cover image Bastards of the Reagan Era

Bastards of the Reagan Era

Reginald Dwayne Betts. Four Way (UPNE, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (72p) ISBN 978-1-935536-65-9

Poet and memoirist Betts (Shahid Reads His Own Palm) presents elegy after elegy in a devastatingly beautiful collection that calls out to young black men lost to the pitfalls of urban America. “In the streets that grieve our silence, children die,/ they fall to bullets & asthma, they fall/ into each other’s arms as mothers watch on,” he writes. Betts keeps his forms as tight as his turns of phrase. In “Elegy with a City in It,” he flips the same handful of words and their homonyms over and over to meticulously depict the violence—systematic and individual—experienced by black people in Washington, D.C., during the 1980s. These poems are aimed at readers willing to be moved and to be schooled, who appreciate poetry’s ability to cull beauty and hope from despair and desolation: “They have known cells like rivers and brown and/ Black men returning to prison as if it’s/ The heaven God ejected them from.” If the raw material of these poems seems depressingly familiar in 2015, their molding is not. Yet Betts cares for more than aesthetics—he cares to return names and spaces to the dead and incarcerated: “For Shawn, & Malik, Quan, & Moe—/ their names all echo.” [em](Oct.) [/em]