On Sunday night, the bookstore’s Tiny Rug Concert broke from the usual cozy acoustic concerts for a celebration of poetry. Students sat cross-legged as they listened to Sunset Press’ 2024 writers — Nicole Wang ’26, Will Madden ’26 and Dawsen Mercer ’26 — share their poems and short stories from their forthcoming chapbooks, followed by an hour-long open mic that welcomed other talented Kenyon poets to read their work.
Accompanied by the gentle hum of air conditioning, the audience snapped to welcome the first reader, Madden, to the microphone. Madden’s soothing voice infused his poems with a romantic melancholy. In an interview after the event, Madden said, “My poetry is largely inspired by my experiences growing up trans in Oklahoma, the contradictions that can arise from an embodied feeling that isn’t recognized by the state or the community.” Madden is also deeply inspired by his younger brother, Fishie, whom he describes as the person he holds dearest in the world. Fishie, like Madden, is also a trans man. Madden is aggrieved that Fishie continues to live in a state that restricts facilities for the trans community. “Unsurprisingly, Fishie continues to practice his own transness with a fierceness, joy and creativity that inspires those around him,” Madden said. Sibling bonds gave Madden strength and inspiration in the face of tumbling institutions.
Wang’s voice was soft yet strong while she read. Her poems gracefully capture her dealings with memory and trauma. She refuses to believe the simplistic idea that things will eventually get better or that hardships teach people life lessons. “I have been trying to think of my memories as rooms in a house, which to me looks like a blend of all the houses I lived in,” Wang wrote in an email to the Collegian. Wang’s metaphorical understanding of memory was inspired by Mercer’s chapbook and Carmen Maria Machado’s In the Dream House. She also took inspiration from writers like Richard Siken, Divya Victor and Nabila Lovelace. “My goal for the book is to showcase how memory and grief circulate constantly, and the effect of our trauma will always linger while undergoing continuous transformations,” she added. Her chapbook’s central themes are girlhood, innocence, religious trauma, family and the transformative process from a girl to a woman.
The cadence and musicality in Mercer’s voice and her evocative language made her reading incredibly gripping. After several poems, she shared an excerpt from her short story “Green-Eyed Voice Says Tell Me a Story,” which she said is not going to be in the chapbook. Before she began to read it, she told the audience that the story is about her father, who passed away about two years ago. Mercer said her dad would have been excited about the book being written, as he wanted to be a writer, but his parents made him go to business school. “In writing this chapbook I want to explore the grotesqueness of the grieving process. I’ve found the grief of my father passing away to be truly transformative,” Mercer said. “It has become violence and self-punishment, and as rough as that is, I think it’s fascinating because it is also very human.” Mercer pursues the poignant idea of what loss does to the living through short stories about metamorphosis, animals and slightly magical worlds, while her interspersed poems are “clarifiers” that prepare readers for the stories.
After Mercer finished, 10 volunteer readers shared their work during the open mic portion of the event. With a final round of snapping from the audience, the hour-long Tiny Rug reading came to an end. “Reading at Tiny Rug was more nerve-wracking than I was mentally prepared for,” Madden reflected, “but I felt enveloped by a supportive, fun community, and it feels powerful.”