fascism is beyond my experience of the man or the work. I know for a while near the end--in the late 90s--there were attempts to defame him, taking the personal (overheard words, decontextualized statements) and publicizing versions of Dorn's persona that I know Dorn did not embrace. There were things published about him by pissed off ex-students in Exquisite Corpse and quite a lot of hearsay was distributed at the Buffalo Poetics List about Ed. He felt near the end as though his cancer had invaded him, and he knew those responsible. But that's a psychic level of Dorn I would rather leave.

Going back briefly, I'm curious, what was your boyfriend's name? What did you learn from him, and his experience with AIDS, that helped you, perhaps to better understand your feeling life, if not your writing life? I know this kind of moves in a different direction than you may have had in mind, but it also seems to run parallel, too, while we are here, for the moment, remembering the dead.

Oh, this is an unexpected turn in our conversation. But thanks for asking, not many people ask. Which is weird, right? Maybe it makes them uncomfortable? Tommy Schneider, he was a beautiful man, and I'll just hemorrhage the personal for a bit here in saying that I fell in love with him the moment I met him. And he felt the same way about me, and he told me he had AIDS within 30 minutes of meeting, and I told him I liked him anyway, and we simply could NOT take our eyes off one another. He was working at a used bookstore in Philadelphia called The Book Trader, down on South Street. There's nothing you can do to resist love when you're in love, especially, in fact most especially if the other person feels the same way. There's nothing you can do but go into it. You go into it, and it's beautiful, and there's very little else on this planet that wakes every cell of the body so ferociously, like being chased by someone with a knife, I love that we love.

But my friends were horrified that I fell in love with a man with AIDS. It was an unanticipated, extreme battle, all of it, with the friends, with him, with us, knowing he was going to die. And I became obsessed with the disease. I had already been obsessed with it, and had gone to pagan gatherings to meet with herbal healers, and learned how to make the herbal formula Essiac, which I started making like a mad person with friends in Philadelphia. But it was terrible, really, knowing that this beautiful man I loved so much is not getting better, he's not getting better, and that's it, that's it, and there's so much anger you have for everyone, including the presidents as they came and went.

And just one step outside of our own personal drama with the disease were literally thousands of others, often with no one to love them and care about them. My friend Jim who is about fifteen years older than I am went to over 100 funerals of friends and ex-boyfriends in the span of several years. It's impossible to believe now, and I don't know how he did it. It's SO WEIRD being in 2009, it's 2009, and sometimes I think WOW it's 2009! I'm here! I'm actually here! You asked too how it affects the writing? I'll tell you how, it makes a suit of fucking armor for you, gets you ready for almost any battle that wants to meet you. I'm far less fearful than many people. STRIPPING away fear is nothing but fantastic for making poems, and I'll be an asshole right now and say this is not an opinion but a fact.

Getting back to Dorn though, I want to share here his poem "Aid(e) Memoire" from Abhorrences, written in the spring of 1984:

Aid(e) Memoire

If you screw
and are screwed by
everybody you meet
24 hours a day
every day of the year
you'll get a disease
as we learn from the History of the Renaissance
So why not forego
the gamble and drink
directly from the sewer.

Yeah, the prejudice is so crystal clear. And like most prejudice it's rife with ignorance, I mean, this is the very sort of nonsense my vicious working class family would say about queers, that we're just fucking fucking fucking all day long. Which by the way I've always felt is something said by heterosexual men who WANT THIS TO BE TRUE because it fulfills some fantasy of their own. But Dorn actually blames the victim here in this poem, saying, HERE, it's YOUR FAULT because you fuck all day long you dirty fucking pig, you should just drink from the sewer! It's this unclear eye Dorn had at times that I wonder about. I mean JESUS CHRIST how is it that he can be so fucking smart and not for a second before writing this stupid poem, then publishing this stupid poem, consider the social constructs of bigotry having a hand in AIDING men into feeling so lousy about themselves, hating themselves so much that they don't care about their health? THIS IS OF COURSE TO ONLY talk of the men who in fact were continuously having unprotected sex. My boyfriend Tommy caught it because he was unsafe one time, one night. That man's name was Carlos, and I went with Tommy to see him in the hospital a few days before Carlos died, and I remember HATING Carlos on the way to the hospital! HATING HIM! I kept thinking, "WHY are we going to visit this CREEP who gave my boyfriend AIDS?" But Carlos carried his guilt and shame and the resulting pain so blatantly that you felt it in the curtains. I remember walking to the window because I was filled with grief when Tommy and Carlos were crying together and hugging and I could FEEL the curtains had absorbed Carlos's complex emotional toxicity, and it made me sad when thinking his last days would be spent feeling this way about himself.

Eileen Myles recently gave the keynote address at the Belladonna Conference in New York, and she said that Jennifer Moxley had once asked her why she didn't get involved with the Language poets since she was that age. She said many things in response to that, but one thing that stuck out for me was when she said, "I have to ask where is the great language poem about AIDS, how could you watch so many people die and not write about it? I've always thought of AIDS as the Vietnam of my generation."

Dale, you've already made it clear you are not here to be Dorn's defender, but I wanted to share this because his poem "Aid(e) Memoire" is such a mark upon his legacy. As is his poem "Something we can all agree on" which is also from Abhorrences. In your remarkable essay, "Edward Dorn's Metaphors of Ilness," you quote, "[a] world where no thing thrives short of the total pestilence / of its spirit" which makes me think how Dorn too was OF the spirit of this world. A child, then a young man, then a man, all the while capturing philosophical understanding by it, of it, and eventually for it. That's why I asked the first question the way I did in our conversation. WHY? WHY? What was it that made the WHY behind Dorn's prejudice?

And we NEED TO FORGIVE, maybe. Because as you say in your essay, Dorn was nothing short of shamanistic in his dealings with illness. The shaman are those who nearly died, or fell to a great sickness, and recovered, or at least delivered wisdom through the illness while it was taking them out of this world. His metaphors for vitamins leaving with the urine, and how we pollute, and again his premonition of bodies after nuclear war, it's all shamanistic, and I'm so glad you weren't afraid of using that word. But back to the NEED TO FORGIVE, maybe.

