CA Conrad is Poetry in Commotion

A writer finds lust for life in the wake of death.

By Tara Murtha
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 9 | Posted Mar. 23, 2010

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Philadelphia poet CA Conrad. Photo by Faye Murman

Philadelphia poet CA Conrad.

Photo by Faye Murman

“Sauntering, in the best sense, is when you’re walking the ground like it’s holy, and that’s how I wanted to view Philadelphia, and I do,” says local poet CA Conrad. “It’s not perfect. I’ve seen so many people kill themselves … die of murders.”

Twenty-four years ago, Conrad fled what he calls the “white-trash asphyxiation” of rural central Pennsylvania into the gritty bosom of Philadelphia to live out his calling. The gay poet says that after years of enduring homophobic taunting in his hometown he came to the city because, “I loved poetry and I didn’t know where else to go.”

Conrad’s an intense guy. For the last quarter century, he’s been relentlessly mining corners of every experience to find the words he wrestles into elegantly bizarre knots of award-winning poetry.

Now, along with friend and frequent collaborator poet Frank Sherlock, Conrad has delivered a dark and sometimes bizarre love letter to Philadelphia. The City Real & Imagined , released last month by Factory School, is in some ways a fractured epistolary ode to Philadelphia, a city that Conrad loves deeply and, all these years later, still sees as his salvation.

Relying on an artistic relationship that’s been strong since they decided to exchange poems through the mail in 1995, Conrad and Sherlock were inspired to discover Philadelphia new again. For each day, 12 in all, that they worked on the manuscript, they’d meet at LOVE Park, touch Robert Indiana’s Love statue, then amble in a new direction, reading graffiti, listening to street sounds and the people who live there, exploring corners and bodegas and bars. “It’s not some Pollyanna thing,” says Conrad.

In the book, he quotes a drag queen on the corner of 13th & Spruce (“$100!? Do you know how many dicks I’ve got to suck to make $100!?), talks to a homeless man sleeping on the Ben Franklin Parkway and chronicles the “painfully ordinary” people drinking pints at the Black Sheep bar.

But there's also:

I'm trying to locate

LOVE with no

conditions where

even an instant

winter has a

great fire

ready for us

An unapologetically queer poet activist with trademark dark nail polish, long witch-y hair and gentle blue eyes, 44-year-old Conrad radiates Buddha-like reverence and lust for life. He remembers getting mad at friends who committed suicide. “Our time is so short already,” he says.

Conrad says he only sleeps four hours a night, because he feels like it’s a waste of time; he might miss something new. He was recently asked who his audience is in an interview about The City Real & Imagined, he answered: “Everyone who desires to stay as awake as possible for as long as possible.”

Conrad, who has been surrounded by death his whole life, has made a living out of staying wide awake.

When Conrad first arrived in Philly, his boyfriend introduced him to a long-shuttered place called The Bacchanal, near Juniper and South streets.

“I spent all my time at the Bacchanal,” he says. “It was a magical place … It changed my life.”

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Comments 1 - 9 of 9
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1. Wendy Jackson said... on Mar 24, 2010 at 07:22AM

“This was so cool, I just love poetry. Thanks for that.

I just read some great poetry from a guy named Java Bomani. He has a free preview of his book in PDF format. You can check it out at

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2. Anonymous said... on Mar 24, 2010 at 12:43PM

“conrad is my hero, the best poet writing today”

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3. Jacob Russell said... on Mar 24, 2010 at 04:07PM

“Good article!

Can't help but see through new eyes, talking with Conrad, reading his strangely wonderful poetry. Makes me think of Blake. Not that he's like Blake, or Blake like Conrad. Both of them are like no one but themselves. That's how they're alike. Conrad's love for Philly make this a better place to live--people here can be damn proud to have him part of our city.”

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4. hal sirowitz said... on Mar 24, 2010 at 05:12PM

“I thought it was a great article. Conrad is a force to be reckoned with. Last time I saw him, he was honoring another dead poet. I'm glad Conrad was honored this time. He's truly unique, has his own voice, shocks as well as informs. He's a force in the poetry world. I'm glad about his success.”

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5. Lee Ann said... on Mar 26, 2010 at 12:12AM

“Love you Conrad I will blurb you again anyday”

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6. RGrey said... on Mar 28, 2010 at 02:47AM

“Thank you for spotlighting this amazing poet. Conrad is a testament to poetry and humanity... I am always amazed at his breadth of knowledge and experience. He is a great advocate for people of all kinds, animals, and the planet, as well as being Philadelphia's best living poet.”

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7. Anonymous said... on Mar 28, 2010 at 11:12AM

“Conrad, the man---warmth, poetry, force! Yea, you!”

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8. Andrew Hughes said... on Mar 30, 2010 at 06:31AM

“Conrad is a national treasure. Shower him with all the love and praise you can... thank you for all you do my friend!”

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9. manic44magnum said... on Jan 21, 2011 at 10:41PM

“''was it my mistake to have wanted so much and been willing much too early to accept so little for so long. No longer am I the busy student dreaming of a summer vacation before the unending work of fall. I'm a practical blob scheming to make a little seem like a lot. Mistakes have been made and I'm damned to question and not act. 'MANIC' a play by Dean Patrick Carvin
"I am not liked by more than love me.". 'Broad Street Brawds' - A Charmingly Offensive Musical Romp. (premiered fringe2010 Ethical Society) written and performed in drag by Dean Patrick Carvin
I have enjoyed the calmed countenance of the indomitable spirit that is Mr. Conrad. He is the practical so the impossibe gets done.”


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