Poetry Lives –

2019 – As a 16-year-old student who had never been in trouble, Betts hijacked a car at gunpoint, confessed to the crime, was “certified” an adult despite his age, and sentenced to nine years in prison, serving eight years and three months. He spent 14 months in solitary confinement for various infractions against spoken and unspoken rules (such as cursing and touching a guard’s arm). One day someone slipped an anthology of poetry under his cell door: “The Black Poets,” edited by Dudley Randall, Detroit’s first poet laureate. Betts had already been writing, but now began a serious apprenticeship, copying the anthologized poems by hand, breathing the lyric art of Gwendolyn Brooks, Etheridge Knight, Langston Hughes and Claude McKay into the sunless, malodorous cellblocks of his confinement. In a moment of premonitory recognition, Betts took as his prison name “Shahid,” the Arabic word for “witness.”

After his release he would attend college and earn a graduate degree in poetry writing, followed by a doctorate in jurisprudence from Yale Law School. He would publish a compelling memoir about his crime and incarceration, and two poetry books preceding this one, both critically acclaimed. It is an improbable trajectory, and no one knows this better than Betts, who deserves now to be recognized more for the brilliance of his lyric art than the…

Full Story @NYTimes


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