National Poetry Month Spotlight: Bettina Judd

Welcome to National Poetry Month, 2016! We’re celebrating all month long. Each day we will bring you a poem we love–a selection from one of our published or forthcoming collections.

Today’s featured poet is Bettina Judd, author of Patient, which won the 2013 Hudson Prize.

Judd Cover
Joice Heth Presents: The Showman as Dentist*
When he starts on the incisor I think of the
time my first child was conceived,
white shirt against my face
oil on the back of my tongue.
It fills my mouth, I choke.
He pushes my head to spit.
His shoe soiled.
His fist loosens the next tooth.
I swallow it.
He must work for each of these.
Work as hard as they have to stay here.
Work as hard as I did to be beaten
before the boneless child passed as feces.
My face against his shirt
muddied with my blood
my spit.
Semen of ten shipmen
smell of broken virgins
oil on the back of my tongue.
Teeth collect in my lap
some broken and sharp on gums
If I bit down it would be
my own blood shed
my mouth stayed soft
Soft, so I would not die
Showman whispers.
My       black   beauty.
* In his memoir P.T. Barnum refers to Heth as his “black beauty.”
JuddBettina Judd was born in Baltimore and raised in Southern California. She teaches courses in Black women’s art, Black culture, and Black feminist thought. She has received fellowships from the Five Colleges, the Vermont Studio Center and the University of Maryland. She is a Cave Canem Fellow and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her poems have appeared in Torch, Mythium, Meridians and other journals and anthologies. More about her can be found at and