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Felon: Poems

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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 pris 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."


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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 pris 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."

30 review for Felon: Poems

  1. 5 out of 5

    Roxane

    Outstanding poems about incarceration and how a man can still feel like he is in a cage as he walks free. The range here is impressive. There is a real honesty here of a man who is looking into himself without blinking. At times, it is uncomfortable, but in a good way. The redacted poems about bail injustice are particularly powerful but really, the collection as individual poems and as a whole, is incredibly moving, nuanced, and compelling.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Craig Werner

    This will almost certainly be my choice for best poetry volume for 2019. Betts has written powerfully of his experience in and after prison--he wound up incarcerated as a result of a dumb youthful mistake that probably wouldn't have landed an affluent and/or white kid in jail. After his release, he pursued a law degree and has now established himself as both a writer and a lawyer. Which, as Felon makes crystal clear, doesn't mean his life is anything resembling easy. The shadows of hi This will almost certainly be my choice for best poetry volume for 2019. Betts has written powerfully of his experience in and after prison--he wound up incarcerated as a result of a dumb youthful mistake that probably wouldn't have landed an affluent and/or white kid in jail. After his release, he pursued a law degree and has now established himself as both a writer and a lawyer. Which, as Felon makes crystal clear, doesn't mean his life is anything resembling easy. The shadows of his actions and his incarceration loom over every one of these poems. He's both honest and lyrical in confronting the inside of his head and the effects his thoughts have on marriage and family. It's hard, hard, the deepest kind of blues. He's aware of the relationship between the personal swamp and structures of power that don't play out into justice or equal treatment before the law: the series of "found poems" based on redacted court briefs is searing. But he's not running away from his own complicity either. Some lines: "We live somewhere between almost there/ & not enough" "I know hurt like a wandering song." And from the brilliant "I Think of Tamir Rice While Driving:" & this is why I hate it all, the protests & their counters, the Civil Rights attorneys that stalk the bodies of the murdered, this dance of ours that reduces humanity to the dichotomy of the veil. We are not permitted to articulate the reasons we might yearn to see a man die. A mind may abandon sanity. What if all I had stomach for was blood? But history is no sieve & sanity is no elixir & I am bound to be haunted by the strength that let's Tamir's father, mother & kinfolk resist the temptation to turn everything they see into a grave & make home the series of cells that so many brothers already call their tomb.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jeimy

    These poems are raw and best appreciated listening to the audiobook which is read by the author.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    A confession begins when I walked Black out of that parking lot. A confession began when I, without combing my hair, dressed For a day that would find me walking out of that parking lot.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Ace Boggess

    This collection is as close to perfect as any on this subject that I can imagine. The themes are personal to me. The writing is beautiful and disturbing. Many of the poems take on subjects (namely prison and life after prison) that I've been trying to write about for years, but they do it so much better. Some of these are poems I wish I had written. Throughout the book, both the language and insight shared are moving, like in this opening of the poem "Confession": "If I tol This collection is as close to perfect as any on this subject that I can imagine. The themes are personal to me. The writing is beautiful and disturbing. Many of the poems take on subjects (namely prison and life after prison) that I've been trying to write about for years, but they do it so much better. Some of these are poems I wish I had written. Throughout the book, both the language and insight shared are moving, like in this opening of the poem "Confession": "If I told her how often I thought Of prison she would walk out Of the door that's led just as much To madness as any home we Desired, she would walk our & never Return; my employers would call Me a liar & fire me. My dreams are Not all nightmares, but this history Has turned my mind's landscape into A gadroon. I do not sing...." The entire collection is filled with writing like that, except for a few long erasure poems made from legal documents. It's just so compelling. Even if you haven't been locked up, you will feel these poems: the anger, the sadness, the love of life, and also its dread. If there's one book I've read this year that I wish everyone would pick up, it's this one. Honestly, if the poems weren't as good as they are, the book would still be worth it just to read this one line from "Whisky for Breakfast": " even G-d has no alibi." Read this book. Read it twice.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Elle

    This book should be required reading for us all. I started the book and had to stop reflect. I wanted to savory every word of the book, and now that I have finished a part of me is looking forward to engaging it again. There is a heaviness to the book and makes reading it require that the reader bring something to the reading. The words and images linger in a way that makes one wonder what kind of country are we living in. Thank you, Mr. Betts, for your thoughtfulness, willingness to be vulnerab This book should be required reading for us all. I started the book and had to stop reflect. I wanted to savory every word of the book, and now that I have finished a part of me is looking forward to engaging it again. There is a heaviness to the book and makes reading it require that the reader bring something to the reading. The words and images linger in a way that makes one wonder what kind of country are we living in. Thank you, Mr. Betts, for your thoughtfulness, willingness to be vulnerable, and the challenge that you give the reader to see what society hides from our view. If you cannot tell, I loved this book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jack Jones Literary Arts

    Phenomenal!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Emily Polson

    Deeply moving collection of poetry on incarceration and its aftermath. I listened to the audio (read by the author) while following along on the page, which was a great reading experience. Favorites include: -When I Think of Tamir Rice While Driving -On Voting for Barack Obama in a Nat Turner T-Shirt -Essay on Reentry: for Fats, Juvie & Star -and all four Redaction Poems

  9. 4 out of 5

    Miguette

    Some poems exalt the everyday and make you see its beauty, others open up the imagination and then there are those that serve as the shortest, sharpest way to deliver hard truths. This collection is such a type. Whole, hard, true, heartbreaking, discomfiting.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Katelyn

  11. 5 out of 5

    Tory

  12. 5 out of 5

    Nohemi

  13. 5 out of 5

    Katrina

  14. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

  15. 5 out of 5

    Peter Kilkelly

  16. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

  17. 4 out of 5

    Crystal

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Royan

  19. 4 out of 5

    Michael Brockley

  20. 5 out of 5

    Claudyne Vielot

  21. 4 out of 5

    Geoffrey

  22. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Woodard

  23. 4 out of 5

    Gena

  24. 5 out of 5

    Thomas Leger

  25. 4 out of 5

    Crystal

  26. 4 out of 5

    Dan

  27. 5 out of 5

    Anna

  28. 5 out of 5

    Heather

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mark Branch

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ellie Wertheim

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