Tara Betts is the author of the poetry collection Arc and Hue, released on Aquarius Press’ Willow Books imprint in September 2009.
Tara’s work has appeared in Essence, the Steppenwolf Theater production “Words on Fire,” Obsidian III, Callaloo, Drum Voices Revue, WSQ and Columbia Poetry Review. Her work has been anthologized in Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem’s First Decade (Univ. of Michigan Press), Bum Rush the Page (Three Rivers Press), The Spoken Word Revolution (Sourcebooks), Power Lines (Tia Chucha Press), Poetry Slam (Manic D Press), Black Writing from Chicago: In the World, Not of It? (Southern IL Univ. Press), ROLE CALL (Third World Press), These Hands I Know (Sarabande), Best Black Women’s Erotica 2 (Cleis Press), Hurricane Blues: How Katrina and Rita Ravaged a Nation (Southeast Missouri Univ. Press), Home Girls Make Some Noise: Hip Hop Feminism (Parker Publishing), Letters to the World (Red Hen Press) and Fingernails Across a Chalkboard (Third World Press). Her work will appear in Thomas Sayers Ellis’ Breakfast and Blackfist: Notes for Black Poets (Univ. of Michigan Press) and Tembu Tupu (Africa World Press).
Tara Betts encourages literacy and works with arts programs. In Chicago, she was an influential educator. Tara co-founded GirlSpeak, a weekly writing/leadership workshop for young women. She has also conducted short-term workshops in schools, community centers, Ms. Foundation, City Girls (a substance abuse rehabilitation center for teen girls), Cook County Jail and Cook County Juvenile Detention Center, Louder Arts Project, Cooper Union, Dodge Foundation’s Poets-In-The-Schools program and London’s Roundhouse.
Tara appeared on HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam” She also appeared in the Black Family Channel series “SPOKEN” with Jessica Care Moore-Poole. She has also been one of the writers/performers in “girlstory,” an intergenerational, multicultural women’s performance collective. Tara has also performed in plays, including two SouthWest V-Day productions of Eve Ensler’s “Vagina Monologues” at Chicago’s DuSable Museum. After winning Guild Complex’s Gwendolyn Brooks Open Mic Award, she represented Chicago twice at the National Poetry Slam.
She has performed her work in Cuba, London, New York, the West Coast and throughout the Midwest at venues such as Arie Crown Theater, The New School, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Studio Museum of Harlem, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Bar 13, Cornelia Street Café, Bowery Poetry Club, poetry slams, conferences, several colleges, universities and numerous public, private and alternative schools. She has shared the stage with Patricia Smith, Rosellen Brown, Afaa Michael Weaver, Kwame Dawes, Luis Rodriguez, MC Lyte and Grammy-winner Jill Scott. She also coached and mentored countless young writers and performers that have participated in the Brave New Voices and Louder Than a Bomb teen poetry slams.
A Cave Canem graduate, Tara received her MFA in Poetry from New England College and residencies from Ragdale Foundation, Centrum and Caldera, and an Illinois Arts Council Artist fellowship. She is currently a lecturer in creative writing at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ.
Hurricane Kwame Offers His Two Cents
My sister Katrina just twist-whipped the Big Easy.
She wanted to see how stone cold bitch she could be.
You know, us hurricanes don’t start off as giant
funnel cakes rolling houses and trees in sweet death.
We’re usually just some restless stirrings,
rustling waves like fluffy baby locks
blowing across the Atlantic’s head.
You could say our rotating relatives
were Africans, born on the continental coast.
Of course, our cousins from the Pacific come
mostly from South America & Mexico, but
those Olmec heads look a lot like faces back home.
Katrina can’t front that they were making too much
zydeco/jazz rumbling saturated with gin and hoodoo.
Even God understand a party every now and then.
All them loas just like Jesus.
These reverends preaching cleansing have no idea
how close hurricanes curl toward the ears of God.
In fact, my girl Rita decided to visit Texas just to rattle the faith
of that president boy’s skull, that brain of his clattering
around like a mess of dried beans. These journalists lack
just as much sense talking about people looting,
well hell, I must be one of Nature’s looters snatching
from whatever these newspapers call Civilization.
Ain’t it human nature to eat, drink water and diaper a baby?
At least one journalist got it right though, spelled
my name correct and e’rything. He said this Hurricane
should have been called Kwame or Keisha, but still,
I’m not so sure that was a compliment, since some
hold African names they don’t like,
so tight in their jaw, you’d think someone still
made up names for chattel, like unmarked
graves wishing that the family bible remembered them.
for Robert Bailey, Jr., Mychal Bell, Carwin Jones,
Bryant Purvis, Theo Shaw, Jesse Ray Beard
Noose turns epithet.
Slurs, a bread that rises
into red leap. Southern
heat thaws time, drains
the school of race.
Parent whisper is criminal & cry.
Hell is ajar as prison door.
Stunt entertains pale slap
to cinch brown boys,
ebb their hope, woo their murder,
shatter them in airless cells,
stamp mothers with ash & shade.
Lawyers must win, stop the pyre
with brothers for timber.
No one’s a slave, raw as history’s rope.
Who raises the stone of conspiracy
pressed down on sons?
Pitbull paws will score their
chests unless we jeer, swarm
around the shawl heavy as steel.
We become new sum where
three times two is one.
after Kerry James Marshall
The wrinkled pants and undershirt,
a worn copy of last month’s Ebony magazine
can’t cover deliberate etchings of Erzulie’s heart
on my living room’s yellow table. I lay out
a plate of asparagus drizzled with honey
after I light the candle corking a red/black bottle.
Then prayers bend through speakerbox.
Wisp notes snake through vintage quiet storms
at the midnight hour when Elleggua’s eyes smile
towards a gold Venus. I tell gods from every corner
about my plans. Kneel on a rug ringed with Oya’s
rainbow petticoats. The knock at the door
swings an adrenaline fist through my chest.
Now, Betty’s dress, a sliver of banana peel,
pressed against this rumpled offering of me.
Her wide eyes are the sweetest closed doors
tonight. Her head never leans
into the niche of my collarbone.
She wonders what brought her back.
She thinks it’s the pale rouge of roses riddling
the air. She will never know
I begged powers older than Jesus,
more desperate than escaping the crucifix.