Blog Post,  Readings


Bob Ross, The Pope, and a DEA agent walk into a room. . . No, that is not the start of a bad joke but rather the events at the annual SLAB Halloween reading last week, where students and faculty alike take the opportunity to become someone or something else on the gothic night. Spiders had spun their synthetic webs around the room and sounds made to frighten played softly in the background of the dimly lit hall.

The music played through students sharing their work. It was audible how passionate each of them were about writing; a few shared multiple stories, some only appeared once, but all of them were entertaining. I couldn’t help but feel proud of my classmates and my department, even those I didn’t know in the slightest.

Valerie Robuck, a senior here at Slippery Rock University, read her story. For me, the story was psychological horror, taking one of my fears and bringing it to life. Her descriptions were intense and made the situation feel realistic and wonderfully disturbing. I actually had a chance to talk to Valerie about her story and what had compelled her to write it. She said:

I’d come across an article a few weeks ago about how a woman in the 1940s had jumped from the Empire State Building, landing on top of a government official’s limo. She was only 23 years old. The incident was dubbed “The Most Beautiful Suicide,” as photographer Robert Wiles snapped a shot of the woman on top of the limousine. The woman radiated beauty even in her state, her arms delicately placed on her chest and her legs crossed. Not a hair or bone was out of place or even a scratch to acknowledge she had just jumped 87 stories.

The story stuck with me. Using the photograph, I based my main character on the woman and her tragic tale, creating Evelyn McHale in a modern day story experiencing an unexplained-other-worldly phenomenon.

Many more students shared their work along with Valerie. Their confidence was intoxicating and their words seemed to resonate with each person in the room. Joe Szalinski, a staple of the SRU English department, shared multiple stories and poems. During a particular poem from a series that featured a woodland creature, the listeners couldn’t help but show their enthusiasm. He premised the poem by saying it’s based off of his friend group, The (self-proclaimed) Pepperoni Brothers. Joe commented on this later, saying,

It’s fitting that my friends, Dylan and DJ are included in a published poem because they helped me develop as poet so much over the years. Whether it was songwriting in bands that never worked out; reading poems in Dylan’s garage, The Doombunker (it lets the doom in, but not the doom out); or DJ recording and releasing music with me; they’ve helped grow tremendously.

Another poet of the night, John Riggio, enthralled people with his poem “Ded Boiis Get Bonerz 2”: “My baby fucks like a corpse / Pounds like a heart giving out / She’s got a way with those hands / Has a knack for showing men the other side . . . ” Read the whole poem . . .

The audience quieted, reveling in the stark opening. This was my first experience with someone who read a poem like John did. It felt like the poem took on a life of its own and came out through the author; his emotion and eloquence was incredible and helped further punctuate the splendid creepiness of the poem. The night ended with this work, after the cake had been cut and the costume prizes were distributed. It was an event filled with wonderful pieces like Valerie’s, Joe’s, and John’s, all well-written and perfect for the occasion.

That night I found more than just stories of monsters and horrors.

That night I found more than just stories of monsters and horrors. I saw the words of my peers spring forward and entrance a crowd. I heard the applause and recognition given to readers. Most of all, I felt the importance of sharing fellow undergraduate work. This was not an event I had been to before or a situation I imagined myself in, but it was exceedingly valuable to me as both a student and a writer. I have a lot to learn from my fellow English lovers; they are inspiring, intelligent people who have voices that deserve to be heard. This is why RockScissorsPaper is important to me. It gives these voices a place, and that’s the most exciting part of it all.

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