Conrad, thanks for sharing that with me. What an intense, but devoted and loving experience that must have been with Tommy. I don't think in our conversations about poetry many of us are willing to put the private and intimate experiences of our lives on the line. So it's moving that you would share this with me here. Along with everything else, I'm interested in your knowledge of herbal healing and Essiac. But I suppose we should stick closer to the topic, so let me say a little about prejudice:

A poet's prejudices are necessary to the practice of the art in any real sense. I mean, we all draw our lines, and those prejudices can be useful--or they can be socially limiting. There are a number of ways to think about Dorn and his prejudices. I think one thing that poem you quote does in the context of all the other pieces in Abhorrences is say this: in a corrupt nation no one escapes. Our sex lives, or political lives, or social lives, or economic lives--especially our economic lives--they're all fucked, morally, and in the Reagan 80s he really sensed that. America's post war reach toward what he called "ruinous increase" intensified during those hollow and soul-sucking years. And it's in the context of that "ruinous increase" that he made those statements about AIDS. And, you know, there's something a little perverse in him at times, and I wouldn't want to reconcile that. But that's how I read the poem. I won't pretend to read the man. His legacy is set in stone. There will be scholars dealing with his work for a long time. It's rich and complicated. As you say, that metaphor of illness and infection runs throughout his work. So it's not totally out of line in that context. I think metaphors are slippery--and can get away from us. And in Dorn's case, you know, early 80s, he may not have had the same perspective we have today in 2009--a remarkable moment to live in for a number of reasons.

About prejudice though... A friend of mine--a woman--lost interest in William S. Burroughs when, you know, he began that business about wanting to just do away with women. Carry the White Goddess in tied to a stick, on the shoulders of naked boys, etc. When Anne Waldman was in Austin last year at a talk someone asked her about the sexism of the Beats and she said yeah, you know, that was there, and people like Burroughs really were far out in their writing about wanting to create these boys clubs--they just really wanted to excise the feminine. But she said too that they were wonderful men, and complicated, and that their prejudices were understood as that--not platforms for anything. These weren't advocates in any sense.

So find a writer who is free of prejudice and you'll no doubt encounter a phoney--a person of exquisitely refined boredom. And in a way those prejudices--Dorn's or Burroughs' or Ginsberg or whoever--we secretly, perhaps many of us, delight in their expression, too, because they give us release--in that shamanic sense you mention--from the terms of the social to encounter our own rage or despair through statements that seem ass backward to our experience. And I've known poets who are careful in their writing to offend no one, but in their personal lives, well, they're just wrecks. I prefer it the other way around--and all the textual complications that come with it. But I'm defending prejudice here, in a way, and not Dorn, per se. Because I have the fortune of experiencing AIDS as cultural manifestation. I don't have the direct personal sense of that catastrophe like you do. It's good, though, I hope, that we can talk about it, even if, maybe, there's no real sense of resolution?

We don't need a resolution, it's just good to talk, yes? My anger is meaningless in all of this, especially since I intend to be angry until I'm dead. I'm also not interested in measuring dick sizes of bigots: Burroughs? Dorn? Let's face it, Dorn just wrote poems about how he felt, Burroughs shot his wife in the head and went on with his life. There are horrible men writing poems and novels all over the world, gay, straight, and every color. When I was still a teenager I went to a reading Norman Mailer was giving in Philadelphia, and some of his despicable friends in the audience shouted, "READ THE ONE ABOUT STABBING YOUR WIFE!" And they laughed. And Mailer laughed. And it wasn't funny at all because of course he DID stab his wife, and his wife didn't press charges, acting like most savagely abused people who identify with their oppressors. I've hated Mailer since. I intend to hate Mailer until I'm dead.

A Buddhist friend of mine told me recently that it's not a good goal to intend to stay angry. Anger's completely lost its charm these days for some reason. We Americans are four percent of the world's human population, this handful of people really. And we're here and we're paying our fucking taxes and the fucking taxes are buying bombs and bullets and it infuriates me every fucking day. Do you know the book CINDERELLA'S BIG SCORE? The book of women in Punk Rock? My friend Maria Raha wrote it, and she's been living in Philadelphia for a few years now, and has this way of drawing in folks to talk about the world. She was on the subway recently and a young soldier who literally just got back from Iraq started talking to her, asking her angrily, "Does anyone realize there's a war going on?!" It's a good question. I HATE having this long hair on my head, it's like a haystack and I fucking hate it, but I refuse to cut it until we're out of Iraq, because I INSIST that I have at least this one thing to remind me every single fucking day that I am a member, I am a citizen, I am an American of the American country which invaded the sovereign nation of Iraq and over a million people have lost their lives. I'm paying my taxes. I'm paying my taxes. And I'm paying my taxes, and my taxes are killing the world. We will pay more than our taxes if we get what we deserve.

It's all about believing what we deserve, when it comes to prejudice, right? Prejudice speaks from a voice of a body and mind believing that they don't get what they deserve, right? No one's perfect. Dorn wasn't perfect. Burroughs wasn't perfect. Dale Smith and CAConrad have probably fucked up so many times everyone's lost count a long time ago. To be angry, but to ALSO be CERTAIN that no writer has to have the burden of being a perfect human being in order to write, that's the hardest task sometimes.

But too, here we are at a time when American universities now unapologetically claim the term "Post Identity Politics." It's like all the work everyone did to get their race, their gender, their creed heard was just a lot of fun times, but the fun times are over. Can't we have it all? Can't we make room? Isn't it about making room anyway? I mean isn't that what all the culture wars have been trying to make? Room? Make room for everyone? Is it possible we're feeling growing pains in some way and will move into a better frame for all of this? See, I feel that the term "Post Identity Politics" is a pendulum trying to swing back. "Post," it's over, "Post," it's obsolete, old, rundown, get a new one because this one's dead. But the term is also saying "Identity Politics" as though that's WHAT IT WAS, just some fucking game. Because we all know how loaded the term politics is, right? Yeah, politics. As though historical facts of ALL THOSE DEAD WHITE MEN WRITERS is just our imagination. It's a war. It's a battle and not a political one, it's a much bigger battle our lives confront and it's no game.

