cover image Indecency


Justin Phillip Reed. Coffee House (Consortium, dist.), $16.95 trade paper (70p) ISBN 978-1-56689-514-9

Reed’s visceral and teasingly cerebral debut probes black identity, sexuality, and violence and is inseparably personal and political. He displays a searing sense of injustice about dehumanizing systems, and his speakers evoke the quotidian with formidable eloquence: “from another little death sleep I rise to find/ the id well hidden and life’s slow states of/ matter still in place.” These impulses meet in Reed’s delight in sound and symbol, as when a speaker treats a stomachache with “ginger-mint tea in the/ inauguration memorabilia mug from Momma,/ monument-white but for Obama.” Reed startles with his renderings of oppressive institutional spaces (“You arrive at the university and stand out like a necrotic thumb”), while his poem “The Day ______ Died” operates both as a brilliant rebuke to Frank O’Hara’s famous elegy and as widely applicable commentary on ongoing genocide: “i disavowed ‘died’ but didn’t mutter ‘murdered’ in the direction of anyone who uttered it.” Reed’s voice is engaging and vulnerable; in “To Every Faggot Who Pulverized Me For Being a Faggot,” the speaker tempers his accusations with the admission that “What you don’t know is/ I needed someone like you but braver.” Abundantly brave, Reed’s debut finds language as “a body behaving// as will any dialect, lifting stranger and more/ urgent mouths to the same sentence.” (May)