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."
reginald dwayne betts
In October 2018, the New York Times Magazine published Reginald Dwayne Betts long essay “Getting Out.” Several months later, the piece was awarded a National Magazine Award. The publication was another example of Betts entering into a new genre and bringing the same depth and richness of self-reflection and exploration of the central problem of this generation: incarceration and its effects of families and communities.
Reginald Dwayne Betts transformed himself from a sixteen-year old kid sentenced to nine-years in prison to a critically acclaimed writer and graduate of the Yale Law School. He has written three acclaimed collections of poetry, the recently published Felon, Bastards of the Reagan Era and Shahid Reads His Own Palm. When awarded Betts the PEN New England Award for poetry for his collection Bastards of the Reagan Era, judge Mark Doty said:
“Betts has written an indelible lament for a generation, a necessary book for this American moment.”
His memoir, A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison, is the story of a young man confined in the worst prisons in the state of Virginia, where solitary confinement, horrific conditions, and the constant violence threatened to break his humanity. Instead, Betts used the time to turn himself into a poet, a scholar, and an advocate for the reform of the criminal justice system.
Betts’s latest collection of poetry, Felon, will be published in October by Norton.
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Books Authored by Reginald Dwayne Betts - Click the Images to Buy the Book