A balance of anger for the wrong, but needing to work with everyone. Community? Poetry community? I guess I prefer Poetry family, because we're way too fucked up to be a community, what do you think Dale? Slow Poetry is how you talk with us about being a family or community of poets, right? I'm liking everything I read about it by you. I've been doing (Soma)tics to help get us seeing, hearing, smelling and intuiting our way out of routines and into a language we share but barely utter between our shared bodies and world, and spirit. How is Slow Poetry a way for us to help one another restart the collective creative core? I ask this because there's a strong feeling I get when reading your writings on Slow Poetry that it's about, ultimately, a better sense of caring. And I don't mean this in a corny way, but in the best sense of what it means to care.

It's not just our taxes, it's our way of life that's killing the world. Since Slow Poetry isn't really an aesthetic project, or a formal one--something designed to make any of us better writers--I hope it maps out a few basic strategies for addressing the situation of being who we are where we are as thoughtful, careful artists who take language as a basic material. The other day I told my freshman writing class that there are no such things as writers. There are only communities of writers. No mad genius sits in a closet banging out on a keyboard their perfectly elegant pieces. Erik Satie, one of my Art Heroes, did not dream up his lovely and delicate anti-harmonies out of thin air. He was engaged with a community of artists that shaped his vision. He even went back to school at one point to become more capable of dealing with the insights of others. And that artistic community bumped up next to others. And for a period during Satie's life, Europe was at war. And its projects of colonization across Africa and China etc continued throughout his lifetime. It's a similar situation, in a sense, that we face today, though on a different scale. So I've been thinking of Satie these last few days as I've pondered how to respond to you. Right now I'm listening to a vinyl recording from the sixties of "Socrate," a piece commissioned by a lesbian princess--the Princess Edmond de Polignac. (She--Winnaretta Singer--was heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune, too, by the way, which was good news for Satie, who could use the cash.) Anyway, this is all just preface to some thoughts I'll address here:

A quick, down-and-dirty description of Slow Poetry could begin with this paraphrase of Amiri Baraka: there is no such thing as art or politics, there's only life. My notes and comments about Slow Poetry over the last year really focused I think on this basic fact. The way we tend to set up boundaries and border off life from its diverse practices insults human intelligence and spirit. Poetry has been influenced by publishing markets, academia, and other minor troughs of prestige and legitimacy. Big deal. How might we imagine our practice instead as something alien, obtrusive, and obscene within those boundaries? For me, the real point of poetry is to reveal the world for myself and others. To share and better understand our experiences in a largely inchoate and complex space. We have to share our stories with each other. We have to work to comprehend the images we encounter. We must restore faith in a human community and not in professional markets. We do this by listening. Sharing. Withholding certain judgments while leveraging others. This is spiritual practice, really. There's no program. There's only what we are willing to give, and share, sincerely.

The other driving motive behind my initial impulse to describe a slow poetics is the terrifying fact that the U. S. economy is dying. Lihn Dinh and a few others get this. And we've worked to describe this fact and detail it. And this is going to be a significant thing for poets to get intimate with, because poetry for many is an art of luxury. So I wonder, as lux vanishes, who will remain within range of the poem? American wealth is being wiped out (shit, global wealth, too), and that wealth for the last half century has helped sustain poetry and the arts. War will be a permanent reality. Reduced resources and access to goods will become a part of daily life. American poetry seems largely checked out on these basic intrusions of reality. This summer, for instance, at Naropa I gave a talk and observed how our "way of life" was being drastically altered. Only one student--a young man from Mexico City--came to me afterward and said, hey, you know what, you're the only North American I have ever heard talk about this. In Mexico it's common knowledge. But in America no one pays attention to basic facts of resources, production, and distribution. And he's right. The poets here in particular are checked out. I look in from time to time at Harriet and am appalled by the level of complete disregard of basic facts that goes on there.

Anyway, yes, Slow Poetry, I suppose, has something to do with a certain level of care--of communal care. Perhaps it's a hope that we can get through these coming days with some semblance of civility and grace. I believe that poets and artists and others are psychologically capable of getting through the drastic hardships we may all soon face. We're more prepared in a sense than others. We have capacities to re-integrate new realities. So as long as poets remain purposely checked out from these conditions they risk losing a psychological advantage.

Dale you're invitation to the usefulness of poetry is invaluable, but you say that you and only a few others see the doom, but YOU go beyond that in Slow Poetry by encouraging the building and maintaining of community. You are not merely facing the approaching fist anticipating annihilation and ready to evaporate into despair. You in fact seem more than a little certain that we can manage to pull our values up together in the stock of our collective creativity. And Dale I don't buy this fact you present that there are only a few. I could introduce you to a lot of poets who not only fully understand the doom but are LIKE YOU in knowing the power and necessity of a caring poetry family; I prefer family over the word community, and could care less how corny that may seem to some. Poets like Frank Sherlock, Brenda Iijima, Carol Mirakove, Jen Benka, Kaia Sand, Jules Boykoff, David Buuck, Jonathan Skinner, in fact this would turn into a very long list of names. There's a new group of poets in Philadelphia and they call themselves the New Philadelphia Poets, and I guess they're more than 10 years or so younger than I am, and I LOVE their loyalty to building community/family in poetry. And how they literally mobilize with a day's notice to protest libraries closing, or to save a bookstore. Some of them met at Naropa, or at least went there, and you mentioned Anne Waldman, and Anne Waldman is one of THE MOST courageous templates for building care and for reconciling differences. She of The Outrider wisdom.

