Systems, Outsiders, Intertexts: 4×4 Reading at Naropa University, Nov. 19, 2013

By Ella Longpre

Systems (gaming, family, community, underground) develop their own languages and ethics, and often generate outsiders from the inside. On Tuesday, November 19, 2013 the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University hosted its installment in this year’s 4×4 Reading Series. Four readers shared their work, exploring the boundaries of these systems: Rachel Busnardo (CU Boulder), Neil Fitzpatrick (Colorado State University), Jesse Morse (University of Denver), and Sarah Richards Graba (Naropa University).

According to her introduction, Rachel Busnardo (CU Boulder) is many things (a Sinead O’Connor song, a Paris Hilton sex tape, the new black) on top of being an avid gamer and poet. Busnardo’s poems challenge the practices of the gaming subculture, which she skewers for its limited [offensive] vocabulary and anachronistic vision of womanhood. Representations of women in the gaming world are, in Busnardo’s poems, mined for their inherent ridiculousness—and the poems allow these representations (such as Lara Croft) to speak for themselves. Busnardo also explores familiar territory for the 21st century subject: what it means to build a community of strangers, “tongues with no faces,” and “dicks built in all caps.” But Busnardo finds new modes of exploration, and delight in gaming’s lexicon. She reclaims space that is supposed to exclude her, insisting, “the narrative doesn’t belong to the narrative network.”

Neil Fitzpatrick (CSU) read an excerpt from a fictional work in which the narrator faces death in a dystopia. Like other dystopias, Fitzpatrick’s isn’t far from our own. In it, the unquestioned destruction of the individual must occur for the sake of the collective. Fitzpatrick’s dialogue focuses on the seduction of mob mentality, and the gradual shift of a narrator complicit in his own death to his eventual disillusionment and alienation from the larger group. Fitzpatrick allows his narrative to shift in the haunting space of a indoor pool, the site of the narrator’s scheduled death and the center of the story’s emotional gravity. Moby Dick is the narrator’s chosen method of death, a heroic death, an intertextual death, re-animating Melville’s novel. But even the death is a failure: Moby Dick appears as a pathetic imitation, painted white with a clogged blowhole. This narrator reminds us, “Ishmael goes to sea instead of killing himself”— enforced communities often substitute, but do they succeed in their substitution?

Jesse Morse (DU), whose work was introduced by poet Mathias Svalina as a “hymnal you went into debt to afford,” confronts privileged speech and enforced silence. His characters, juveniles hiding ashtrays in backyards, suppress confusion arising from community and conditioned otherness, which inevitably erupts. For instance, Morse writes about a white pre-teen screaming racial epithets at a group of young Latino men. This character and others from Morse’s work betray more about their own identities when they name others, characters who have the privilege of thinking racism is “funny.” The white pre-teen insists the target of his attack “wouldn’t let [him] say anything” in his own defense. Morse’s voice is not sheltered as his characters, emphasizing the irony in a white teenager who equates being checked for using a racial epithet to being consistently silenced or oppressed. For Morse, the individual is a “machine that renders itself perfect inside the diamond,” who seems to fail outside of that realm. Morse questions what his characters can’t see, but allows the possibility for his characters’ growth by immersing them in their communities.

The “cyborg of literature,” as Angel Dominguez introduced Sarah Richards Graba (Naropa University), read from work that delves into the protean system of family, that dives deeper and hits the porous system of the body. Beginning with a “myth of a beloved daughter,” Graba shakes our familiar scaffolding, posing “beloved” as myth, posing “daughter” as myth. Graba’s investigation of these names doesn’t necessarily shatter what is familiar, but expands, incorporates. Graba’s writing vibrates with a cosmic and semiotic core, protected by mundane shells that quickly melt under the heat of her voice. These shells persist in one version of our world, but Graba’s writing is another version, where what is hidden is most valuable: “how buried my mothers and I are. We bury ourselves in shame.” Graba’s voice ponders the layering of us— the logic of layering, written into the fabric of our language— how we think death is “a cold body, but it’s a hot body full of cold air.” The layering in what is often considered established, and solid—the identity of the subject, the I who is a we who is a ghost, and “the ghost is gone, the ghost that is me, I knew it would find a place to hide.”

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Ella Longpre is the author of the chapbook, The Odor of the Hoax Was Gone (Monkey Puzzle, 2013). Her work has appeared in elimae, Everyday Genius, and elsewhere. Longpre is poetry curator at The Fanzine, and is currently an MFA candidate at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics.