Oh, what a joy — to sit down in a cafe and embrace the ambience. Filled with an assortment of chairs, knickknacks and eccentric personas, sitting down in a cafe for a poetry reading is probably in my top 50 things to do if you like to read and have a coffee addiction. So that’s why I was so excited to drop in on Café Shapiro’s first night of student readings, tuning in a little differently than how I imagined, with my computer on my lap and a bag of Takis by my side. Nevertheless, the night had some amazing talent that made my hair stand on end and my eyes tear up just a little bit, even if it was only Takis dust in my eye.
Café Shapiro is a 20-plus year tradition created and hosted by the University of Michigan’s Library that originally was a student coffee break as a part of the University’s “Year of the Humanities and Arts.” For two weeks, University undergraduate writers read aloud selected works, ranging from poems to op-eds. Although the first installments have come and gone, there are still several more chances to see student writers read their work.
One of the first highlights of the first night was LSA sophomore Nicole Tooley. Tooley’s poetry was the perfect balance of natural and processed sugar. Her poem “Those Divine Cows” captured childhood in all of its pinky swearing, Kool-Aid drinking and cow dung-smoking glory. Maybe cow dung isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think about childhood nostalgia, but this story resurfaced a really niche memory for me of those field trips you take to that one lonely farm or petting zoo off the highway (we all know the one). Tooley’s use of childhood imagery and sweet, soft cadence created an airy story of youth. She captured the sappy love and distilled it into a syrupy poem that stopped my heart in its viscous nostalgia.
Next on my list of favorite pieces from the night: LSA senior Dylan Gilbert’s “Appointment.” It was a chilling poem, focused and clear. Gilbert’s poem consisted of a dialogue between a patient with saltwater in their lungs and a doctor who thinks anything but. The juxtaposition of such an obvious ailment makes the doctor’s unwillingness to hear the patient that much more upsetting. Gilbert was able to use this dialogue to address the blatant disrespect that Black women face when seeking help from America’s healthcare system. Gilbert’s voice is clear, and while other readers often felt disengaged in their readings, Gilbert brought the scene to life with her stunning performance.
Another standout writer from the night was LSA junior Malin Andersson with “The Night Farmer.” Speaking as someone who definitely had a curiosity for astronomy as a kid and still does today, a poem about a farmer keeping a field of stars sounds like the perfect Pisces, sun-inspired Studio Ghibli film. However, Andersson’s juxtaposition of the farmer’s sparkling cosmic light and the artificial sterility of hospital lights provided a somber note to the poem’s otherwise whimsical style. Ultimately, Andersson’s work felt like the kind of poetry you read on a happy rainy day — joyous, with notes of melancholy.
All the writers brought an amazing assortment of original work to the cafe, and it was an absolute pleasure to listen in on some of the University’s best writers. Though the reading was without the more cringy staples of a coffee shop’s poetry night, I was better off getting to see students in their homes and in their element, with me sitting cozily in mine.
Daily Arts Writer Matthew Eggers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.