HOME is important to me in poetry. Philadelphia. And home is 100 different places and people in Philadelphia before it's my apartment. Recently a wealthy, elder poet was visiting and when I told them about the escalating rents making Philadelphia nearly unaffordable they suggested I move. Very Ed Koch of them. But they meant well, I guess. But they didn't GET IT AT ALL that this is my home, the place where I learned to love and write poems, and learned to be sane with the world, and with other people. It's easy to suggest moving when you're wealthy and don't have to, and then you don't have to REALLY THINK about the implications of the move and what it will mean to the world of poetry and action you've created with others. Kaia Sand chooses "avant-garde" over "experimental" because, as she says, "'avant-garde' implies the social side of the work. There are a lot of ways to pitch in with an avant-garde movement--this is an inclusive frame. So many artists have shown us that if you want to extend what's possible, you need to build the ground to walk on--and that's collective action."

And too I'm disturbed by the term "post-avant" that's being tossed around so liberally lately, said by poets as though they're walking to the frig for a soda. To me "post-avant" sounds like, "post-thoughtfulness and caring." We must drive it back! Like putting the snakes back into Ireland that the idiot "saint" Patrick drove out! Philadelphia is my HOME, I repeat! It's the city where Gil Ott back in the 1980s CARED SO MUCH about his HOME of Philadelphia that he talked the Painted Bride Arts Center into letting him create arts centers in ALL the neighborhoods of the city! And HE DID IT! And then he had the amazing nerve to create a bus tour to MAKE all the uptight rich folks in the middle of the city go around to all these new arts centers AND SEE that art doesn't JUST exist on their gallery walls. "Post-avant" is not considering the formations of Action around the language. I think "post-avant" is a terrible, thoughtless word and it gives me pain whenever I hear it.

I'm most interested in discussing the usefulness of poetry. Recently I was in the middle of conducting a (Soma)tic workshop when one of the participants said, "This is a luxury, all this poetry writing." It was a thoughtful moment, and it was an interruption that we enfolded into the process of the workshop. When no one reacted I decided to talk about the poetry of Charlotte Delbo and Hilde Domin. Both of these poets NEVER WROTE A WORD of poetry until they were jammed into the black mouth of their own personal circumstances in World War II. Delbo was part of the French Resistance, and was shipped to Auschwitz, where she just barely managed to survive until the end of the war. Domin went into exile in Santo Domingo. Both poets wrote poems AFTER their displacement as a way of finding the usefulness of language to recreate their anchors for new tools to survive in a world that would never be the same, never be what they had hoped it would be. There are times, recently Dale, where I feel we too are like Delbo and Domin JUST BEFORE their own world in their own time took a nose dive into the abyss. Frankly I'm always glad that I'm childless because I'm convinced I would not be as clear and discerning about the world, that I would always be frantic and paranoid for the safety of my children. Tell us, please, how being a father inspires your view of Slow Poetry and beyond?

Well, first, let me say, I realize I'm not alone in this: many see what's at stake politically, socially, economically. Kaia and Jules' book Landscapes of Dissent is important to me and has helped me think about poetry as a public force. But in poetry, there aren't many of us, really, having these conversations. Even with your Philly Posse, or with groups like PIPA in NYC, we are few compared to the larger forces at work. Maybe that's why we must remain so vigilant and insistent on a view of the world that is critical, comprehensive, and extensive beyond the limited range of aesthetic or "post-avant" move-making. I think many, many people understand what's going on in terms of the overall fuckery that's taking place, but it's difficult to know how to respond, or to act in the face of such naked aggression. I agree that this term--post-avant--is meaningless, or even sinister, in that it covers over the political and socially active aspect of the avant-garde--an aspect that must be nourished and not commodified.

But let me speak to your question by saying that being a father has made me a better writer, a better man. I listen better--see better. And I worry more. I don't know what kind of world my sons will grow into. But we talk and spend as much time together as possible. They taught me that poetry is not about work that you put on a page. It's the life around you. But children complicate life, too. I used to think that I would just do odd jobs and pay the bills while writing poetry. The kids came along and it became more and more difficult to publish a magazine, find work, and pay those bills. As a result, I signed up on the Academic bandwagon and just yesterday turned in a dissertation to my committee. I like the work. It's labor in a real sense. But I'll be going out into a job market that's more than weak now. So I don't know how I'll be providing for my boys in that money sense. Mostly what's important to me is building their confidence, showing them that it's okay to trust yourself, and that you don't have to obey larger ideological forces. It's okay to be in school or not. But we all have to make decisions at certain moments. How do we interact with the little snot-nosed shits on the playground? And that doesn't go away. And so I think that with my children I practice orders of attention that help expand all of our capacities to deal with life situations. And poetry is just an extension of these life situations. It's a marvelous art in which you learn to become more flexible and readied by the accumulation of experience.

But one problem now is that the bullies are so perverse and the systems that drive their perversities so delicately managed and stretched toward systemic collapse that no one knows how to act around them. The words you keep coming back to here--love and caring--are significant. Our affections, as that old poet-Fascist once observed in a cage in Pisa, are what remain. And so whether it's our home in Philly, love for my children, our devotion to art, etc, I believe that this is all we can do: follow our affection. The Greeks had rituals of aversion and tendance, and these, I think, remain relevant as strategies of living today. You tend what's good and avert the rest of it. I sometimes worry that I get so angered and outraged by what needs aversion that my energy gets sucked into that rather than into tending and nourishing the more important things. So that's something I struggle with, keeping my eyes close, my head clear. What rituals do you observe?

It is easy to get sucked into unproductive anger. This conversation, especially about Dorn, took me to places I don't like to go to, ever, very painful places inside me. What rituals do I observe you ask? (Soma)tics for me came out of years of being Macrobiotic, and that study of Macro(big) Biotics(life) astonished me daily, hearing my pulse in the food before I ate it. The space to love others and myself better came with that. The space for anger and seeing anger and arguments as a way of caring. Some years ago Anselm Berrigan and I were talking about the spaces polemics make and he said, "My mom told me once that poets at the Poetry Project fought with one another because they cared." Once again the wisdom of Alice Notley comes searing through the fog. YES, because we care! It doesn't have to STOP the fighting, but it puts into perspective almost in this instant universal way of understanding about care.

