Reginald Dwayne Betts read from his book Bastards of the Reagan Era at the University of Arizona Poetry Center on the last day of August last year. Videos of his reading are available on VOCA.
His voice as captivating as the words he spoke, Betts' poetry is relevant in both the time period in which it is set, and in today's political atmosphere as well. Themes such as police brutality, mass incarceration and the battle against racism fill these lyrical and powerful poems. The book takes on a somber tone, exposing some of the ugly truths that many, including the author, faced growing up throughout the 1980s and the lasting effects the Reagan Era had into the '90s and beyond. While reading is a great way to experience this book, I would highly suggest taking a listen to the VOCA recordings.
Another great book from publisher Button Poetry, The Crown Ain't Worth Much is a tiny book that packs a big punch. With the poetry taking on many forms, including blocks of prose, Willis-Abdurraqib explores age-old themes such as family, gender, race, community and love through various timely pop-culture references. The book follows the author through his life experiences starting in 1998 and ending in 2015, the year before the book was published. The poems intertwine the themes with lived experiences, such as time spent at the barber shop and concerts attended. Characters such as as the speaker's wife, the ghost of his mother and friends add depth to the poems.
"Never simple, always beautiful, Willis-Abdurraquib’s poems expand what epic story poetry can tell." - Los Angeles Review
"I looked through my last poems in the morning and discovered I'd been writing the always somehow peripheral sonnet all along without understanding the forms of brief conclusive thought the poems had been taking so often in 14 lines without me."This quote from Bernadette Mayer printed on the back cover of Sonnets tells you more about her writing style than any review. Long rambling sentences often lacking complete sense but giving you a general idea of what she is talking about is what most of this book entails. I was instructed to read this book as an undergrad because of it's contradiction with the traditional form reserved for sonnets. Throughout the sentences within the poems, the confines of grammar are stretched with the order of words often jumbled. This book makes the reader work to understand the poetry and teaches about creativity through stretching the limits of meaning and form. While this book isn't as important in the social and political ways that the previous two are, it is important to the study of contemporary poetry.
As always, if you have recommendations of books of poetry to read, write them in the comments!