WINNER OF THE A. POULIN, JR. POETRY PRIZE
FINALIST FOR THE 2017 KATE TUFTS DISCOVERY AWARD
Rich in religious and artistic imagery, Trouble the Water is an intriguing exploration of race, sexuality, and identity, particularly where self-hood is in constant flux. These intimate, sensual poems interweave pop culture and history—moving from the Bible through several artistic eras—to interrogate what it means to be, as Austin says, "fully human as a queer, black body" in 21st century America.
PRAISE FOR TROUBLE THE WATER
"'Expect poison of the standing water,' Blake warned, highlighting the dangers of imaginative stagnation. I’m now tempted to believe that Blake himself has sent us Derrick Austin and his remarkable collection, Trouble the Water. At once gospel and troubadour song, these deeply spiritual and expansively erotic poems are lucid, unflinching, urgent. This is an extraordinary debut."
—Mary Szybist, winner of the National Book Award
"Skilled with the ability to harness detail and stringent images, Derrick Austin creates a lush and smoldering landscape in which the very soul is tested. Trouble the Water is a book of devotion, a metaphysical book that troubles God, the landscape of Florida, the always-fallible bodies of men, and even the body of art. Austin writes: ‘Lord in the pigment, the crushed, colored stones. / Lord in the carved marble chest. I turn away / from art.’ But you will not be able to turn away from this beautiful debut."
—C. Dale Young
"This is a daring first collection that paints a series of illuminated estrangements. In forms that range from free verse to psalms and sestinas, Austin troubles the figure of Christ, conjures the Florida landscape, and worries histories of art and Eros. He calls up the saints—Zora and Nina and Marvin among them—making poetry out of the enfleshment of queer desire: 'You look at me like a painting / you think you know all the names for,' one speaker declares. Another laments, 'Can’t you just suck me off? (I’m alive.).' When you pick up this book, be prepared to dissolve into its atmosphere of gorgeous potential: that strain before storm, the blur before fire. 'Listen, baby:' the speaker in 'Torch Song' warns, 'when I open my arms to the crowd and mouth / the night’s first note, I don’t sing; you singe."
—Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon
© BOA Editions, Ltd. 2016