The different forms of denial of community has fascinated me as well in our world of poets. I had a friend who LOVED to go on and on about being in The Cave and being shut out and that THAT is where "the true artist" "should" exist. And I would say, "Oh yeah well why are you here at this poetry reading? And you gave a poetry reading yourself last week, and invited us all, and we were there. And you have a poem coming out in another magazine, and you're working on a new chapbook, and by the way WE MET at a poetry reading you were giving several years ago." It reminds me of a song my mother used to play all the time when I was a kid, MAGIC IS AFOOT or something, but the person in the song was healed by this magical source and would deny it after having sought the magic to be healed. Don't come to be part of us, and be nurtured and fed with us, then deny us to our faces, it's a lie, it's ridiculous!

Well, as we've been saying, poetry is more than words on a page: it's a spoken event, an act of love or destruction, a step outside of the routines society would have us accommodate ourselves to. In part of my work outside of poetry I devote a lot of attention to public sphere theory and I like where things are going in the social sciences and the humanities on that score. People like Bruno Latour, Kathleen Stewart, and, from another direction, Michael Warner all contribute ways to understanding how our attention to things informs the spaces we inhabit. And this is very Olsonian, because the poets have been there for a while, in many ways, but our vision is not as coherent as it could be. All this is to say that the notion of the cave just doesn't work, as you know. And the sooner poets get over that hang-up, the better. But there are many caves. Coteries are caves, too, and it's easy to become accustomed to their warmth. Poetry for too long has had a debilitating sense of its specialness and remoteness from dirty and difficult things like publics. And that has to change or poetry will remain kind of a culturally remote item of curiosity for most people. But this is all another story, perhaps for another time. I'm honored that you invited this conversation, and I appreciate deeply your engagement with me here.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

don't miss it, it's going to be fun! 



Giovanni's Room, 530pm

NO ONE IS TURNED AWAY for not having money, BUT IT IS A FUND RAISER, we're asking for 20 dollar donations, but anything will help, ANYTHING! We are supporting The Global Women's Strike, one of THE MOST hard working groups in Philadelphia who help poor, single mothers, and do a thousand other things to help make our world better.

In our country we spend SO MUCH money on war and bailing out rich bankers, while literally millions suffer, and most of those suffering are children and their mothers. CARING NOT KILLING is the slogan of The Global Women's Strike, please come support them and have fun with the poets in drag!


Frank Sherlock
Juliana Spahr
Eleanor Wilner
Ebony Malaika Collier
Carlos Soto Roman
Janet Mason
Debrah Morkun
Chris Gullo

hosted by CAConrad

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Eileen Myles Interviews CAConrad 

This week's cover story on The Poetry Foundation site is an incredible interview w/ CA about The Book of Frank. From Eileen's intro:

I’ve grown to love CA Conrad—the man, the work, and all he attempts and represents—because he always argues (from the inside of his poems) for a poetry of radical inclusivity while keeping a very queer shoulder to the wheel. His kind of queerness strikes me as nonpolarizing, not intentionally but because of the fullness of his exposition, a kind of gigantism that seems to me to be most deeply informed by love, and a tenderness for the ravages and tumult of existence. I made a plan to talk with him on the occasion of The Book of Frank coming into print, and I’m glad I’ve procrastinated finishing this piece so that it didn’t come out in June, where queers belong. Conrad and his creations, I hope you’ll agree, belong everywhere.

You've Come a Long Way, Baby. Here.

- Frank Sherlock

This Saturday: Craig Watson, Michael Gizzi & Jena Osman 

Come out to Chapterhouse Cafe
This Saturday, October 24th
at 8:00pm

to hear

Craig Watson
Michael Gizzi
Jena Osman

For more info, click here.

- R Eckes

Sunday, October 18, 2009


(click on photos for photo details)

FRANK: We're in my apartment a couple of weeks after a Northwest gathering of artists, activists, economists and philosophers in Portland, Oregon. We got together to address the ecological and/or economic collapses. It was a series of “where did we go/ where are we going” sessions that pointed not only to the rather obvious (but complicated) problems, but also a direction, or directions to move ahead as we all went home to our respective cities & towns.

CONRAD: This laptop is propped on top of Allen Ginsberg's COLLECTED POEMS, a terrific place to be writing about this.

MANY THANKS to everyone out there in Portland for making it possible for Frank and I to participate, including Kaia Sand, Jules Boykoff, Jake Buffy, and to Jennifer Coleman and Allison Cobb for also putting us up.

PLUNDER! The film by Danny Schechter (aka The News Dissector) was our first jaunt into the EcoNvergence weekend, and now that I've had a chance to also see the Michael Moore film constantly being compared and contrasted against PLUNDER, folks, especially the ones who said they WON'T go see Moore's film, SHUT UP AND SEE IT! Danny's PLUNDER is incredible, in fact I love it for it's courage on many levels, like using the twin towers one and a half seconds after using the word EXPLODE for the “free market,” but I'm tired of Moore being pitted against the Left as though he's clearly NOT the Left. Anyway, Danny's film deserves as much coverage as Moore's film, that I'll agree with, but both are actually quite different and allude to many different facts, which is why they might even been seen as the two great films – so far – about our global slide into the abyss.

FRANK: Danny's film is a must-see if you want to get down to the nitty gritty of the Wall Street collapse. I also appreciate that he's got a great sense of humor, which is all-too-rare from Lefties. And it's absolutely necessary to survive the climate we're facing. Yeah, I said climate. Haha. An overall impression I got from the weekend was that the heady days of believing in the fun and creative protest methods of Seattle '99 have faded into memory. There seemed to be a more militant current throughout the conference. Not so much from the presenters or panelists (excepting Derrick Jensen, of course), but more from the attendees. Maybe this is because it has become more apparent that we're running out of time. Chomsky didn't go there, though. He seemed less desperate and much more optimistic (and even congratulatory) for the progressive efforts that bring us into the future.

