Poetry News

Reginald Dwayne Betts Speaks With Alli Marshall About His Journey to Poetry

By Harriet Staff
Reginald Dwayne Betts

In advance of Reginald Dwayne Betts's appearance at Warren Wilson College, where he'll deliver the commencement address this Saturday, he joins Alli Marshall of Mountain Xpress to discuss the factors that led to his discovery of poetry while in prison. Betts is a graduate of Warren Wilson College's low-residency MFA program, completing his degree in 2010. Incarcerated at 16, with a year in solitary confinement, Betts tells Marshall that it was Dudley Randall's anthology The Black Poets that inspired him—"that’s the book that changed my life," he reflects. Marshall picks up with a little further context soon after: 

Not only did he succeed as a writer, publishing the poetry collections Bastards of the Reagan Era and Shahid Reads His Own Palm as well as A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison and The Circumference of a Prison: Youth, Race, and the Failures of the American Justice System; Betts also went on to earn his law degree.

Though he was released more than a decade ago, prison makes its way into Betts’ poetry, both as a place and a metaphor for a mental state. In his poem “What We Know of Horses,” incarceration recurs throughout the six-part study of the ravages of heroin on bodies, minds and communities. “Sometimes his cuffs / are on my wrists & I embrace / the way they cut, as if I am the one / domesticated, a broken horse,” he writes.

But Betts maintains that he doesn’t really know what it means to be an at-risk youth. “We look at what’s going on in the news, we look at what’s going on with DACA, when you think about mass incarceration, when you think about the failing infrastructure of the United States, when you think about the struggle in public schools, in very real ways, we’re all at risk,” he says.

Read more at Mountain Xpress.

Originally Published: May 17th, 2018