"Searing.… This is a powerful work of lyric art. It is also a tour de force indictment of the carceral industrial state."
New York Times Book Review - Carolyn Forché
"[Reginald Dwayne] Betts is a hero to men on the inside.… He’s a hero to anyone who believes redemption can be had and is not some abstract idea.
Felon is a testament to Betts’s talent and success, but when you read it deeply and feel it and celebrate its ideas, the layers peel back. I imagine it will leave you not only informed, but saddened, as it did me."
Poetry Foundation - John J. Lennon
"[Betts] writes masterfully, in various forms. He also illustrates the transformative power of love."
Washington Post - Elizabeth Lund
Felon is the keenest of testaments to what it’s like to have lived behind the walls, to the crucible of having one’s humanity challenged, changed, erased, to how—for the anointed—prisons persist beyond the walls. While there are poems aplenty on the mental and physical violence of prison and our unjustice system, the collection is also a moving exploration of love?romantic and familial?and how one nurtures that love against odds that at times seem impossible. Felon is bracing, revelatory work. Read it and be transformed."
"[A] lyric account of the butterfly effects of incarceration.…
Felon is a magnum opus of what it means to live in American society.… This sort of collection enumerates the best that poetry can be: a tool, a song, a gesture towards empathy, an enactment of living a life that continues to baffle."
Michigan Quarterly Review - Kassy Lee
…pushes Betts's story forward, in verse that is nimble in its diction, tone and focus. The poems are about returning to everyday American life, but in an estranged and often painful way, as if blood were rushing into a long-pinned limb…In prison, Betts wrote in his memoir, letters were known as "kites," because they flew up and out. The poems in
Felon are kites of a different sortbruised, sensitive, wounded missives, sent into hard wind, from a man in transition.
The New York Times - Dwight Garner
"On every page of
Felon, a book unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, there’s something far more playful, resonant, and ruggedly revealing happening. Reginald Dwayne Betts animates and really embodies the minutiae of revision in this once-in-a-lifetime art object…Betts’s artistry shows and proves a necessary breaking and blurring of the lines between wandering into yesterday, wondering into tomorrow, and wrestling with the funk of today. Betts has written the twenty-first-century book that will dictate how freedom, power and consequence are written about until the sun says enough. It is that good."
"In visually arresting poems, Betts exposes systematic prejudices, legal disparities, and the emotional strain of raising two sons in a country accustomed to assuming the worst about Black males... Also found in the powerful realism of Betts's poems are vivid portrayals of steadfast love for the speakers family, while the theme of reentry beats throughout. The importance of Betts's collection cannot be overstated as current events shed light on ongoing injustices."
Felon] pushes Betts's story forward, in verse that is nimble in its diction, tone and focus. The poems are about returning to everyday American life, but in an estranged and often painful way, as if blood were rushing into a long-pinned limb."
New York Times - Dwight Garner
Felon is a stunningly crafted indictment of prison’s dehumanization of Black men and their loved ones. Through his unvarnished descriptions of the path to prison and its aftermath from myriad vantage points—son, husband, father, cellmate, Yale-educated public defender—Betts does nothing to protect himself, or us, from what he has done and suffered and witnessed. His compassion and breathtaking literary gifts make it impossible for us to look away or remain complicit in mass criminalization’s status quo."
Felon] shows how poems can be enlisted to radically disrupt narrative... Betts's poems about fatherhood [are] some of the most powerful I've read... The black bars of redacted text [in the redaction poems], which usually suggest narrative withheld, here reveal its true contours... For Betts, the way to expression passes through such troubled silences."
The New Yorker - Dan Chiasson