CONRAD: The first thing I attended the next day (10/02), was the “Water: Private Commodity or Common Good” panel, which turned into us talking about the Jason Wallach documentary about the situations concerning public water in El Salvador. The description says “...the documentary will provide insight into the challenges faced by the people of El Salvador,” when really it should be saying “insight into challenges faced by American corporate interests,” as it's the AMAZING FIGHT the people of El Salvador have put up in many local districts throughout the country which has made it clear to American companies that it's just TOO MUCH work to try to sell these people their own water. The people in the film were SO BRAVE going fist to fist with police and local government officials, blocking the roads, refusing to settle for anything less than their right to the water under their feet!

The documentary was INCREDIBLE, and I highly recommend it, but, I REALLY WISH that Jason Wallach had NOT said at the end of the screening that he used it for his PhD thesis. OY! I felt filthy after that, FILTHY! Tell me I'm wrong, I can't help it! It made me rethink most of what I had been thinking while watching the film about the filmmaker, that he was a dedicated soul using all of his resources to make this film, when really it was a fully funded college degree. Anyway, in the end I still have to say that the film is an invaluable resource. Also with Jason on the panel were Glenn Montgomery and Frank Fromherz, members of The Pacific Center for Global Justice. Their description of their goals as an organization made me curious about how such a group could be formed for the East Coast activists, bringing a solid sense of bridging all different crises and organizations into a single body, the same as, but reverse of Homeland Security.

FRANK: Well, it's tough to get away from the academic and academicians when these types of gatherings are assembled. I will say that it seemed that the intent of EcoNvergence was to accent activism instead of scholarship. Which I think they did a pretty good job of doing. Their interest in a conference PACE action underscores this. And I was also happy about the prominent place poetry had in the multiple events throughout the weekend. I'm just not used to it. The kickoff poetry reading post-Chomsky was an incredible gathering of poets from the Bay Area, Olympia, Seattle, Philly, Maine, and of course Portland. This makes sense though, since Kaia and Jules were involved.

CONRAD: I guess the thing I object to about Wallach is that no where in the documentary does he point out his use of the situation in El Salvador for his degree. It made me feel the way it did, and there's nothing I can do about, expect be honest about how I feel, or hide it. In the end the documentary remains an important source of information regardless of my feelings.

While I'm on the subject of things which annoy me, just to get it off my chest, one thing I've despised for many years with the Left was very apparent at this conference, and that is the snobbish of information. For instance, these two very brave activists were discussing AT THEIR OWN PANEL what it meant to them for their political actions to be infiltrated by the Department of Defense. This DUDE in the audience said, “Yeah yeah yeah, we all know about infiltration, can we get on with it!” I said to him, “Ah FIRST, this isn't YOUR PANEL, so maybe you might want to attend a DIFFERENT ONE if what's being said BORES YOU!” Anyway, BOTH THUMBS UP to these activists.

But I did get a warm feeling in my shorts seeing Noam Chomsky! He's the hottest man alive!

FRANK: You say that about a lot of guys. You're getting like Bono. When Joe Strummer died, he said “The Clash were the greatest rock-n-roll band in the world.” Then Joey Ramone died & he said “The Ramones were the greatest rock-n-roll band in the world.” But it's okay, because I believe he meant both of those statements at the time, just like you & Chomsky, so... Speaking of this, I had a good time talking to Jake Buffy, & I'm not just saying that because he let us stay at his house. I was very interested in his perspective on the placement and punk rock & hiphop in young activist communities. He's also a hiphop artist. His mic name is PsiOtic, and he played us his demo that includes a sample of old Black Panther chants. Speaking of the Panthers, it was also good to meet a friend of Jules' and founder of the BPP in Portland, Trent Ford. We met him while we were waiting in line for Chomsky's limo to arrive. He was getting the word out about his son, Patrice Lumumba Ford, who is currently incarcerated as a member of the Portland 7. Regrettably, I don't know much about his case though, even after I read the flier.

CONRAD: LIKE BONO???? HAHAHA! No, Chomsky IS IT FOR ME! I sat in that front row with my MOST impure thoughts throughout his brilliant, heavy chat with us about the destroyed world.

Jake Buffy and his friends are making some amazing music! Jake's reading after the Chomsky event was marvelous, in fact that whole after-Chomsky poetry reading party was one of my favorite parts of the entire weekend! Getting to hear Kaia and Jules again was a thrill, and Jen and Allison, Alicia Cohen, CE Putnam (wish he had worn his MOUNTY uniform that I heard he wore at a Seattle reading!), Aaron Vidaver (I like his book PILLS), David Buuck, Katheryn Brooks, Dan Raphael, Jonathan Skinner (his new chapbook WITH NAKED FOOT ROCKS), David Wolach. FINALLY getting to see / hear some of these poets, like David Wolach. The gallery we read in, SEA CHANGE GALLERY, had us read on the second landing like we were each giving speeches like Chavez from a balcony. But below us on the wall was a beautiful fucking painting of a lion which I wish I had a photo of, so nice!

FRANK: Yeah, I liked the balcony. And the lion. There were times when I leaned over just a bit too much & felt like I was going to fall into the audience. And it didn't seem a crowd-surfing friendly venue. Plus, I don't think a bunch of poets would have thought to catch me anyway. Ouch. But let me not contemplate the pain that never happened. That was a great reading. The next day I also had the honor of reading the Elegy for Rachel Corrie I wrote during the days after her murder in 2003. The poem opened the Ecocide in Gaza panel presented by the Rachel Corrie Foundation, including Rachel Corrie's mother. It was an intense experience to read the piece for her (& the packed auditorium). Things were so hectic just before I took the stage, since our PACE/BARGE presentation was happening at the same exact time two floors up & on the other side of the building! I signed some release in a hurry to be filmed for Free Speech TV or Al Jazeera or whatever the hell it was. But then it was time to read the poem, & I haven't read it in public in years. It gave me chills to deliver it in that environment. & then I had to leave for our talk.

