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Reginald Dwayne Betts with Felon: Poems – a Bridge Builder Event
November 20, 2019
Reginald Dwayne Betts is a poet, essayist, and national spokesperson for the Campaign for Youth Justice. He writes and lectures about the impact of mass incarceration on American society. He is the author of three collections of poetry, Felon, Bastards of the Reagan Era, and Shahid Reads His Own Palm, as well as a memoir, A Question of Freedom. A graduate of Yale Law School, he lives in New Haven, Connecticut, with his wife and their two sons.
About Felon: Poems
A searing volume by a poet whose work conveys “the visceral effect that prison has on identity” (Michiko Kakutani, New York Times).
Felon tells the story of the effects of incarceration in fierce, dazzling poems―canvassing a wide range of emotions and experiences through homelessness, underemployment, love, drug abuse, domestic violence, fatherhood, and grace―and, in doing so, creates a travelogue for an imagined life. Reginald Dwayne Betts confronts the funk of postincarceration existence and examines prison not as a static space, but as a force that enacts pressure throughout a person’s life.
The poems move between traditional and newfound forms with power and agility―from revolutionary found poems created by redacting court documents to the astonishing crown of sonnets that serves as the volume’s radiant conclusion. Drawing inspiration from lawsuits filed on behalf of the incarcerated, the redaction poems focus on the ways we exploit and erase the poor and imprisoned from public consciousness. Traditionally, redaction erases what is top secret; in Felon, Betts redacts what is superfluous, bringing into focus the profound failures of the criminal justice system and the inadequacy of the labels it generates.
Challenging the complexities of language, Betts animates what it means to be a “felon.”