Archive for the ‘tara betts’ Category

As my own wedding approaches…

by Tara Betts

As my own wedding approaches, my fiancé and I know that poetry will be part of the ceremony and the table settings. So, we found ourselves asking what were instrumental poets, poems, and anthologies. When I was in undergrad, I kept going back to Dudley Randall’s anthology The Black Poets (and Black Erotica Erotique Noire), I often thought about Everett Hoagland’s poem “The Anti-Semanticist”. Although it’s a statement about the mentality of blackness more than maintaining a black appearance, this poem is also about love and sexuality.
Now, I find myself looking at anthologies and poems, the idea of the occasion poem. I haven’t written a poem for someone’s wedding in years. Now, I am composing vows. So, I wanted to revisit some of my favorite love poems. Then there’s the Greek tradition of the epithalamium that celebrates the bride and the groom and offered blessings. Some of the later epithalamium to emerge would describe the scenery, venue, decorations, and the lineages of both families. Years ago, I tried to write one based on Ida B. Wells’ wedding to Ferdinand Barnett since Wells described her wedding in detail in her autobiography A Crusade for Justice. I may return to that.
In the meantime, I found myself looking at contemporary poems that could fall into the category of epithalamium, including Saul Williams’ poem that he read at the wedding of Nas and Kelis: 
“Dedicated to Nas and Kelis” by Saul Williams

So, I find myself seeking a middle ground. Where were the poems that represent a diverse spectrum of love and creating unions for that love? It may be that people do not expect people to fall in love anymore. As a critical reader and viewer, I find it problematic that if you don’t see images of yourself in love, being loved, and treating others with love, never sells.  Violence and overt sexuality does, and is easy to translate to countless cultures around the world. It makes me reconsider Audre Lorde’s “Uses of the Erotic” and how the cheapening of how feel and perceive each other deadens how we relish whatever we choose to enjoy. I wanted to consider poems that reflected the many voices, national and international, young and new.  So, I’ll close with another emerging voice, Rachel McKibbens, author of Pink Elephant, and this new poem by McKibbens that has been posted by California-based poet Jaha Zeinabu.
So, here are a few poets and collections:
100 Love Sonnets and Captain’s Verses, both by Pablo Neruda
Haruko/Love Poems by June Jordan
Love Poems by Nikki Giovanni
Thomas and Beulah by Rita Dove
Honey, I Love and Other Love Poems by Eloise Greenfield
Love Poems edited by Peter Washington
Like Singing Coming Off the Drums by Sonia Sanchez
I Hear a Symphony edited by Paula L. Woods & Felix H. Liddell
Love: Selected Poems by e.e. cummings, illustrated by Christopher Myers
Poets.org page on “Wedding Poems


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It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop: Pedagogy at Urban Word NYC

by Tara Betts

I have been meaning to blog about my class at Urban Word NYC since May began. To express my joy at the rich dialogue and their irreverent humor. They draw on so many sources that I cannot stop laughing or thinking along with them. We have been discussing June Jordan’s Poetry for the People guidelines, micro-editing (punctuation and line breaks, for example) and macro-editing (editing to develop the narrative, expand on an idea, cut out digressions, etc.), freewrites, peer editing, and other ways to approach a writer’s work with a critical eye.

They are excited to write and share drafts of their work in progress. They listen to Lupe Fiasco and can quote Shakespeare. They write down the titles of books that they share. They understand what “redundant” means. Most teachers would love to have a class that buzzes about these topics and code switches between the various lexicons that they speak.

I have often had to check my own impulses to entwine my vocabulary-laden and job-interview voice with the voice that has no problem telling you how I really feel with rough, “street” talk. Those aren’t my words, but that’s what one educator said about me addressing a group of students once. I assure you, that “street” or “urban” is not the word to describe me. I emerged from a mishmash of culture and experience in a small, working class, Midwestern factory town. I am usually not what people expect. The young writers at Urban Word NYC do not appear to be anyone’s norm either.

As a result, I often see a lot of myself in the young people that I work with, whether I am at the university or I am working with teenagers. Even though technology has changed so much of their young lives and politics has introduced them to our first African American president, Barack Obama, and the ineffective concept of a post-racial America. Some people would try to insist that we have resolved so many issues. It seems that a backlash always occurs.