CONRAD: Wish I had been able to be at your reading of the Rachel Corrie poem. Also wish that I had made it to the earlier event that day with Jules Boykoff, Danny Schechter and others, one of my biggest regrets of the weekend frankly.

Our event with David Buuck made me NOTHING BUT HAPPY! WOW! AH, and David DID IT I KNEW HE WAS GOING TO FUCKING DO IT TOO, HE ATE THAT POISONED FUCKING DIRT oh my god I want him to stop doing that. It's terrible. I could FEEL IT when he ate it FEEL IT! Dirt he brought with him from the BARGE Project, the toxic dirt on Treasure Island. I squirmed and moaned in my seat, AH!

FRANK: David was great. I totally forgot what I was supposed to be talking about when he finished, because I was so into his talk. He might be a little crazy for eating that dirt though. But I totally appreciate his spirit of solidarity w/ the residents of Treasure Island. I talked a bit about the beginnings of PACE in Philadelphia & the initial action on Christmas Eve. I also spoke about how my time in New Orleans informed my ideas about poetry in public space. I explained the reasoning behind launching a PACE action in the streets of Portland, & turned the show over to you. I liked what you had to say about pamphleting.

CONRAD: Thanks, I feel the PACE panel with David's BARGE was a good combination. To recap a little bit about my part of talking, I spoke about INSIGHT TO RIOT Press Collective that I was a member of in 1990, Philadelphia. Pre-Internet, so I was spending a lot of time in the library researching about the process of making books, and in this reading was a lot of unexpected, fascinating history. It's where I first learned about French Resistance poet Charlotte Delbo, making pamphlets (chapbooks) in the basement with her husband and others, telling people how to rise up against the Nazis. Also discovered info about the anti-government pamphlets Samuel Coleridge and friends were publishing in the 18th century, giving me yet another chance to share my hatred for government spy Wordsworth. All of this though was to talk about the rich history of broadsides and chapbooks to present to people out on the streets, to BE THE NEWS, as poets, as activists.

Also I used the opportunity to quote Paul Hawken's commencement address to the 2009 graduating class of Portland University where he says, “Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don't be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.” This quote followed a remark about Coleridge coining the phrase, “suspension of disbelief,” a phrase whose original meaning had nothing to do with dealing with bad special effects in the movies like we use it for today, but instead with the very real FACTS of having to face down the brute forces of governmental muscle and law. To get done what you MUST get done, to feverishly work at ignoring the facts when you KNOW the truth to be in opposition to the governing voices in front of you.

AH, THEN WE WENT OUT ONTO THE STREET. How many people were with us Frank? 50?

FRANK: I would say so, but I really don't have an accurate idea. I used to have the curator's disease, where it was automatic to do a head-count to clock how many people came out for an event. I'm pretty surprised that I've been cured. So yeah, there was a good amount of folks. We read on corners, in front of the Portland Public Library, reading for public transit commuters, immigrants who had trouble reading English & even a Dick Cheney-looking guy who hated your poem. Well, I hope it ruined his day. The PACE action culminated w/ a parking garage occupation where poems were read from each of the five levels of the building down to the street. That hippie climbed out on the ledge of the fifth floor to scream my poem to the world. I guess I should be flattered, but I couldn't help but think he was going to die reading it. I didn't want that to happen. It would have ruined the poem for me. & I didn't want him to go splat of course! He was a really nice guy & everything ended well. He's still alive as far as we know, right?

CONRAD: I hope so, that hippie's name is Mark, I think. Mark also did this memorable thing where he would use green chalk to outline our shadows on the sidewalk, then write inside: POETRY WAS READ HERE! Things like that, he was great! This PACE Action, well, the whole weekend for that matter, gives me new vigor for being angry at the term POST AVANT, that nasty term that, in my opinion is being slung like flithy pork hash all over the poetry world to mean, POST THOUGHTFULNESS, POST CARING. Mostly said it seems by those older poets who want to protect their poetry legacy as THEIR group being THE LAST GREAT FACTION!

Anyway, all that aside, RENEWED, I came home feeling renewed! And I LOVED the early morning panels on the last day, with Jonathan Skinner, who said so sharply, pointedly of the Derrick Jensen talk from the night before, “If that's the movement I don't want to be part of it.” Kaia, Alicia Cohen, Allison Cobb, Andrea Murray, and other amazing folks in those first two sets of panels Sunday morning gave me MUCH to chew on, continue to chew on.

FRANK: Jensen's a pistol, or I guess he would prefer an AK47. But I'm happy that he turned me on to the Pink Sari Gang, a group of women who rove Northern India from village to village. They carry big sticks & they're trained in martial arts. When they hear news of an abusive husband terrorizing his wife, or a corrupt public official who withholds grain from the poor, they beat these men and/or publicly shame them. They're my new favorite vigilante gang. So thanks, Derrick! It was a great way to end the weekend, w/ a meal back at Kaia & Jules' & Jessica's house. Over food & wine, we got the chance to discuss the weekend & share in the friendships w/ the folks you just mentioned. I feel lucky to be part of their tribe.

CONRAD: That dinner was great! Hanging with amazing friends I've been missing. And meeting new friends, like Tasha Glen, student of David Wolach's from Evergreen.

And another young woman (WISH I COULD REMEMBER HER NAME) who had a T-shirt with Majid Kavousifar's face on it. Majid killed judge Hassan Moghaddas in Tehran, and was later executed for doing so, but Majid is considered a hero by many. The judge was known for passing speedy executions of homosexuals for being homosexual, and GET THIS, executing young women who “violated” standing chastity laws for being raped. I'M NOT MAKING THIS UP! But anyway, it was so strange to see Majid's face on a T-shirt, and of course I HAD TO TALK TO HER! My old boyfriend Marwan's sister (she doesn't like her name to be used, so she's Marwan's sister here) thinks Majid was queer, but I don't know.

