Rosebud Ben-Oni with Tara Betts

Rosebud Ben-Oni with Tara Betts
Rosebud Ben-Oni with Tara Betts (photo credit: Tony Smith)

I first met Tara Betts at poet Becca Klaver’s WHAT’S SO HOT: A Summer Salon Reading Series in 2012 in which we both shared new work in the very intimate and relaxed setting of Becca’s living room. Afterwards, Tara and I briefly chatted on the train home together, and we promised we’d keep in touch— and we did. I absolutely love teaching Tara Betts poems, especially the phenomenal poem “Switch“, in workshops (See Betts read her recent work “The Suits of Your Skins” at #BlackPoetsSpeakOut Chicago.) Her newest collection, Break the Habit, is now out from Trio House Press (2016), and contains journeys in which, in Betts’s words, “we are always colliding with what we cannot control.” In the conversation, I speak to Betts on collisions, spiders, and what it means to “break the habit.”

 

ROSEBUD BEN-ONI: The first section seems to challenge the reader’s certainty of orientation in “Welcome to the Terrordome” (“I shook my head and silently/asked how much of the story is missing,/how I wouldn’t even know about the bullet/dropping Newton, if Chuck hadn’t told me”). We also witness the speaker discovering her own way in “Unsteady Directions” (“If parents are shields, hold nothing. If parents fail/ or blame, find a fortress to release whatever wounds.”) as well trying to find both cerebral and spiritual footing while “[u]nderneath, a house’s foundation/ gradually crumbles. The water may be poisoned/beyond redemption. It runs, wears away rock,/cuts down soil, carries wet in small measures,” as explored in “Prophetic Fragments.” Can you speak more about the idea of “collisions” in this section?

TARA BETTS: It may seem odd, but I think most poetry is about collisions and contradictions and how we find spaces between those parts of us that encounter different degrees of impact and moments of incongruity. “Unsteady Directions” is written to a you more so than the speaker finding her own way. I think it draws on some personal experiences, but unfortunately, I think it is a poem that I needed to write that addressed consent (and the lack thereof) that concerns women. In “Prophetic Fragments” — I think that poem is addressing that the old traditional ways of thinking generalizing about people of color and politically left people will eventually become increasingly obsolete because the absurdity of the politics. I do think that means that even people who describe themselves as radical, “woke,” “down,” conscious, or whatever left-leaning term of the moment strikes, will have to re-think those terms. A revolution is a circle, if we really think about the word, but does that mean we’re also in cycles of re-invention? I tend to think so. As far as “Welcome to the Terrordome,” I wanted the first poem to set an elegiac tone because Break the Habit really discusses different types of loss. When I look at black history, I find that some of the losses have been what I have not learned. How has something been kept from me? I have thought about that question a lot, and I think about when I was younger and how hip hop gave me an education. This Public Enemy song taught me an important lesson when they mentioned names like Joanne Chesimard and Huey Newton. We are always colliding with what we cannot control.