The New Yorker published an article on Reginald Dwayne Betts’s third book of poetry, Felon, describing it as “upset[ting] the narrative of incarceration and redemption,” and presenting the story of how Betts was rescued by poetry.
While being held in solitary confinement, Betts received and read a copy of the anthology The Black Poets, edited by Dudley Randall, after which he began to write poems. In the article, Betts credits poetry with his redemption, which is shown throughout his book. Felon illustrates how poetry can be used to radically disrupt a narrative and focuses on Betts’s experience as a father and a Black man in America.
The article shares lines from the opening poem in Felon, titled “Ghazal” after the traditional Arabic poetic form that it employs:
From inside a cell, the night sky isn’t the measure—
that’s why it’s prison’s vastness your eyes reflect after prison.
My lover don’t believe in my sadness. She says whisky,
not time, is what left me wrecked after prison.
Betts is a recipient, along with visual artist Titus Kaphar, of two Art for Justice Fund grants, as part of the Spring 2018 and 2019 Grantee Cohorts. In conjunction with fellow grantee partner Civil Rights Corps, Betts and Kaphar will be taking their exhibit Redaction from MoMA PS1 across the country.