Halsey Street hotspot Coffee Cave hosted the November MFA student reading, featuring second year poet Susan Riedel and first year fiction writer Chris Whitehead. Sara Grossman introduced Susan, who started the evening off with three poems about structures: the lighted window of a house, a hotel room, and the crowd in a room. Susan introduced each poem with a word about its inspiration: simple things like walks, travel, and the moon. Each poem was about one word, one emotion, or one image, such as how it feels to have someone point a finger at you, and the question “why.” She uses the music of her language to create evocative images. She finished with poems about a person recovering from an abusive childhood, and charmed her audience by joking that she writes her poems in her bedroom closet, her way of telling us how much a poet appreciates an audience.
Following a short intermission, Hirsh Sawhney introduced Chris Whitehead who read his funny and moving “War Stories,” about a man who has just returned from Iraq, goes on a bad date, almost gets beat up, has an encounter with a Vietnam veteran he admires, then has two dreams, which seem to shatter some of his illusions. The story expresses the character’s ambivalence about the two wars, Vietnam and Iraq, and contrasts the country’s attitudes toward their veterans.
Chris weaves in images of both wars, and captivates the audience with the sardonic wit and self-deprecating voice of his character. His own experience as a recent Iraq veteran lend an aura of credibility and authenticity to the story, which makes its thought-provoking points in a way no history book can.
Congratulations to Chris for a great reading, and to Susan for her wonderful poetry. Thanks to Armin for his edifying and amusing comments, to the Coffee Cave for their use of the space, friendly service and tasty food and drink, and to all the students and teachers who came out to support these writers. See you at the last reading of the semester on December 14.
by Priscilla Mainardi