By JH Phrydas
An electric anticipation charged the old gymnasium-turned-poetry-safe house at the center of Naropa’s intimate Arapahoe campus this past Tuesday night. Every seat was filled and bodies murmured as we waited for the evening to begin, as if the audience knew something, a standing secret about to be told in hushed whisper.
Chris Shugrue started the evening by introducing Joanna Ruocco, a Ph.D. candidate at DU for creative writing currently teaching a graduate course called Notes on Architecture in the Jack Kerouac School. He aptly described her work as “plunging into the secret depths” of language, and she began an almost hypnotic excerpt from Another Governess / The Least Blacksmith – A Diptych. With the pace and feel of a bedtime story, Joanna’s soft, rhythmic tone began to tuck me into linguistic sheets as tales of blacksmiths and farmers and bakers appeared across my closed eyelids like silhouettes cast from an 18th century magic lantern. Suddenly, a phrase would jar them open: the brother strikes the father, the farmer’s daughter’s vomit in corners, “she cut the dog down from the beam,” the baker kills his daughter. The shock creeps instead of stabs in her work, and in the surreal and dread of it you can’t help but inhabit the space-between Joanna has just opened for you.
Carl Danelski introduced the next reader as a “confidant juggler.” Eric Baus, excusing himself for mumbling, smoothly transitioned into his work from The Tranquilized Tongue and Scared Text, a work of short descriptive, defamiliarizing sentences, defying logical structures of gravity, cause and effect, and time: “the word moon assembled its intestines inside the king’s saliva.” “The microphone learned to swim inside an urn.” “The word ghost asked for bread.” Eric talked of bestiaries, collage, and dioramas that inform his writing; as he read, my periphery filled with tiny mouths of green birds and hearse-incubated octopi, as if I were visiting the interior of a Joseph Cornell box.
Lola Gerber introduced the final reader, Lidia Yuknavitch, as a writer who “let’s her story be difficult,” and as Lidia took the stairs to the podium, she told the room: “this is the best life I’ve ever known.” Her complete lack of artifice surrounded us as she read her words with a raw energy you feel and recognize as a true passion for language. In “Metaphor,” she described dealing with loss by collecting rocks, placing them in your home, bathing them once a week, placing them in your mouth, and sleeping with them at night. In “Cry Baby Corner,” she told the story of hearing her father beat her sister, and the crayons she would press into the walls and into her mouth until the beating stopped. Lidia mirrors the intensity of the stories with her presence, her voice, and her lecture earlier in the day about the importance of “corporeal writing” surfaces bodily. “I want you to hear how it feels to be me inside a sentence,” she writes at the end of her book, The Chronology of Water. “We are at the cusp of the opening of language” she said during her reading. We hear you, Lidia, and we join you at the edge.
JH Phrydas is a current MFA candidate in Writing and Poetics in the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. He is originally from Atlanta, Georgia and does not have a southern accent. Phrydas received his B.A. in English Literature from UC Berkeley and was saved from a life of bartending and wayward travel with generous grants from the Endeavor Foundation for the Arts and the Anne Waldman Fellowship at Naropa. He now resides in Boulder, Colorado exploring “how to structure a sentence like a receiving/dissolving body.”