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interview, poetry, reading

Interview with Tara Betts

tara_bettsHow did you come up with the title? What does Arc & Hue mean?

The title, Arc & Hue, is culled from a poem in the first section about a little boy and I drawing on the sidewalks outside my mother’s house in Kankakee, IL. I kept thinking of how, as adults, we try to construct these moments so that children have, and hopefully later, recall having positive experiences with us.  I know that’s where the poem came from, but when the collection came together the last line of the poem embodied all that longing and potential nostalgia that is easily wiped away. This book grapples with that feeling of holding on to memories we create and letting them go to make room for the rest of our lives.  Some people have also hinted that Arc & Hue are two words that describe a woman of color.  I appreciate, this, but it was not intentional in writing this book or the poem.

 When did you encounter artist Makeba Kedem-DuBose and what informed your decision to place “Gathering Scene-Untitled #4” on the cover? 

I have been admiring Makeba’s work for the past 2 years actually. I actually met her through facebook! I found myself struggling to figure out what I wanted for the cover, and I knew I wanted to have artwork by a woman of color, particularly from the Chicago area. I kept looking but there were a few paintings that Makeba had done that just kept speaking to me. “Gathering Scene-Untitled #4” seemed to be a collective of spirits walking and surrounding a person.  I’ve often felt that I have ancestral spirits around me, and that it connected to the idea of the book so well. I asked Makeba hoping that she would let me use the painting and sent her the manuscript for Arc & Hue. She not only loved the poems, but was excited to share her work for the cover, and I hope this is a chance for people to get to know her work.

The first section engages the subject of the body–women’s bodies in particular–as a poet what kind of journey did this topic provide?

 As a poet, I think it helps us break down that divide between the cerebral and the physical. The two cannot exist in isolation from each other, but I’m also thinking that people still harbor so many secrets and taboos concerning the body that it makes it very easy for us to embrace sexist and repressive ideas or hate our bodies.  Although these poems may not address the body as radically as performance artist Annie Sprinkle, I think we have to openly address the body and women have to have conversations about choices they can make. How their bodies are seen by others, how do we see our own bodies and why do see them that way, what we choose to do with them, how do we avoid abuse-these are all big topics that I think women poets are just scratching the surface with their poems. Diane Wakowski, Anne Sexton, Nikky Finney, Ruth Forman and Julia de Burgos have addressed this for me in some ways, but there are so many ways we still have yet to explore in terms of talking about the body.

Is there a question you attempted to answer with this manuscript?arc&hue

There is not a question that Arc & Hue is attempting to answer per se. For me, this book is attempting to address the multiplicities of identity within one person. We have families, histories, names, friends and relationships that come and go, as well as cultural, class-based, and sexual identities, and all of these factors affect our lives. I think Arc & Hue starts with the idea of dismantling the exclusionary (especially with “Housekeeping” as the opening poem), then attempts to reveal what is there for people who are often considered marginal. Arc & Hue starts with a birth and works toward a progression of political awareness in poetic forms and lyric with a heavy narrative emphasis.

One More Chance

for Faith Evans

What happens when summer thickens

with notorious rhymes from Bed-Stuy,

when pulse quickens

heavy as thumping bass deep-fried?

There is a laying of hands on cheeks

more sincere than any bullet.

A chorus of chambered muscles speaks

in red tandem pairing.  A trigger pulled

fires our lips and skin into one long streak.

My eyelids shudder then blink.

He’s trapped in this delicate dance

too.  I nod and think

when the widow chanteuse sings,

baby, gimme one more chance.

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About Abdul Ali

I'm a fellow at American University studying creative nonfiction and poetry. I write across a few genres but it's all brought together by larger questions about culture.

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