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Owed

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From a 2021 Whiting Award and Guggenheim Fellow recipient, a “rhapsodic, rigorous poetry collection, which pays homage to everyday Black experience in the U.S.” (The New Yorker)

Gregory Pardlo described Joshua Bennett's first collection of poetry, The Sobbing School, as an "arresting debut" that was "abounding in tenderness and rich with character," with a "virtuosic kind of code switching." Bennett's new collection, Owed, is a book with celebration at its center. Its primary concern is how we might mend the relationship between ourselves and the people, spaces, and objects we have been taught to think of as insignificant, as fundamentally unworthy of study, reflection, attention, or care. Spanning the spectrum of genre and form--from elegy and ode to origin myth--these poems elaborate an aesthetics of repair. What's more, they ask that we turn to the songs and sites of the historically denigrated so that we might uncover a new way of being in the world together, one wherein we can truthfully reckon with the brutality of the past and thus imagine the possibilities of our shared, unpredictable present, anew.
Token Sings the Blues

You always or almost
always only one
in the room
Maybe two
Three is a crowd
Three is a gang
Three is a company
of thieves Three is
wow there's so many of you
Three will get you confused
with people that look nothing
like you you get called
Devin your name isn't
Devin you do your best
not to ignore such casual
erasure you know silence
will be received as affirmation
praise even & you always affirmative
You affirmative action action figure
You fantastic first black
friend You first-ballot
quota keeper You almost 
cry when your history
professor says you know
in this country the gold standard
used to be people Funny how
no one comes right out
& says things like you people
anymore it's all code
words like thug or 
diversity hire You diversity
all by yourself You contain
multitudes & are yet
contained everywhere you go
confined like there is always 
someone watching you & isn't 
there & isn't that the entire point
of this flesh you inherited
this unrepentant stain be
twice as good mama says
as if what they have is worth
your panic worth measuring
your very life against & you always
remember to measure
Your hair, your volume, your tone
over email, you perpetually
sorry You don't know why 
you apologize to no one
in particular just for being around
& in your body at the same time
You know your body 
is the real problem
You monster You beast
of burden You beast & burden
You horse but human
You centaur You map
the stars & pull back your bow
to shoot
the moon in its one good white eye
You are everything
your big sister says
& on your best
days above ground you
believe her
© Rog Walker
Joshua Bennett is the author of The Sobbing School (Penguin, 2016), which was a National Poetry Series selection and a finalist for an NAACP Image Award. He is also the author of Being Property Once Myself (Harvard University Press, 2020), Owed (Penguin, 2020), The Study of Human Life (Penguin, 2022), and Spoken Word: A Cultural History (Knopf, 2023). He has received fellowships and awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Whiting Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Society of Fellows at Harvard University. He is a Professor of Literature and Distinguished Chair of the Humanities at MIT. View titles by Joshua Bennett

About

From a 2021 Whiting Award and Guggenheim Fellow recipient, a “rhapsodic, rigorous poetry collection, which pays homage to everyday Black experience in the U.S.” (The New Yorker)

Gregory Pardlo described Joshua Bennett's first collection of poetry, The Sobbing School, as an "arresting debut" that was "abounding in tenderness and rich with character," with a "virtuosic kind of code switching." Bennett's new collection, Owed, is a book with celebration at its center. Its primary concern is how we might mend the relationship between ourselves and the people, spaces, and objects we have been taught to think of as insignificant, as fundamentally unworthy of study, reflection, attention, or care. Spanning the spectrum of genre and form--from elegy and ode to origin myth--these poems elaborate an aesthetics of repair. What's more, they ask that we turn to the songs and sites of the historically denigrated so that we might uncover a new way of being in the world together, one wherein we can truthfully reckon with the brutality of the past and thus imagine the possibilities of our shared, unpredictable present, anew.

Excerpt

Token Sings the Blues

You always or almost
always only one
in the room
Maybe two
Three is a crowd
Three is a gang
Three is a company
of thieves Three is
wow there's so many of you
Three will get you confused
with people that look nothing
like you you get called
Devin your name isn't
Devin you do your best
not to ignore such casual
erasure you know silence
will be received as affirmation
praise even & you always affirmative
You affirmative action action figure
You fantastic first black
friend You first-ballot
quota keeper You almost 
cry when your history
professor says you know
in this country the gold standard
used to be people Funny how
no one comes right out
& says things like you people
anymore it's all code
words like thug or 
diversity hire You diversity
all by yourself You contain
multitudes & are yet
contained everywhere you go
confined like there is always 
someone watching you & isn't 
there & isn't that the entire point
of this flesh you inherited
this unrepentant stain be
twice as good mama says
as if what they have is worth
your panic worth measuring
your very life against & you always
remember to measure
Your hair, your volume, your tone
over email, you perpetually
sorry You don't know why 
you apologize to no one
in particular just for being around
& in your body at the same time
You know your body 
is the real problem
You monster You beast
of burden You beast & burden
You horse but human
You centaur You map
the stars & pull back your bow
to shoot
the moon in its one good white eye
You are everything
your big sister says
& on your best
days above ground you
believe her

Author

© Rog Walker
Joshua Bennett is the author of The Sobbing School (Penguin, 2016), which was a National Poetry Series selection and a finalist for an NAACP Image Award. He is also the author of Being Property Once Myself (Harvard University Press, 2020), Owed (Penguin, 2020), The Study of Human Life (Penguin, 2022), and Spoken Word: A Cultural History (Knopf, 2023). He has received fellowships and awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Whiting Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Society of Fellows at Harvard University. He is a Professor of Literature and Distinguished Chair of the Humanities at MIT. View titles by Joshua Bennett

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