Until It Comes To A Sharp Bend: Naropa’s 4×4 Reading

By JH Phrydas

On Thursday, February 7 Naropa University hosted the Front Range 4×4 Reading Series. This series brings together four exceptional writing students from the four Colorado MFA programs along the eastern edge of the Rockies: University of Colorado Boulder, Colorado State University, University of Denver, and Naropa University.

Representing CU Boulder, prose writer Nick Kimbro started the night off with an excerpt from a novel he is currently writing called Book of Shadows. Kimbro asks, “is it possible to use the devil’s tools against him?” in this tale of missing children. Parents fear for their offspring, and Judith holds a voodoo doll wondering how she has gotten this deep into: what? Are mountain lions near Chautauqua to blame for the disappearances, or is there something more sinister going on, when all we hear is a woman’s laughter in the brush?

Gary Colin Bruce read from CSU, joking that it’s time to admit the 4×4 is actually a competition. He read from his prose work entitled Blockbuster, a story about a young man working at, yes, Blockbuster, and hating his job. Aggressive, moody, insensitive, this guy thinks he loses his job when making fun of his manager’s limp: how is he going to explain this to his parents? We find out he doesn’t have to, when he wakes to find that everyone in the world is gone. Forest fires in the Rockies frame this strange narrative that leaves the protagonist alone in the rental store, watching each film starting with the letter “A” until the people of Boulder reappear.

From DU came Yanara Friedland who read from a collection of poetic prose that created a rural scene that felt like Northern Europe: a small village with people whose lives are touched with slight beauties, both violent and familial. “There is a place where mothers advise air,” Friedland told us, where people are still divided into “aristocracy, bourgeoisie, and proletariat.” Here, “between wars, people get fat” and “there are eyeless women with pearl earrings and dogs sleeping in the snow.” A child swings while his mother disappears. This is a land of simple mystery, one that resonates with human cycles, small tragedies, set to the dreamlike pace of Friedland’s poetic voice.

Stephani Nola finished off the evening as Naropa’s reader with an excerpt from her current poetic project called Nola: A Figment Of, which investigates the death of her aunt Nola, her namesake, killed by a drunk driver when she was young. Nola’s language is languid, flowing, like a river, until it comes to a sharp bend: it is here that light refracts, glints in your eyes, and you come to feel loss in tragedy. “One symptom of the eye disease is that straight lines go bent or missing,” she reads. By the river, she writes the site of death, the site of burial, the site of shrine. “What undoes skid marks,” Nola asks, and later, as if in reply, says “The black birds will scatter when you approach.”

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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 write a textural sentence.”