The task of molding my mind into the mode necessary to review Conrad’s Translucent Salamander was a lot simpler than I thought it would be, for Conrad spells out his ritualistic writing process in a way that allowed me to adapt it to how I read his work. This type of straightforward giveaway is a theme not only in Conrad’s introduction, but also throughout the collection of poems that follow. At first, some of his statements and lines seemed blatant to the point of inducing a cringe; upon further analysis, however, Translucent Salamander exists as more of a personal testimony of truth beneath hypocrisy than any other collection of contemporary poetry I have read lately.
Each of Conrad’s poems is composed of thirty-one lines, one of which is always offset to the right of the others:
trombones enter the
pasta entering our bodies
the microscope shows
there is song between the grains
This form is refreshing in its simplicity and originality and it reflects the ritualistic pattern of Conrad’s work. I originally thought about playing around with each of these lines by making a mini-poem of them, but I realized that was probably not the point. These lines are not a secret message from Conrad; what would be the use of that when the message of his work is already so clear?
madness to end wants
Canada to invade the
United States of
bring us to our knees
dissolve our military
imprison our leaders
distribute our wealth
insist we live in peace
Of course we see Conrad’s point here, for he is making one. I find it bold that he chooses to argue so blatantly for the validity of nature and, consequently, the utter absurdity of worldly violence. It is in his lines about the earth and the humanity of people that we see beauty in language, whereas his complaints about the current state of the world—such as, “we don’t love one another anymore”—are blunt and bereft of the artfulness that Conrad otherwise clearly displays. Luckily, Conrad’s craft is evident enough in poems like “the dream of this was never Harry’s Occult & Spiritual Supplies” to justify his tactic of eliminating it elsewhere.
While a few of Conrad’s lines, such as the ones above, are frustrating for the experienced reader to stomach, I find myself fully supporting Conrad’s decision to employ them. He tells us in his introductory pages that he wrote these poems at a writer’s retreat in Wyoming. Clearly he was apart from the ills of society about which he complains when he wrote these poems; no matter how ideal such a state may be for a writer (or a reader for that matter), however, it is not the reality. By weaving his poems together with blatant complaints about Christianity, war, and homophobia, Conrad is accurately portraying the realities of the world as he experiences them. Though he is physically isolated from society while writing, he is not separated from its effects; both the natural and political worlds are inseparable from the life of the poet and from each other.
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Carolyn Ruocco studies English at Tulane University.