Conservatives become afraid, and they see monsters where I see young people. They see miscreants where I see thinkers.  Often, the spoken word community and hip-hop culture is grouped together as one indistinguishable, homogeneous blob by such conservative thinkers who find it easier to grip stereotypes and fallacies like blunt instruments.

I’ve found myself in conversations for many years now where I’ve refused to call spoken word and hip hop the only outlets for young people I’ve worked with because their influences are broader than that, yet they are also a generation that exposed to Notorious B.I.G. and “Def Poetry Jam”.  Hip hop and spoken word are as much a part of their cultural experience as ntozake shange, MC Lyte, KRS-ONE, Public Enemy, and Al Green were for me. I cannot deny them their experiences, but we can compare notes and expose each other to new things. We can discover the things that are useful for writing about what matters for each of us.

This is what “liberatory pedagogy” is about.  Liberatory pedagogy is about addressing the needs of a community involved in their learning process. A facilitator simply does whatever help people address those needs in a way that is suitable to them. The facilitator is not the authority who deposits the information in students who simply regurgitate information. Today, I shared a copy of Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed with them, and we discussed the Aristotelian triangle of ethos, pathos, and logos. We considered what  one includes in a strong argument, and then I dropped the blog entry on them.  Debbie Schlussel, a pundit who aspires to Ann Coulter’s career, directly attacked these young people, Urban Word NYC, and her own alma mater University of Wisconsin-Madison. Why? Because Schlussel chose to rail against the fifth annual Hip Hop Educator and Community Leader Teaching Institute in July 2010 at University of Wisconsin-Madison.

I don’t want to post a link to her website or her blog and promote traffic to her website, but the comments are a wide range of responses ranging from unrelated racist jokes and statements that say people of color earned grades by doing nothing to comments that are urging for better arguments and citing specific examples from rock’n’roll, hip hop, and other musical genres. There are also responses from people who have been directly involved with the institute. So, check out “Hip Hop Curriculum: Your Day in the DeeKline-of-PublicK SKoOL EdYOOKayshun”.

Unfortunately, several of the responses are more carefully crafted than Schlussel’s original post. She only cites the press release that describes the events of the day and proceeds to insult every person involved, including a teenager who just received a full scholarship to Schlussel’s alma mater. She includes more text from that release than she actually writes herself. She has not written anything about the curriculum or specific works cited by any of the presenters or the rap artists mentioned.

In fact, she picks the most mainstream, misogynist examples, starting with a lascivious photo of Snoop Dogg surrounded by scantily clad women. She claims that students “can only, um, ‘converse’ in Ebonics and don’t want to learn real English, math, or American history” in the opening line. She claims being “de-educated” is learning to speak “Nuyorican”. Then says “Love that multi-culturalism.”

Schlussel then goes on to state: “Um, how can they use the word ‘scholar’ and ‘hip-hop’ in the same sentence with a straight face? Ditto for pedagogy. With hip-hop, it’s more like pedophilogy.” She even refers to a youth educator with the words “bitch” and “ho”. It’s ironic that each person that she mentions on her blog entry does not use this word, and many of them would discourage using this word freely.

Again, she associates hip hop, people of color, and young people with criminal influence.  Although there are artists that I critique frequently in hip hop, none of the artists that she cites are particularly relevant to the young writers that I spoke with. In fact, many of the hip hop artists who Schlussel mentions were more popular when I was in high school, which is certainly not close to 2010.  The two contemporary artists that she namedrops are Lil Wayne and 50 Cent (The Urban Word writers wanted to be clear that the correct term referring to currency is “50 cents,” and does not refer to Curtis Jackson III).

Most of these young writers performed well on their SAT’s. Some of them have taken AP classes, been accepted to college, and go to a variety of schools, and they speak to each other based on an interest in writing. These writers are a diverse group that includes African American, Caribbean, European, and Latino students as well as some students who are first and second generation immigrants. The classes look like a cross section of New York City. They read and listen to a variety of artists. The first thing several of them said, “I don’t listen to anyone she even mentioned.” Unfortunately, Schlussel tosses in the term “high art” as if no one knows what that is or even appreciates mediums that have been esteemed over popular culture.

There is no argument here. Instead, Schlussel is attacking education and young people to further a career of attacking immigrants, people of color, and all the other frightening people who seem less American than she is. Creating hype solely around her would only help her lay the groundwork for another television appearance or as a platform for a book that does not reflect the academic training that she claims, but merely feeds into people’s fears about experiences that they do not understand as varied, nuanced and complicated. I know that these young people have so much more to say than the people who set up fear-mongering campaigns against them. On the other hand, I want them to be aware that there are people who do not think they are eloquent, well-read, and endearing young people. I want them to be prepared for that, even though some people may never change their perceptions.

