A History of Flamboyance is the sheer destruction of creation myths in violent shades shades of red. It considers the Church and Greek Mythology, but ultimately uses them as stepping stools to a greater, more honest truth. Justin Phillip Reed offers a collection of poems that feel like one long, satisfying and revelatory confessional marked by an aching fury to revise the exclusionary narratives of creation.
Justin has a way of jamming together unlikely pairings of words and concepts to make rich, cacophonous textures that are at once disconcerting and pleasurable. In “Body Chronicle” he writes, “scrubbed skin ripples away from you, a copper ash (30).” Lines like this one elicit a physical sensation that furthers the intensity of the content.
This continues in “Mirror Stage,” with “all that glitters is young rust (33)” and also:
of errata: you gape
like a geode cracking
into thirst. you keep
sweating your name
wringing nothing but
smoke from the white
boys stuck in all
the pinkish folds of your
A History of Flamboyance takes intimate instances of the Earth disintegrating and attributes them to the body falling apart. Whether it’s a geode or ash, dust, or rust, Justin looks to nature to illustrate the fragility of the human body before its phoenix-like rebirth.
Color is also a key element to this collection. Red, for example, does a great deal of storytelling. Justin uses nearly every iteration of it in his chronicles. He writes, “red: fell ikaros, a man in angel drag (29)” and continues:
(ii) fellatio in a red sedan. Barn outside and coral moon slung over secret fields/red gagging, the hands, missing (29).
(iii) coat the bulb in red like latex. or don’t. makes no difference. the mood is static, the mind unmade, the bed a black door. This here red-lit dorm room is a museum of your history of bowing before the body. [don’t make me. no, never mind. screw it in] (30).
A History of Flamboyance gives a whole new meaning to the expression, ‘seeing red.’ But these poems aren’t fully drenched in anger. Justin uses red as mood lighting for sensual scenes as well as during more brusque exchanges. As seen above, red is present in moments of heavy contemplation too. During the French Revolution, red was recognized as a symbol of liberty and personal freedom, which seems fitting for the overarching motif of this collection–one of re-emergence, reclaiming, and reflection.
These poems are fueled by a religious unraveling of sorts. The Church is a recurring setting and Biblical references are abound. In the second poem, “The First Faggots,” Justin
How many stories became layers of mistranslation How the Houses of Sodom came under fire So faggots were aligned parallel to the phallic stake rekindled to resemble a moral: God hates plainly stated and let it be lesson enough Let the eye look forward Let salt ward the ghosts Let the faggot ashes stack (3).
The above passage sets the tone for the collection right away. This is a set of poems that picks out the beautiful aspects of religious dogma and takes a sledgehammer to the rest. Justin keeps the “white haired deaconesses” and the longing to “nestle [his] skull in a bouquet of mauve,” and when he doesn’t “forget to tune out the sermon,” he does so. And then some. That said, A History of Flamboyance is something you won’t want to tune out.
(YesYes Books, Poetry, Chapbook, Sept 2016)
Justin Phillip Reed hails from South Carolina and A History of Flamboyance is his very first chapbook. Indecency, his first full-length book of poetry will be published by Coffee House Press in 2018, so be sure to look out for it in the not-so-distant future! Justin’s writing is also forthcoming in Best American Essays, Columbia Poetry Review, Kenyon Review, and Callaloo. Until then, you can keep up with him on twitter as well as on his site.
NEYAT YOHANNES is an Eritrean-American writer who’s from LA, but just moved to the Bay. By day, she doles out ice packs to kids who don’t need it as an elementary school office lady turned unofficial nurse. She spends the rest of her waking hours writing, attempting to be more formidable like Whitley Gilbert, and trying to keep Drake lyrics from constantly spilling out of her mouth. You can read some of her published work here. She tweets as @rhymeswithcat and occasionally blogs here.