Tara Betts

Tara Betts (Poetry) | Chicago, IL

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Tara Betts is the author of Break the Habit and Arc & Hue as well as the chapbooks 7 x 7: kwansabas and THE GREATEST!: An Homage to Muhammad Ali. Tara holds a Ph.D. from Binghamton University and a MFA from New England College. Her writing has appeared in POETRY, Callaloo, Essence, NYLON, The Source, XXL, and many other journals and anthologies. In addition to appearing on television shows like HBO’s Def Poetry Jam and SPOKEN, she has mentored young people involved with Louder Than a Bomb and Brave New Voices. She teaches at University of Illinois-Chicago.


Break the Habit (Trio House Press, 2016). [Forthcoming Oct 2016]. Poetry.
Arc & Hue (Willow Books, 2009). Poetry.


  • Never Been Lois Lane (dancing girl press, forthcoming). Poetry.
  • 7 x 7: kwansabas (Backbone Press, 2015). Poetry.
  • THE GREATEST!: An Homage to Muhammad Ali (Argus House Books, 2013). Poetry.

Blurbs, Press & Reviews

“In her new collection Break the Habit, Tara Betts movingly draws the arc of a black woman’s life, with its numerous peaks and valley, as only a talented and assured poet can. These poems, which show a refreshing and impressive formal range and control, offer glimpses of the poet’s family, her youth and emotional education, her marriage, divorce, and its difficult aftermath, and her perspectives on the wider world. Alongside tenderness, vulnerability and healing this poet shows us through her lyric artistry what self-love and resolve look like, writing as she does in the collection’s final poem, a golden shovel, ‘I will not allow myself to live half a life, so I must go.'”
—John Keene, author of Counternarratives

“Tara Betts’ Break the Habit is haunted by jazz, the sound and echo of it, the engagement with grief and loss, the movement of language that captures loneliness and love and relationships severed by death or divorce. These are poems that make the reader weep in the same way a great jazz singer does by touching the very core of what it means to be human.”
—Maria Gillan, author of Ancestors’ Song

“Tara Betts gives fiery, gorgeous life to this pivotal form in 7×7: kwansabas. She’s a truthteller and a soothsayer, that educated oracle who still knows how to get down and to be down. How much truth and life can one poet fit in such gem-like poems? Journey with Tara Betts to find out and you won’t be disappointed. This collection is bound to make history because it walks in history, and lets us ride along.”
—Allison Joseph

“Ankh-powered & reader empowering, these ark-eye-texts should be worn like gris gris ntu the far evers! Employing a 20-year-old poetic form incubated in the Black Arts Movement, Renaissance III & ‘grains’ (fore/aft) of our various Soular Systems, Tara w/rites of Zora ‘dipped in dialect’; Dunham’s ‘lives fanning out in the swirl and flutter of skirts;’ Tina whose ‘heart roars through her throat/[and] there’s no taking that voice back’; ‘Seventh Son’ DuBois ‘seeing double’ & ‘[helping] folks to imagine free thinkin’ them selves’; a mother cradling a son ‘in her glee’s shade’; & Malcolm X, ‘steeped in Garvey,’ being ‘our own royalty.’ Tara’s a seven-‘leven poet, deftly prevailing over living-passing horrors, including death, as she roams ancestrails & reels in blues’s first name-‘reals.’”
—Eugene B. Redmond, poet laureate of East St. Louis (IL) & inventor of the kwansaba

“It is right that a cultural figure as necessary as Muhammad Ali had been entrusted to a poet with Tara Betts’ skill and grace. Ali’s myth is complicated and his personality is so seductive that it’s easy to only see him as a hero. Betts’ libretto and accompanying poem are insightful without being judgmental, imaginative while still underscoring the undeniable physical and psychological truths that made Ali one of the greatest prize fighters the world has ever seen.”
—Adrian Matejka, author of The Big Smoke

“It’s so exciting to be living in a moment where boxing is alive and well in the work of an entire generation of poets. With this group of poems, poet Tara Betts adds her voice and heart to the chorus. It’s a pleasure to think of how many people will learn more about boxing and poetry from this generous and eye-opening collection of poems.”
—Gabrielle Calvocoressi, author of Apocalyptic Swing

“Tara Betts is a poet who pays exquisite attention to the world. It’s high time the world repaid the favor.”
—Martín Espada, author of Vivas to Those Who Have Failed

Gifted with exuberant imagination, a genuine poetic ear, and an unblinking readiness to look at the harrowing problems of the world, she is a poet to watch, “a weathervane willing/to announce a shift in the wind.”
—Annie Finch, author of Calendars

““The arc and hue of Betts’ aesthetic is an infinite compassion, where hope lives.”
—Afaa M. Weaver, author of The Government of Nature

The poems in Tara Betts’s debut collection, Arc and Hue, are a montage of identity politics, sexuality, music, and experiential knowledge. The joy of reading these poems is that it’s the knowledge—yes, even more than the music— that makes these poems sing. Irrespective of how familiar the scene may seem on the surface, whether the focus is a reverie on relationships—some familial, some romantic—or a projection of a subjunctive future, the acute attention to detail and keen point of view guides Betts’ work to conclusions that surprise and illuminate.
—A. Van Jordan, author of Quantum Lyrics

“Betts’ Arc & Hue is at once a call-to-arms for the recuperation of poetry’s rigor and respect, a playful adventure in cultural memory and nostalgia, a pressing memoir of intellectual and societal ascension, and a throwback to the blues women that Betts memorializes…”
—Kalisha Buckhanon, author of the novels Upstate, Conception, and Solemn

“In her debut collection of poetry, Arc & Hue, Tara Betts articulates deeply-felt human emotion in a lyrical, beautiful way. Betts is a poet for the people. In her work, she celebrates the black female body, and rages against those who would assault it. She remembers the Civil Rights struggle, and offers a fresh perspective on the old issue of race. She creates a disturbing narrative of poverty that might just express more about class in a few lines of verse than an entire scholarly book ever could.”
—Eisa Nefertari Ulen, author and journalist

“The poems illuminate the smallest domestic moments (whether filled with violence or love) alongside larger cultural issues. While Betts writes mostly in free verse, this collection contains many well-crafted sonnets, a villanelle riff, a sestina, and a vibrant canzone. Overall, Betts’ poems remain attentive to the strength of narrative arcs and the resonances and rhythms of emotional hues. Within these arcs and hues, Betts helps us notice how the dust of memory, crafted, turns to poetry.”
—Craig Santos Perez on Poetry Foundation’s Harriet: The Blog

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