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One of the New York Times's 100 Notable Books of 2020
Winner of the 2019 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work in Poetry
Finalist for the 2019 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry

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."

ISBN-13: 9780393652147

Media Type: Hardcover

Publisher: Norton W. W. & Company Inc.

Publication Date: 10-15-2019

Pages: 112

Product Dimensions: 8.40(w) x 5.90(h) x 0.70(d)

Reginald Dwayne Betts is a poet and essayist. He is the author of three volumes of poetry and one memoir. A graduate of Yale Law School, he lives in New Haven, Connecticut, with his family. He is the winner of The Los Angeles Times 2021 Innovator's Award for his work advocating for literacy in prisons through increasing access to books, writers and performing artists.

Table of Contents

Ghazal 1

Blood History 3

The Lord Might Have Given Him Wings 4

Behind Yellow Tape 7

Losing Her 9

Whisky for Breakfast 10

For a Bail Denied 11

Triptych 13

When I Think of Tamir Rice While Driving 15

In Alabama 18

A Man Drops a Coat on the Sidewalk & Almost Falls into the Arms of Another 26

City of the Moon 29

Diesel Therapy 30

If Absence Was the Source of Silence 31

Essay on Reentry 34

In Houston 36

Night 46

Essay on Reentry 48

Essay on Reentry 49

On Voting for Barack Obama in a Nat Turner T-Shirt 51

Exile 53

Parking Lot 55

Parking Lot, Too 56

Going Back 57

In California 59

Temptation of the Rope 63

Ballad of the Groundhog 65

November 5, 1980 68

& Even When There Is Something to Complain About 69

Mural for the Heart 70

Essay on Reentry 72

Confession 74

In Missouri 76

House of Unending 81

Acknowledgments 87

Notes 91