At 18 years old, Joey Reisberg’s work has already brought him to the White House. Reisberg is a nationally recognized poet who has a new book ready for publication, coinciding with his graduation from the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Towson.
Reisberg’s book, “Keter,” hones in on his Judaism, a topic the poet said was “a great way of honoring my ancestors and also showing the variety and diversity of Jewish life, history and culture.”
“Because of the Diaspora, there’s been an array of different Jewish viewpoints and differing opinions,” Reisberg added. “I love that variety of voice and style that can be found.”
But “Keter” is about more than Reisberg’s religion. He also approaches subjects like group identity.
“That’s been a recurring theme throughout Jewish history: How do we reconcile individuality with the needs of the tribe and the group?” Reisberg said. “I did that through infusing myself through these poems — my own gay identity and how that meets my Judaism. Also, I write a lot of poems directly influenced by passages from the Bible. There are poems about David and Jonathan and there are poems where I integrate the language of the Psalms.”
Raised in a Reform family, Reisberg attended Krieger Schechter Day School, which he credits with giving him a Jewish foundation.
“I feel grateful that I was educated in the Conservative tradition,” Reisberg said. “I really learned how to fight for tikkun olam while also learning more about the traditional side of things, the more historical background of the prayers we say. This book could not have existed without Krieger Schechter and the amazing teachers I had who encouraged me to think critically about Judaism and form my own opinions, while also being guided by that tradition.”
Working on “Keter” not only forced Reisberg to dive deep into his personal beliefs, but taught him lessons about himself overall.
“I learned that I can complete a project this size,” he said. “I learned how to be a supportive classmate to my friends and their projects, but I also learned about myself that I can complete this immense project, along with distributing it and marketing it.”
Sales of Reisberg’s book are live on Amazon, and the poet said that each sale will be donated to charity.
“I’m excited to be donating the profits of this book to two charities: Writers in Baltimore Schools, they provide after school mentoring and education for Baltimore city students who are interested in writing creatively,” Reisberg said. “They give those students a platform to be heard. Also, IfNotNow, which is an organization that encourages American Jews to fight for justice and peace in Israel and Palestine.”
Reisberg believes the online proliferation of poetry has come, in part, from the country’s divisive climate.
“I feel like we’re in a bit of a poetry renaissance right now,” he said. “Things like social media have really helped spread poems along. But I think in this political climate, people are looking for diverse voices that can spark resistance and change.”
And what about Reisberg’s White House visit in 2016, when he got to read his poetry for then-First Lady Michelle Obama? The young poet, who was named a National Student Poet, called that day a “whirlwind” and “mind-blowing.” Reisberg said the event validated him as a young artist in a field where adults may worry about financial stability, among other concerns.
It not only boosted his self-esteem as a poet, but helped him shape a now lifelong goal.
“I knew this was something I could do for the rest of my life,” Reisberg said. “I feel encouraged now, and hopeful. But then, in a broader sense, it taught me to take what I had been given and fight for others. We were really taught that art has the means to impact social life and to make gains for others. But I want to be a creative citizen of the world and use art to help other people.”
Suzanne Supplee, the literary arts department chair at Carver, has known Reisberg since he was a freshman at the school. She says that he entered high school already as a skilled reader and writer. She remembers him as someone who was already “focusing on the craft.”
“‘Keter’ will make you think,” Supplee said. “I don’t think you necessarily need to be Jewish in order to read it. He talks a lot about his faith and his culture, but he also talks a lot about Baltimore and what it means to grow up in Baltimore. I think anyone can draw meaning from this book that Joey has created.”
Evan Reisberg, Joey’s older brother, helped him design the pomegranate-centric cover art for “Keter.” The older Reisberg, 28, works as a graphic designer.
“It really is wild to see him coming into his own as a young man,” Evan said. “Over the last three years, going from a different child growing up to what he’s been able to accomplish now. He has pretty much everything at his fingertips in terms of where he wants to go from here. Whether it’s toward Jewish studies or creative writing, he has the platform now to do whatever he wants.”
Reisberg and his classmates will be presenting their books on May 11 at the Carver Center from 7 to 9 p.m. Admission is $5.