POETRY

Owed

Penguin. Sept. 2020. 96p. ISBN 9780143133858. pap. $20. POETRY
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Racism and particularly the danger faced by Black men in America run like a current through this new collection from National Poetry series winner Bennett (The Sobbing School), whose subjects range from police shootings to childhood friendships to his father’s integrating his Alabama high school. As he writes in an “American Abecedarian,” “B is for blacks belting blues before burial, the blood/ they let to give the flag its glimmer.” The book’s tripartite structure is reflected in the titles that predominate in each section, which include “Owed to,” “Reparations,” and “Token,” phrases that have obvious and poignant resonance in the Black community. Occasionally, Bennett stretches his similes or overwrites, when less detail would have made the work more powerful. In the end, however, not only are these poems eloquent but also lyrical, intelligent, and, occasionally, funny. Most reflect upon and communicate the pain, joy, and intensity of the current Black experience. As the author writes in the final poem, “The Next Black American Anthem,” “Twelve/ & a half minutes// of unchecked, bass-laden/ braggadocio. An owed// to the unwanted.”
VERDICT In a time when many confront and protest the racism prevalent in our society, Bennett’s new book is vital. Recommended for all collections.

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