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Shahid Reads His Own Palm Paperback – June 1, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Betts's debut begins and ends with a ghazal. The strictness of this traditional Arabic form (a favorite of the late poet Agha Shahid Ali, to whom the title pays homage) is fitting—both to Betts's restrained though fierce talent, and to his autobiographical subject matter, introduced in the opening lines as the blues of life in prison. Confinement and restlessness, understanding and disbelief cycle through these clear, smart, brave, and often painful poems. The recurring motif of a hand on a gun surfaces throughout like a hallucination or a premonition, an image at once terribly real and frighteningly unreal. Sometimes it does the work of blunt narrative: one night// a trigger tucked under/ my index like a/ spliff. Elsewhere it veers into the surreal: everyday the small muscles in my finger threaten to pull/ a trigger, slight and curved like my woman's eyelashes. The unlikely word mistletoe, which appears more than once, exemplifies Betts's talent for surprising and emotionally resonant juxtapositions; he describes small/ ruined cells where ten thousand// years of sentences/ beckon over heads & hearts,/ silent, a promise, like mistletoe. Finally, it is not the omnipotence of silence—whether of hope or fear—but the power of writing that is this book's true subject: Some men never pray at night in prison.// Blame me. Write another poem, a sad psalm./ Shahid, sing for the Gods, right in prison. (May)
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"Inside silence there is a sliver of light that is the seed of the music of these poems, the origin of a melodic range we seldom see in a poet's first collection. These melodies move in a harmonic range affirming human struggle with an extraordinary elegance. This collection of song is definite evidence of the gift."—Afaa Michael Weaver

"Betts doesn't just have a powerful story to tell. He is a true poet who can write a ghazal that sings, howls, rhymes, and resonates in memory years after it was first read."—Jericho Brown, On the Seawall

"...these poems in turn sear and moan, are impossibly restless and at times starkly silent."—American Poet

"There's an authority in Betts's voice that carries us, and his voice is governed by boldness and consonance."—Devil's Lake

“...restrained though fierce talent…surprising and emotionally resonant…”—Publishers Weekly

“American prisons are the new slave ships for Betts. The image of a black man in chains and cuffs is an image that for many is much to contemplate. Here in this disturbing book of poetry Shahid Reads His Own Palm, Reginal Dwayne Betts takes us back into the whole Afro-American Diaspora. A latter day Paul D, in 'yesterdays yoked'—the lid is rusted solid on the tragedy that is the Black man and women's experience in the new world."—Stride Magazine

“This book is disturbing. Technically it is solid and very American in shape. Its themes are clear, to the point, and very accurate. Alienation and deconstruction of self fill almost every line.”—New Pages

“...Betts allows his readers to become engulfed in the minds and experiences of different men that have been imprisoned and their perceptions of judgments imposed upon them from the outside world. The poems, in often graphic detail, explain the chilling truths of prison lives weighed by lost dreams and regret.”—AFRO

"The 'I' of these poems I appreciate for his emotionally balanced tone, so as not to fetishize (glorify or denigrate) the incarcerated, or give us spectacle and sentimentality. The words which compose these lines are well-considered. The lines which compose these poems are clean, even lithe. They give space, or open themselves up to the reader without pandering or relying on cliche."—Barbara Jane Reyes

“Dwayne Betts’ poems ?from the first moment I encountered them ?read like revelation. This poet has entered the fire and walked out with actual light inside him. These poems ?clear, muscular, musical ?are what the light says. I’ve waited for this book for years!”?Marie Howe

“These fierce and skillful poems are for our time and place the cry of Blake’s London and of his Auguries of Innocence: A dog starv’d at his master’s gate/ Predicts the ruin of the state. Here is a brother at his brother’s gate. Shahid. A witness. Here, as C.D. Wright has said, is our One Big Self.”—Jean Valentine

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 80 pages
  • Publisher: Alice James Books (June 1, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1882295811
  • ISBN-13: 978-1882295814
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #893,197 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Robert Beveridge HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on July 18, 2011
Format: Paperback
Reginald Dwayne Betts, <strong>Shahid Reads His Own Palm</strong> (Alice James Books, 2010)

This was a rollercoaster of a book for me. I started out not really feeling it; Betts is a solid poet, no doubt, and it's fantastic to see a poet using formal verse these days, but (a) one-author collections that deal with one subject throughout tend to sound more obsessive than expressive, and (b) Betts has a fondness for ghazals, a form so painfully artificial that it's next to impossible to get to sound natural. (That Betts never succeeds does not get him points off; I've read books of ghazals by acknowledged masters of the form who've been writing them for decades where not a one has been readable.) They're like the Boston Terriers of poetry; sometimes you can see where they came from, but are so badly mutated now they're only good for taking out and showing off now and again around other enthusiasts.

All of which is going to make the next bit of this review sound entirely hypocritical, and so be it. You're not writing this review, you don't get to make that call, as long as I tell you up front I know how hypocritical it is, right? Because what finally sold me on this volume is another painfully artificial form, but one that's a little easier to do right: the pantoum, a Malay-by-way-of-France form that consists of repeating full lines (ABAB BCBC CDCD ... ZAZA). It's still tough, but I've read a lot more workable pantoums than I have ghazals, so I have at least a point of reference. And the one time Betts tries it in here, it's the best poem in the book.

"The cracked walls of cell B8 swore
broken men peeled back tattoos to cry
and some lean shoulders on past highs
after, clank! then yoke followed closed door.
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