Indecency, by Justin Phillip Reed
Well, it can be said of this book at least that its title is not false advertising, although the book is indecent at least as much for its politics as for its whining about sexuality. Indeed, this book could have stood to be fare more indecent in the sense of being indelicate than it is, because that would have been an improvement over the author’s self-obsessed naval gazing about his own identity and what it means. This book has no business being as bad as it is, or the sort of bad that it is, and the fact that most of the works in this poem were previously published and that this book managed to win a National Book Award suggests the sort of cultural malaise that we face as a society. Whoever voted for this book to win the National Book Award, it should be noted, should lose their ability to vote for anything ever again, as I wouldn’t trust their opinion on who should be a dog catcher. This book is that bad, bad enough that I have a lot less faith in the good sense of the many poetic magazines and journals that published the poems contained in this book.
This particular book is a selection of poetic whines, often done with experimentation on the amount of white space around the words, that ends up being 69 pages long (probably no coincidence there). The poet talks about his supposed warped masculinity (probably toxic in some fashion), then contradicts himself by talking about the woman he is not, reflects on boyhood, laments any unkindness, complains about whiteness, and so on. The author rambles on about what he wishes and what he feels and what he thinks, assuming that the reader will care about the poet being mainly interested in himself and not very interested in those who are not like him. The author even muses on the question of consent, thinking that it is unusual that the gay community does not dwell on the question of consent or that the problem of consent as it relates to gay men in sex work is not often considered. In general questions of consent and sex work are more than a little murky, it must be admitted. Other than that, there’s little in this book that does more than dwell on the author’s own concerns and preoccupations.
What sort of worth does this book of poetry have? It is obvious that those who agree with the author’s poetry would appreciate his work, but I don’t agree with any of the author’s politics. The author’s identity politics is whiny pro-homosexual, anti-police, pro-antifa sorts of politics that I have no truck with. The author’s other politics are equally abhorrent to me. And it didn’t have to be this way. The author is certainly someone who is well-read, as his poems include a lot of references to other works, be it journalism or the works of other (better) writers. The author is well-read enough that were he interested in removing his head from his colon he could likely write in at least passable form–given the experimentation the book shows–in ways that would be interesting and worthy of appreciation for people who did not share his own perspective, but the author is intent on only writing to and for people who agree with the author and who share the same sort of self-absorbed preoccupation that the author does with questions of identity and leftist politics. As someone who has no particularly fondness for that sort of thing this book leaves me with nothing to appreciate, because the poems are worthless apart from one’s agreement with the author’s worldview, which in my case is nonexistent.