It was also GREAT to talk to one man from Venezuela (WISH I COULD REMEMBER HIS NAME) who updated me on the Gay Revolution within the revolution in his country. I told him of my friends in the Global Women's Strike (he knew who they were right away) coming back from the 2006 World Social Forum in Caracas with a video interview with members of the Gay Revolution, and how their NUMBER ONE GOAL was to help those in need the most, and that being African descent transwomen, who have the highest rate of suicide and murder. In the USA the statics are the same with the trans community having the highest rate of suicide and murder, but our priorities are gay marriage and OF COURSE gays in the military. In fact the editor / publisher of PGN Philadelphia Gay News just said about the gays in the military this week, “If every one were discharged, that's 135,000 possible casualties of the military's ban on openly gay servicemembers.” CASUALTIES, he says! AH, the language, THE IRONY, it disgusts me so deeply! Never mind the fact that gay men are being hunted down and beheaded and WORSE tortured for days in Iraq right now as a result of the military, gay or straight, or whatever! I'm SICKENED by the priorities of US queers!

But the EcoNvergence Conference gave me a sense of the reset button, recharged, reLOVED, and I'm very grateful to have had the opportunity to attend!

Friday, October 16, 2009

so it doesn't happen again???? 

"Killing gays is halal," permissible under Islamic law. "We'll get points in heaven for it."

Earlier tonight I went to Philadelphia's GLBT community center to see an amazing exhibit centered around gay men in the Nazi concentration camps. The Holocaust Museum in DC put it together. We also saw the film "Paragraph 175," a chilling documentary which includes interviews with the remaining gay men who survived the death camps.

The representative of The Holocaust Museum spoke about the exhibit, but there was NO Q&A! So I approached him myself. I told him about the gay men who are being hunted down in Iraq RIGHT NOW, openly hunted down, tortured BEYOND IMAGINATION, and finally murdered. New York Magazine published this article sent to me by my dear friend Jen Benka.

But I asked the representative how The Holocaust Museum felt about gays in the military, considering that OUR MILITARY is DIRECTLY responsible for creating this HORRIFIC very present, very real genocide against gay men? He said, LITERALLY, "We're very proud of the fact that we are bipartisan, and do not take sides in political debates." WHAT???? But you're THE HOLOCAUST MUSEUM I said! He said something else like, "It's very unfortunate that this is happening...." Unfortunate? UNFORTUNATE?

Here we were. Standing in a room. Reading about. Talking about. Learning details about. Gay murder. But that was half a century ago. And the men in the film were all very old, in their 90s, and would break down recounting the TERROR they had each absorbed. (this kind of torture NEVER goes away!) One man telling of The Singing Forest. And he said that The Singing Forest gave him goose bumps, then he just stared ahead, saying nothing, just, staring. The interviewer prodded him out of his private memory. The man told of the Nazis putting gay men on hooks on these very tall polls, and you could hear them screaming and wailing inhuman sounds all night long.

There was, of course, NO NEED to torture them. I mean, JUST KILL THEM, why do that WHY DO THAT? And if you read the article linked for New York Magazine you'll see that the gay men in Iraq are being DRILLED, holes drilled in their limbs, and, once again JUST KILL THEM. The details are haunting.

It's haunting and we are witnessing this happening again. This slogan SO IT DOESN'T HAPPEN AGAIN for The Holocaust is really bugging me! BUT IT IS HAPPENING, AND, WE'RE GAY, IN THIS FUCKING GAY COMMUNITY CENTER, TOGETHER, AND NO ONE, NO ONE WOULD TALK TO ME ABOUT THIS!

Every, single, person I did speak to said the same thing, like a loop of prerecorded tape, "The war in Iraq and gays in the military are separate issues." NO, no they are NOT! They are separate because YOU MAKE THEM SEPARATE ISSUES, but they ARE the same. They're BOTH about the military. Our military. The military of the United States of America which has allowed this atrocity to sweep itself into a frenzy, this genocide of gay men.

What a horrible, frustrating night. And as Jen Benka said in an email to me about Don't Ask, Don't Tell, "Don't Serve, Don't Serve."

Less than a week ago, to coincide with Coming Out Week functions, a large march of "protestors" marched in DC to demand their "right" to join the military.

And we have people in the new anthology SMASH THE CHURCH, SMASH THE STATE who are even behind the "right" for gays to join the military. WHAT IS GOING ON???? You're in an anthology with SMASH THE STATE in the title, yet you uphold The Enforcer Arm of the State, which is the military. Wanting to make the military what? One big cozy, warm, gay friendly environment? What? Rainbow stickers on machine guns?

This is kind of fucking exhausting, talking about something that seems to make perfect sense to people who literally RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU refuse to get it. They're not stupid. That's what's frustrating.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Seance Your Own Way 

in honor of the life and work of kari edwards

Seance Your Own Way exercise is HERE

"kari7" resulting from the exercise is HERE

hope you conduct your own seance poem,

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

PAPP Symposium on Philly Poetics 

Click HERE for 10/11/09 PAPP Symposium recording at UCAL. Panelists: Debrah Morkun, CAConrad, Tamara Oakman, Sherod Smallman, and Michelle Myters. Moderated by Adam Meora.

posted by CAConrad

Sunday, October 11, 2009


WOW! Eileen Myles starts a storm here, says things that are bouncing off nerves all over the experimental poetry scene. Read HERE.

posted by CAConrad

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Poem Talk #23 on Cid Corman 

Al Filreis has just announced the release of the latest Poem Talk, which you can listen to at this link. Frank Sherlock, Fran Ryan and Thomas Devaney discuss Cid Corman's poem "Enuresis."

posted by CAConrad

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