By Ella Longpre
There were yellow roses. Yellow roses for Gabriel Garcia Marquez. A yellow rose for each graduate, conferred by thesis advisor. Bhanu Kapil emceed, introducing the readers and summarizing each reading. During her introduction, Kapil recapped the graduates’ time at Naropa: “You came here to write; you did not write.”
Each reader conjured a ghost—from the past, from a text, from a dream. For instance, Peggy Anne Alaniz began with an homage to Poe, specifically “Usher,” calling on the “blood of my brother,” revealing that “the breath unites us.” Carla Campbell’s textual apparition appeared in the form of a co-autobiography written with Phyllis Wheatley. Campbell stated “I am not Phyllis Wheatley” to distance herself from the text. And then went on, to pull closer to the audience: “Naobi weeps. Naobi weeps, and turns to stone.” She gave us the image of “a tick, sucking away my ancestral history.”
Angel Dominguez then brought us a figure who appears only in part during a sleep walk: “There were white flowers everywhere; I buried him there.” These are living somnambulisms: “I don’t remember the orchard… just the scent.”
Jenifer Kay Dorsey called to her past, a road-trip childhood composed of moss, and snails. But she also woke from it: “the down comforter falls to my waist.” She reassured the audience, “if I know anything, I will be amazed.” Janelle Fine addressed her own body: “I read on the internet that most women have one breast that’s larger than the other. I hate you even more now, that I am like most women.” Lola Gerber addressed the body of a lover— one lover, to her lover on the floor in a fetal position: “I became your womb, and you became my child.” The lover is able to remain in the present through a process of “bottling moments into memories, like cherries into jam.”
Mikiel Ghelieh spoke of “special gym” as “the great equalizer,” in the sense that everybody bleeds: “We left a lot of blood on that gym floor.” Sarah Richards Graba spoke of biography of a ghost, in the sense that every body will be a ghost—she spoke “in language, on the page, the only way I know how to speak to a ghost.” The haunting in her text, though, was two-edged, because even for a ghost, “some spaces occupy me most.”
Jaclyn Hawkins read about the body of a loved one, a landscape, a tree: rather than lovers’ initials carved into tree bark, “so much wisdom is already written in leaves.” She quoted her grandfather, who said “Fuck comfort. Comfort is the opposite of joy.” And: “Lightning bugs are the dead, lighting a cigarette.” Steven Raymond Arne Johnson, a poet working in translation, summoned text and history. He read, “Man like me, neither lay nor ordained, a danger to the Buddha dharma.” And in an acrostic: “Yonder mountains and valleys equally suck.”
At this point, Reed Bye addressed graduates, reading from Yeats: “I, being poor, have only my dreams.”
Marking a slight shift from bodies and ghosts to the margins that delineate them, Elizabeth Knauz continued the reading, speaking over “the distance of a sigh.” Then, comedy: “I threw up in the closet but I don’t care.” Caitlan Mitchell re-defined confusion over and over, “confusion is a redundant binding process.” Howling. She howled. Audience joining, ending her reading in a communal howl.
Erik Bitsui rocked on a cardboard guitar, with a story about a coyote, a man, an attack, in the margins between a reservation and the rest of the world, a margin where “police keep racial profiling statistics a secret.” JH Phrydas continued walking along the margin, speaking of linear drafting, intersections of animal and human trails, and “the boundary between city and forest [that] dissolves,” where “language emerges.” Shitu Rajbhandari then entered the city, reminding us, “the city will chew you up and spit you out within seconds, and won’t even wipe its face.” She asked the city, “if this revolution’s only cause is heartbreak, what good is it?” An unanswered question.
Returning to the body, Amanda [Ngoho] Reavey, accompanied by the drumming of Kyle Pivarnik, performed an exorcism via dance while a recording played, “I am my mother but I am not.” The recording said, “I want to dance the shame out of my body.” Curtis Romero read from a piece in which an angel waited downstairs. Meanwhile, the blues played, Dave Van Ronk influencing a later generation. Punctuating his text: the tones of a white ceramic bell.
Tiara Roxanne read decapitated lines, dismembered sentences: “Time fashions a fabric in pain.” She provided a vocabulary for the language of the body, telling us, “the body that does not dance is the body that does not signify.”
Finally, Ashley Margaret Waterman blurred the boundary between body and spirit, defining spirituality as “a right-bodied function.” She read about a girl “chewing her nails to live in denial.”
When she finished reading, we gathered the roses from the floor.
Ella Longpre is a writer and musician from the MidWest and both Coasts. She is the author of the chapbook, The Odor of the Hoax Was Gone (Monkey Puzzle Press, 2013), and her work has appeared in elimae, Summer Stock, Dinosaur Bees, NOÖ Journal, and Everyday Genius. Ella Longpre is the 2013-14 Anne Waldman Fellow at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, where she is an MFA in Writing & Poetics candidate.