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I am a father driving/his Black sons to school & the death/of a Black boy rides shotgun &this/could be a funeral procession⠀~from “When I Think of Tamir Rice While Driving”⠀
When it’s difficult for me to focus, I tend to read poetry. This short collection surprisingly filled an empathetic void in me I didn’t know I had. Its focus on the emotional experience and effects of incarceration is both eerily timely and educational without being didactic. I mean, I know the stats. I’ve seen Ava Duvernay’s excellent documentary 13th. But I’ve never thought deeply on the heart of someone who has been incarcerated. I know incarceration marks a person indelibly. I had some dim idea of how. But this book made me think of what those marks look like in daily living, and what it takes to heal, or to try to.⠀
One day I watched him, full of fear for/my own fragility & wondered how he dared/own so much of himself, openly. For all/I know every minute in those cells/was safe for the kid whose name/I cannot recall. But how can a man ever be safe like that, when you are so/beautiful the straight ones believe it &…. ~from “Temptation of the Rope”⠀
One more thing I want to mention–although Betts is not queer himself, he writes about queer men in prison in a way I’ve rarely seen–tenderly, with respect, and sometimes with a sort of awe. While only a few poems feature people who aren’t straight, the reverence is noticeable. He doesn’t make mean dehumanizing soap jokes or rely on cliches at all, and the result is quite beautiful. It’s Pride month now and everyone is an ally on the internet–Betts provides a model for how to write about LGBTQIA+ people as an ally without condescending or being performative, and I love to see it.
5 stars and a reformed American justice system to Betts’ Felon.⠀
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