December, traditionally, is a gift-driven season. It doesn’t matter if they’re the abstract gifts sung about in holiday tunes, the gifts of rest and relaxation, literal gifts—wrapping-papered and bowed—or the gift of time spent with family and friends… even the Grinchiest of us enjoys a good gift in December. And this year, the Graduate Literary Arts committee had a gift of its own to share with its Rhode Island friends and URI family: its inaugural graduate reading.
The reading was hosted by the Willett Free Library, which is a brilliant little library that deserves a visit regardless of whether or not any literary events are on the horizon, and it took place over the course of an hour, giving each of its three readers approximately twenty minutes to share their work.
One of the most compelling facets of the reading (outside of the readings themselves) was the lineup, which showcased an undergraduate student, Nate Vaccaro; a master’s student, Sam Simas; and a doctoral student, Elizabeth Foulke. It was nice to see a reading put together in a way that celebrates and honors students at varying level of academe, bridging the gaps so often seen between these programs during an evening of shared artistry.
Nate, the first to read, read from a large span of his work, starting with some of his earliest poems (which he had recently revisited and revised), and then moved briefly to poetry that reveled in the building and exploration of soundscapes before ending with a series of poems focused on bodies—which ranged from the insightful considerations of the human body to political examinations of constructed bodies, like Trump Tower.
Following Nate was Sam Simas, who read a single, sectioned piece entitled “Orlando,” which spoke in response to and contemplation of the shootings that took place there earlier this year. The piece, operating through numbered sections, moved in an almost kaleidoscopic fashion, shifting from character to character and moment to moment in a way that presented ideas and dissolved them into something different and surprising but inevitable, mirroring the emotional valences that surrounded the shooting and the dialogue that followed it.
Last (but, as they say, not least) to read was Elizabeth Foulke, who read from one of her non-fiction essays. In it she presented the world through the eyes of a single person navigating social constructs seemingly built for the promotion of individuals already in relationships. The work was at times serious and contemplative; in other moments it was a bit sad and searching; and—not un-occasionally—it was a hilarious display of a fiercely biting wit. Foulke’s essay kept the audience on the edge of their seats at every moment, and with each moment of laughter and frowning thought that she invoked, she helped to reveal the world in a compelling new color.
Early on in the event, more seats were dragged out for patrons as the available chairs had all been claimed. It was really wonderful to see such a great show of support for an inaugural reading like this, and with one or two additional readings promised by the Graduate Literary Arts committee for the Spring semester, there will be ample opportunities for those who missed out to get their fair share of poetry and prose in the months to come. All in all it was a great event, and I have no doubt that those who came to listen walked away with a lot more than they initially bargained for.