cover image Trouble the Water

Trouble the Water

Derrick Austin. BOA Editions (Consortium, dist.), $16 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-1-942683-04-9

In his debut collection, Austin maintains that fraught balancing act of being lighthearted, even convivial, in the face of worry and distress. He also deftly manipulates the tension between beauty and artlessness, sensitivity and violence, as in the poem “The Bait,” in which he writes “your kindness,/ drawing me out of myself, is not a knife/ entirely.” The speakers of these poems often feel like hyperintelligent yet emotionally guarded friends who, as an evening wears on, begin to reveal their wounds. The atmosphere is as humid as the Florida landscape Austin brings to life, full of heat spells and sweat-slick bodies. Occasionally the descriptive language and religious iconography can grow as heavy as Floridian air, as when the vellum of an illuminated manuscript is “supple as with her tears,” but the abundance of such acts feels generous. Look at all of this, the speakers seem to be saying, the beautiful and the repellent at once. This collection is well-suited to readers prepared interrogate what they love and what they distrust. In Austin’s hands, the exquisite can be ominous while the grotesque can turn charming, and his poems wisely assert that the world is unforgiving and yet full of mercy—that one can question beauty and yet still be beholden to it. (Apr.)