Some Suggestions:

1) Donate to an organization that supports opportunities for young people to write.

2) Support funding for youth jobs and arts education.

3) Encourage young people to read a wide variety of textbooks.

4) If you are an educator, explore the ideas of liberatory pedagogy articulated by writers, thinkers, scholars, and educators, such as Paulo Friere or Augusto Boal.

5) Take time to listen to young people and share what you know. Make connections between your bases of knowledge.

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Betts’ 2010 Summer Reading

by Tara Betts



Ever since I was kid, I looked forward to the summer reading program at my local library. My fifth grade teacher made caterpillars out of all the books that we read. Each green circle had the title and author of the book and we wrote a couple of sentences about the book too. My caterpillar started near the ceiling and ended nearly eye-level with most of us still-short people.

Now, I’ve upgraded from construction paper caterpillars to Shelfari and GoodReads. My fiancé and I debate the value of getting a Kindle or a Nook and whether or not books we typically buy will be available for these devices. Yet, the craving to surround myself with my summer reading is timeless. I come back to this feeling every year because everything slows down, and it is not a frantic deadline time.

Since I have been on a school schedule for most of my life, I’ve looked forward to spending summers saturating myself in books. Ideally, if I could read one book a day, I would, but there are the matters of eating, exercising, talking to friends and family, and writing.

Some people envision the summer as a time for weighty beach novels or even the scandalous books that many people won’t admit that they read (Someone is buying Jackie Collins and Zane). So, I just wanted to kick off my May 2010 Basin blog entries with some choices that I plan to enjoy this summer.


Insides She Swallowed by Sasha Pimentel Chacón

Long Distance by Steven Cordova

Marine Life by Karen S. Williams

Middle Ear by Forrest Hamer

The Butterfly’s Burden by Mahmoud Darwish (translated by Fady Joudah)

The T-Bone Series by Quincy Scott Jones

Seismosis by John Keene and Christopher Stackhouse

The Heart’s Traffic by Ching-In Chen

The Strange House Testifies by Ruth Irupé Sanabria

This Side of Skin by Deborah Parédez

Thunder in Her Voice by Lita Hooper

Voices Cast Out to Talk Us In by Ed Roberson


Big Machine by Victor LaValle

Book of Night Women by Marlon James

Incubation: A Space for Monsters by Bhanu Khapil Rider

Something Like Beautiful by asha bandele

Sugar by Berniece McFadden

Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Wrapped in Rainbows by Valerie Boyd

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot


From the Fishouse edited by Camille Dungy, Matt O’Donnell & Jeffrey Thomson

Grape Leaves: A Century of Arab-American Poetry edited by Gregory Orfalea & Sharif Elmusa

Indivisible: An Anthology of Contemporary South Asian Poetry edited by Neelanjana Bannerjee, Summi Kaipa, & Pireeni Sundaralingam

Our Caribbean: A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writing from the Antilles edited by Thomas Glave


After Tupac and D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson

Zahra the Windseeker and The Shadow Speaker by Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu

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Introducing TBR’s May Blogger,

Tara Betts!

Tara Betts (Photo Credit: Rich Villar)

Tara Betts is the author of the book Arc and Hue, and a lecturer in creative writing at Rutgers University and a Cave Canem fellow. Tara’s work has appeared in Essence, Obsidian III, Callaloo, PMS, Meridians, Drum Voices Revue, Ninth Letter, Hanging Loose, Drunken Boat, Mythium, and Reverie. Her work appears in anthologies such as Gathering Ground, Black Nature Poetry, Bum Rush the Page, Power Lines, ROLE CALL, These Hands I Know, Best Black Women’s Erotica 2, and Fingernails Across a Chalkboard.

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 with a variety of organizations. Over the years, Tara has coached and mentored countless young writers that have participated in Brave New Voices and Louder Than a Bomb teen poetry slams.

Tara Betts appeared on HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam” She also appeared in the Black Family Channel series “SPOKEN” with Jessica Care Moore. 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, the East and West Coasts, the South, and throughout the Midwest.

For more information, you can visit http://www.tarabetts.net.

Welcome, Tara!


Melanie Henderson,

Managing Editor, Tidal Basin Review

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