praise for bastards of the reagan era

Many of these poems take place during the crack epidemic of the 1980s (a period in which, Ms. Alexander has argued, President Reagan’s war on drugs fueled the mass incarceration of black men), and Mr. Betts situates his characters’ stories within a historical echo chamber, drawing analogies between the chains used to shackle prisoners to the chains of slavery, between prisons and slave ships.

"Poet and memoirist Betts (Shahid Reads His Own Palm) presents elegy after elegy in a devastatingly beautiful collection that calls out to young black men lost to the pitfalls of urban America. 'In the streets that grieve our silence, children die,/ they fall to bullets & asthma, they fall/ into each other’s arms as mothers watch on,' he writes. Betts keeps his forms as tight as his turns of phrase....These poems are aimed at readers willing to be moved and to be schooled, who appreciate poetry’s ability to cull beauty and hope from despair and desolation: 'They have known cells like rivers and brown and/ Black men returning to prison as if it’s/ The heaven God ejected them from.'"  ―Publisher's Weekly

“Patriarchal sentiment is not the reason Reginald Betts begins Bastards of the Reagan Era with a heart-wrenching praise song to his sons, Miles and Micah. He is celebrating the singular occasion of their continued breath. In this bitter, unflinching and triumphant work, Betts mercilessly probes the soul of the soulless machine charged with the disappearing and dismantling of black men's lives. This crisp assemblage of perseverance and loss relentlessly pummels the status quo, poems building each upon the other until the desolate inevitability of the narrative both enervates and empowers the reader. The poet himself warns, 'when I sing this awful tale, there is more than a dead black man in the center.'”―Patricia Smith

"Reginald Dwayne Betts paid a heavy price for the wisdom coursing through his fierce, unstoppable book of poems, Bastards of the Reagan Era. The redemption he has found in wrestling, fearlessly, with the destructive decisions―and decade―of his generation's trials is mesmerizing and beautiful in the language and rhythms of his pen. Betts's journey back―from prison all the way to Yale Law School―is as inspiring as it is rare, and should give us pause in condemning any man to social death. From rebirth comes justice―and power.”―Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard University

“Dwayne Betts describes my field, criminal law, as 'the business of human tragedy.' He's right. In Bastards of the Reagan Era, Betts does a remarkable job of describing the precise shape of that tragedy. It comes at the right moment, too, as many Americans are straining to see something beyond 'guilty' and 'prisoner' when they look at criminal law. Betts is a great poet, and a witness to truths that have for too long been shrouded in media fables and easy politics.”―Mark Osler

"Taken as a whole, Bastards of the Reagan Era is an unrelenting visit into disturbing trends in American subcultures, from the concrete of the street to the steel bars of a prison cell. There is little mincing of words here but the content does not lend for such treatment and those who seek a more sobering look at society should find plenty of images to choose from."  ―Dan Schell, NewPages