Words Juxtaposing Darkness and Hope: What Where Series with Michael du Plessis, J’Lyn Chapman, and Mark Amerika, Oct. 29, 2013

By Jaclyn Hawkins

The fourth and final What Where Series opened with words such as: polio outbreak in Syria. Riots in Brazil. Colombia. Hunger. And wound its way “In Aporia,” an appropriate close to the Akilah Oliver Report, as delivered by MFA candidate, Amy Lukua.

We moved into the words of Michael du Plessis, who so endearingly avoided the stage microphone book-ended with an autumn bouquet; instead, du Plessis read from the unanchored, unmatched microphone–intended for those introducing the evening’s readers–and conjured the voices of JonBenet, of Kathy Acker, of O. Reading from an excerpt of the novel’s third chapter, we were led through the labyrinth of O’s mind: considering the letter of her name mirrored in Colorado, in moons, in circles; du Plessis fearlessly and unapologetically read from the text’s inclusion of the dictionary; amidst break ups with Rene, which inevitably felt like a break up with Boulder, Colorado. “Anyone who can prefer to look at Boulder Creek rather than be with a lover is not a lover. One cannot possibly know anything about nature or beauty when the Boulder Creek appears worth contemplating.” Attendees laughed (good sports) while situated in the heart of the floodplains, still wrestling with the reminder of flooding two months prior.

Du Plessis’ reading, a short excerpt, exemplified his understanding of the mind’s movements: how we let thoughts meander and ebb and flow–similar to the movements of Boulder Creek. His text became layered in the variety of voices and themes pulsing throughout, as he created this text by the overlay of mapping: movements of the mind, the doll, the dictionary, the city of Boulder–similar to the writing prompt he offered earlier in the day in the Writers in Community class. When we overlay one space upon another, we create a composite; how to decide which goes atop the other? What protrudes? What is covered? Where does alignment occur? In O’s.

J’Lyn Chapman graced the stage with words juxtaposing darkness and hope, withering stems and bursts of blossoms, reading from her work, Our Last Days. Traversing the seemingly mundane daily life of burnt spices, of unending news reports, of bruised thunderclouds–“meaning was made slowly.” And yet, Chapman’s lyricism brought us through the waiting for good news, into the bad news of fires in the west, when we “feel ourselves come apart” to the selves who “flailed in reflection and thought it was flight”–she mapped our relationship with the land, with one another, with the self. Her rhythm of word and image create a mesmerizing meaning for those in the audience, and I am eager to have this text in hand soon.

Mark Amerika entered us into the digital age; introducing his work by directing the audience to www.altx.com, his words created a collective self-deprecation based upon our dependency of technology. The narrative established our lack of power when communicating with a machine, as “OK” is our only option to continue; the repetition of “OK” re-conjures the image of sheep, as Genelle Chaconas conjured Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep in her introduction of Amerika. In a corresponding piece, “Artist 2.0,” Amerika remixed glitch ontology, created a re-rupturing of our dependency and what happens when the system breaks down. What happens when the narrative breaks down? A repetitive, incantation of “glitch is the soul in the machine,” throughout audience members. We are left wondering: how can one re-relate to the self, to the body, to the collective? How to remediate? “Digital other, can I relate?” asks Amerika. The question, posed multiple times, has yet to be answered.


Jaclyn Hawkins is an MFA candidate at the Jack Kerouac School at Naropa University. On the verge of entering her thesis semester, she is seeking to archive decay through documentary poetry and map the genre of Ecopoetics.