Autumn Konopka interviews CAConrad & Frank Sherlock for Philly2Philly website. Below is the raw interview:
AUTUMN KONOPKA: How did you decide to write this piece together? What was the impetus? How long did you work on it?
CACONRAD: Collaboration isn't easy because fears must be swept aside for the right to be here. The right to say you are a poet and belong. We are taught too often in this world the opposite of this, so it makes working together on projects difficult, especially if someone can't rise to the occasion. And it's almost impossible if one poet is a bully. But if poets who care about the work, care about community, care about each other and their process can find one another, magic- and I mean supernatural magic, is in store. I asked Frank if he would like to do it, and he did, and he made it his own like I knew he would. It's very Philadelphia in that way, an insistence on a democratic process for the streets. Anything less would have meant nothing but less. Frank and I insist on more of the more always!
FRANK SHERLOCK: It didn't feel to me like a “project” with a capital “P”, as much as a natural extension of our friendship and lives as poets in a shared place. This city was/is ours, as it is for everyone who lives here, loves here and hates here, for better or worse. This collab could have never worked with a follower, so it was important that we embarked on this work at a time when we were rethinking and advocating for different ways of relating to each other and the world.
KONOPKA: I am so curious about the process of writing a collaborative poem -- can you tell me how you developed this? In particular, you seem to meditate on the same themes, situations, images... did you choose those? did one of you write a segment, then the other respond?
SHERLOCK: What became the book is a documentation of the experiences of a city that is both real and imagined. We'd touch the Robert Indiana LOVE statue and go wandering around for hours. The common themes or images appear because we talked while we walked, sharing our Philadelphias with each other, which people will hopefully find interesting not only for the commonalities, but also the wild divergences. The actual writing happened simultaneously and without mutual consultation.
CONRAD: We met at LOVE Park each time, a dozen times total. We alternated who would lead the walk through the city, so the experiences were shared. This is a collaboration of shared absorption of Philadelphia, and not at all written in that pass-the-paper back and forth kind of way. This is collaboration on a scale of sensory trust, trust in each other's abilities, trust in what each other will provide for the day, and for the poem.
KONOPKA: How would you describe the relationship between your styles/voices? I know you've written work together in the past, does collaborating affect your individual work? How?
CONRAD: All my amazing, genius poet friends mean more to me than any of the dead poets so many spend so much time and money studying. I prefer the living to live by and learn from and always shall.
SHERLOCK: I always see poetry as collaborative, polyvocal, and social. Well, that's the kind of poetry I like anyway- when the “I” is never just “I.”
KONOPKA: How would you describe your individual and collective/collaborative relationship with the city, in general, Philadelphia in particular?
CONRAD: We have very different things we both brought with us. I won't speak for Frank, but I came here to escape the fascism (and I don't use this word lightly, I mean it) of rural Pennsylvania. It seemed so much easier back then because no one had money. I feel terrible for young artists without money in Philadelphia these days because no one has their back. The generosity some have shown me is part of the filter of who I am and how I write, and I'm nothing but grateful at having come to the banquet before we weren't allowed. This collaboration was a way of continuing the adventure the city used to have every night. We started writing it around the time the big money was moving to town and wiping out all the little urgencies of creative funk for boring, clean, expensive restaurants and condominiums. Yawn, I can't believe the boring people surrounding me on the streets these days, but they don't seem to be entertaining the idea of suicide so I must learn to live with them somehow. I hate the rich because they take up too much room with their useless lives, but when the food shortage comes I will eat them all, and write poems with their blood. Love poems of course.
SHERLOCK: One of the things that fueled the project was our different points of approach. As Conrad said, the city was a place for him to escape to, while this work was a chance for me to re-imagine the city I grew up in, coming from a neighborhood that was close-knit and great in many ways, but at its worst was, as Sinead O'Connor says, “a place of great hatred and little room.” I was raised in Rizzodelphia around bussing violence.
At my first job out of high school I was working with a Junior Black Mafia member who kept a job at Sears on the loading dock, so his grandmother wouldn't think he was a drug dealer. But back to Rizzo, he was very nice to me the time he shook my hand at Independence Hall. I was a little kid with a three-cornered hat at the Bicentennial celebration. I also shook Sinatra's hand that day. But the one person I actually crawled under the police barrier and ran after just to meet was Golden Glove center fielder and Phillies legend... Gary Maddox.
KONOPKA: Who is your audience for this poem?
CONRAD: Everyone who desires to stay as awake as possible for as long as possible. I'm serious, I hate sleep, and sleep has nothing to do with this poem, nothing at all. We wrote our fucking hearts out.
SHERLOCK: Well, I enjoy me some sleep! But I think anyone who likes the idea of exploring cities according to their emotional relationships and dreams of different futures are more than welcome to join in. Map your own landmarks and take a wander with us.
KONOPKA: What is going to happen at the launch party? What can attendees expect from the event?
SHERLOCK: The performance. The book. Then the debauchery.
CONRAD: The beauty and the filth. Expect your juices to overflow, together.
SHERLOCK: Yes, that would be nice. Bring it juicy.
KONOPKA: How did Zoe Strauss get involved with providing the cover art & participating in the launch?
SHERLOCK: I met Zoe way-back-when during (maybe?) the first of her shows under the I-95 overpass at Front & Reed. I always appreciated that she made art affordable for the regular folks of Philadelphia, so I kept her on my radar. And she's fantastic, of course.
CONRAD: We love her! She's GREAT! And I fucking mean this when I say it: EVERY LIVING ARTIST SHOULD LEARN THE GENEROSITY OF ZOE STRAUSS. Art is a thousand things before it's about money, and Zoe Strauss knows this like no one!
KONOPKA: What relationship do you see between your poetry and Zoe's photography?
SHERLOCK: We like her style. She has an unflinching eye for the beautifugly, and the magic possibilities of the absurdity of everyday life. Zoe also appreciates strange language. And we can get strange.
CONRAD: Being here and not turning into liars to be comfortable. Being comfortable with some uncomfortable facts about being here. And staying alive. And loving all of that and more.
KONOPKA: Anything else you want to say that I didn't ask about???
CONRAD: If any of your readers has a clue where I can find pink glitter, NOT RED, but pink glitter, and yellow, wow, pink and yellow. That's too much to ask for both pink and yellow. Maybe I'll start with pink, yes, pink, can any of your readers tell me where to find pink glitter? My phone is 215 563 3075 and you have no idea how long I've searched.
SHERLOCK: As for me, I've been looking for Willy Deville's last album, Pistola, for almost a year. But it's over $40 everywhere I've found it! If you burn me a copy, I promise to love you forever for a while.