Poet John Rybicki, breathing life into desolation

Author John Rybicki reads poetry and excerpts from his published books, including “When All the World Is Old,” “Traveling at High Speeds,” and “We Bed Down into Water” in the Charles V. Park Library’s Baber room, Thursday, Sept. 27. (Chris Aldridge | GCmag)

The language of poetry is one spoken fluently by few. A poet can illuminate our passions and desires through words; words that can compel us to take action toward what is right and against what is not. A poet can lead us into the unknown and back to reality.

Poetry can also expose and breathe life into the most desolate of situations. Writer John Rybicki is no stranger to desolation in his own life.

Rybicki took to the podium on Thursday, Sept. 27, in the Charles V. Park Library’s Baber Room to read various poems and passages from his published works, including “Traveling at High Speeds,” “We Bed Down into Water” and “When All the World is Old,” the latter of which centers on the loss of his wife to cancer.

Excerpt from “Why Everything Is a Poem”:

her finger squeaking against the steam
on the bathroom window where she’s scrawling
her last love note to my own son and me. She’s singing
the words over and over as she writes, I love my boys,

leaning hard on the o in love.
She leaves a heart and words that reappear
when we place our mouths to the glass.
My son and I fog it with our breath
after she is gone.

A powerful silence graced the room as Rybicki weaved through anecdotes of time spent with his wife and passages from his books. As he finished, most felt not a deafening sense of sorrow but rather a promised notion of his fortitude in overcoming a grave loss.

“He makes his poems out of true feeling — he lives his poetry,” said creative writing professor Robert Fanning, who introduced Rybicki to an audience of more than 100. “He’s doing things that are so far beyond what we can do in our best hour with our sharpest pen.”

Rybicki was surprised at the turnout for the reading, considering a previous reading at Ohio State University accommodated just 10 people.

“Numbers aren’t necessarily the difference, but having a big crowd is tremendous,” Rybicki said.

Midway through the reading, Rybicki asked for suggestions from the audience. Devin Brines, a former student of Rybicki’s, chimed in and Rybicki stepped away from the podium, encouraging Brines to read one of Rybicki’s poems.

“I remember I was blown away at some of the stuff he said,” Brines said, reminiscing of his first class taken with Rybicki. “All I had was my wallet and a pencil and I remember writing down some of the things he said on a dollar bill — I wish I still had the dollar bill.”

Other students shared similar feelings after hearing Rybicki read. Mount Pleasant senior Lee Szelag waited in line to get her copy of “When All the World is Old” signed after her first Rybicki reading.

“I was so overcome with emotion that I found myself in tears,” she said.

Cadillac graduate student Nicole Voice felt the reading was a good experience because of its human connection.

“There are funny poets, emotional poets, political poets … all of them have at least one poem that we can connect to,” Voice said. “It’s nice to find that one thing that connects you to the poet and the outside world.”

Rybicki’s son, Martell, in his first reading attendance in six years, said that nothing has changed from when he was a teenager sitting in the audience. He drew up an analogy to illustrate the relationship between his father’s works and audiences.

“The bar would be made of my dad and everyone could have a shot of his spirit. When you drink, you’ll be drunk on love, opening your heart, and seeing life how it is supposed to be seen,” he said. “(My father) throws fire into people’s hearts.”

He reminisced about life before his mother had passed, both in her time before she contracted cancer and when doctors informed John and Martell that her survival was limited to mere days.

He remembered a spirit that never diminished, even when Rybicki went to visit her in the hospital to discover that she had just 15 days to live.

“Her body was a rotten sack of potatoes,” he said. “But her spirit was a glowing butterfly. She would try to get up and hug me — she had no strength at all but she’d make it.”

Although poetry seems a foreign language to some and writing it might sound just as difficult, its effect is quite measurable when considering the impression Rybicki left on several members of the audience.

“All the poetry readings — even if they’re in the same genre — they’re all going to be different and unique,” Szelag said. “It can really open your eyes to what poetry is.”

Mutual feelings were witnessed by Rybicki.

“I wanted to hit the pause button on the world tonight and just slow it down and savor it,” Rybicki said. “Every time I get the chance to share my wife’s story with the crowd, I feel like I’m helping her to live and hoping her valiance in the face of suffering can inspire others.”

Photos by Chris Aldridge