A Dean College student writing on a piece of paper during class.

National Poetry Month, a month-long celebration of poetry, takes place in April.  It was organized in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets to increase awareness and appreciation of poetry in the United States. This April we spotlight one of Dean College’s own poets, Associate Professor of English, Jo-Ann Reid.

Professor Reid’s poetry takes on issues of social justice, gender identity, the black body and the first-generation immigrant experience. While pursuing her MFA at The Pennsylvania State University, Professor Reid was honored with a poetry prize by visiting judge Harryette Mullin. Her work has appeared in publications such as Barrow Street, New Verse News, Knot Magazine, The Ocean State Review and most recently in Literary Mama: Writing About the Many Faces of Motherhood. Her chapbook, Bellow, was a finalist for a Paper Nautilus Book Prize. Professor Reid is also a Pushcart Prize nominee. 

At Dean, Professor Reid channels her love of poetry in one of her courses - ENG 270: Creative Writing: Poetry. The class provides student writers an opportunity to explore the craft of poetry. Close readings and analysis of the genre alongside student original writing allows for a comprehensive study and writing of traditional, free form and experimental poetry. In addition to writing an original portfolio, students study the great voices, style and craft of established poets in the canon, as well as those of the younger generation. Among many others, readings include works by Patricia Smith, Edgar Allan Poe, Sylvia Plath, Mary Oliver, Billy Collins, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Claude McKay, Andrea Gibson, Emily Dickinson and Langston Hughes.

Original poetry by Professor Jo-Ann Reid:

Cornrows

I. Preparation

My mother husked corn

discarded the wide, pale, green skins 

some browned, shriveled at the tips.

She split seams of pea pods

with one smooth motion of a fingernail.

 

The peas like slight thunder

into the aluminum bowl at her bare feet

the skins fell like birth below a skirt

hiked up to the knees.

 

She broke the knobs

off corn stalks, tossed them into the 

trash, far enough away to miss

though she nailed it every time

without looking.

 

As a kid, I recorded thuds

kept score of vegetable shots 

into the trash—swift swishes into the barrel

clean, and through the center.

This is a game I understood.

 

II. Harvest

Three girls, two still young enough

to cut the meat wrong at dinner.

Our chewing eased the tightness

of cornrows begun as far forward as the temple.

 

At night, we sat on the carpet

our backs braced between sturdy legs.

Our heads pushed down, the chin to the neck

as she traced every part with her nail.

 

No comb needed for precision

each grid line, a blueprint for braiding thick strands of hair

so fast, we felt flight. 

Her fingers that braided order into creases of scalp. 

Her tight work pulled our foreheads to attention. 

The crop of disciplined rows echoed a prayer for one or two new inches.

 

Learn more about our talented faculty and course offerings in the Dean College’s School of Liberal Arts.