On Monday, Oct. 29, the Race and Ethnic Studies Department and Women’s and Gender Studies Department sponsored a poetry reading by Justin Phillip Reed, a National Book Award finalist hailing from St. Louis. In his work, Reed explores topics of race, sexuality and inequality in America.
After Professors Rebecca Richards and Jennifer Kwon Dobbs introduced Reed, he took to the stage and jumped right into his book “Indecency” – his latest collection of poetry. Reed read 10 poems from the book before transitioning into some of his newer work. Most poems dealt with sex, vulnerability, violence or racial inequality in America. Regarding racial inequality, Reed’s poems examined the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown.
One of Reed’s pieces, inspired by poet Tafisha Edwards, analyzes the role of black women in Western society and the expectations placed upon them. In his pieces on sex and relationships, Reed’s poems emphasize vulnerability and the potential for violence.
Reed stated, however, that while “Indecency” is largely depressive, his newer poems explore larger concepts and take on a more active voice. In between poems, Reed provided insight into his inspiration and goals for his work.
Regarding “Indecency,” he stated that he didn’t set out to do or accomplish anything in particular. For Reed, writing poetry is a response to events occurring in the world around him.
He noted how sometimes language fails to express his feelings, as well as the use of blanks, parentheses and slashes. Reed said that his use of punctuation often doesn’t make sense in writing because the subject matter may not even make sense when spoken about.
“Reed’s poetry reading provided a thought-provoking experience for all who attended, leaving audience members with new ways to view current events and societal structures.” – Hannah Martens ’20
After the conclusion of his poetry reading, audience members were given the chance to speak with Reed directly through a Q & A session. Questions focused mainly on the trajectory of Reed’s work and his writing inspiration. One audience member noted the shift between Reed’s new work and that found in “Indecency.” Reed described his pastwork in “Indecency” as an experiment with pronouns. He also noted that “Indecency” tends to focus more on the individual.
In his more recent work, however, Reed has shifted to expressing the voice of the collective. In addition, Reed has begun to examine the intersectionality between racial injustice and environmental injustice.
When discussing his writing process, Reed emphasized the influence others’ work has had on his own. He noted how beneficial it was for him to read the work of others who have experienced and interpreted situations familiar to him. Reed also stated that he finds writing inspiration from everywhere. In his work, Reed references from “Mean Girls” to Emily Dickinson.
Reed’s poetry reading provided a thought-provoking experience for all who attended, leaving audience members with new ways to view current events and societal structures. Overall, the event held by the Women’s and Gender Studies and Race and Ehnic Studies Departments was a success. Students can look forward to many similar events in the future.