Norton. Feb. 2023. 160p. ISBN 9781324006824. $100. SOC SCI
In the late 2010s, poet, memoirist, and attorney Betts and artist/filmmaker Kaphar—both MacArthur Fellows—began collaborating on a project aiming to highlight the injustices of the U.S. justice system. Using the technique of redaction—blotting out lines in legal documents to reveal key words that here clarify the erasure of Black lives and Black rights—Betts’s poems were mostly superimposed on Kaphar’s anguished, incisive etching of Black faces. In 2019, the resulting “Redaction” poems/prints were exhibited at MoMA PS1 in New York. This magisterial volume collects these works, along with photos of the exhibition and further work from both poet and artist, to create a significant whole. The “Redaction poems” startle in what they pinpoint; in a mostly blotted out document signed by George Washington as president, the words person and fugitive leap out tellingly, while elsewhere we read “plaintiffs….impoverished….unable to pay…work of debts….$25 per day….scrubbing feces and blood from jail floors….” and “Plaintiffs allege…bail…is unconstitutional…because it fails….the Eighth amendment,” an issue of particular concern to the creators. Betts’s remaining poems of Black life and community love and tenderness measure up to his best, while Kaphur’s brilliant (and mostly brilliantly hued) artwork often juxtaposes oppressor and oppressed.
VERDICT A powerful document of social injustice, BISACed as social science but of crucial interest for arts and poetry collections; pricey but worth it for many libraries.
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