Arc and Hue
It is deeply satisfying to encounter poetry like Tara Betts’. The widely published poet, author, and Rutgers University creative writing professor bears witness to the true grit of life, including poverty and appearance-based assumptions and experiences that categorize one as other, even among an already marginalized population. These experiences, and the enduring human spirit, are what give color and shape to each life, and it is this thematic material that Betts portrays in her debut collection, Arc & Hue.
Rich in vivid images and musicality, this collection is an authentic portal into the very pulse of life. With the use of repetitive forms like sestina and canzone and the smooth lyrical flow of her free verse, Betts’ poems are imbued with hope, strength, and beauty amid trauma, violence, and the isolation of otherness.
From the weight of death and violence to the vibrancy of moments both ordinary and momentous (lynching, hair care, Hurricane Katrina, lovemaking, pestilence in the slums), each poem is consistently resonant and haunting. Betts can be humorous and playful with form, yet still communicate something substantial, as she demonstrates in “A Survey on Enjoying Verse” and “Neruda’s Email to Slam Poets.” The anxiety and desire of an urban pulse throbs in the strong, sensual language of “Block Party Speculation” and the grief of domestic violence and miscarriage are washed with the power of loving someone new when the narrator stands in the shower with both loss and renewal in “When I First Listened to Billie.”
Arc & Hue crossing my path further fuels my hope that one can indeed maintain awareness of and connection to the world beyond ourselves through the work of poets and artists. A visit to the writer’s blog clued me in to her extensive publishing history—from erotica to live theater to an upcoming young adult novel and a second collection of poetry. Betts is also active in literacy and girls’ empowerment projects, and she has performed her work around the world.