When Poetry Goes Beyond Words

Meet comp lit major Ben Read ’21

September 29, 2021

Major: comparative literature

Hometown: Spokane, Washington

Thesis adviser: Prof. Jan Mieszkowski [German]

Thesis: “Toward a Poetics of Study”

What it’s about: Lyric poetry and the ways that the genre limits how we think about poetry, politics, and identity. I wrote about three contemporary poets—Ilya Kaminsky, Hanif Abdurraqib, and Ross Gay—and the way their poetry moves beyond representing or expressing the identity of the author to imagine, discover, and invent new forms of being in and knowing the world.

What it’s really about: My favorite poets that I follow on Twitter.

In high school: I did speech and debate, was an AP student, a huge reader, and worse than my younger brother at pickup basketball.

Influential class: The Poem Visualized with Prof. Jae Choi [English] was an incredible creative writing class focused on the ways that poetry lives off the page. We danced and made T-shirts and wrote gibberish. A lot of our plans were cut short by the pandemic, but I’m so grateful for that class and the way Jae’s teaching changed my writing.

Concept that blew my mind: Anything by Fred Moten, but especially the concept of Black study that he and Stefano Harney write about in The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study as a collective, radical form of knowledge making. This concept shaped my thesis and the way that I think about being a student generally.

Cool stuff I got to do: I worked as a writer or an editor for the Quest, the Grail, and the Creative Review; was an assistant to Prof. Samiya Bashir and the creative writing faculty for Poetry Salon and the Visiting Writers Series; and worked as a Sexual Health, Advocacy, and Relationship Education (SHARE) advocate, a writing tutor, and a library assistant.

Ability developed at Reed: I learned how to dance! I took classes in Argentine tango with Alex Krebs ’99 for all of my PE credits, and loved being part of the Portland tango community.

Awards, grants, fellowships: I received the Winter International Travel Fellowship for a research project in Spain on Federico García Lorca and the role of duende in his poetry and flamenco dance traditions; the Mary Barnard Academy of American Poets Prize for a poem that I wrote while I was in Spain; and a Ruby-Lankford Grant for a research project with Prof. Kris Cohen [art] on the university and the forms of radical study that take place there, despite what the administration may think.

Help I got along the way: Thank you to all the pockets of home I found—in the Quest office, as HA in the Spanish House, at the Paradox, in the basketball gym, and in class. Oh, and thanks for the money, Reed! I couldn’t have done it without you.

How Reed changed me: For the better. I like to think that the people I’ve met here have taught me generosity, curiosity, and grace.

What’s next: Working in publishing and libraries. Outside of work, I’ll be writing and reading for fun, playing basketball, seeing all my friends, and some day—more school.