Derrick Austin‘s poetry has an ability to quickly and quietly transport the reader to a serene place. His work pulls from history, religion, and mythology, while at the same time using imagery that reflects contemporary figures and pop culture. What makes his debut collection, 2016’s Trouble The Water, so attractive and enchanting is its scope. His poetry takes a strong stance in being attainable and yet complex, familiar and heartbreaking.
Trouble The Water blends history, art, and nature with race, queerness, love, and desire. Austin’s focus on disparate subjects and figures is something that comes naturally. ”Making disparate connections is something we do in our everyday lives,” he says.
Austin is originally from the Florida panhandle, and the strong role of the natural world in his poetry is directly related to his home state. His time in Wisconsin, along with his previous time working in a graduate program in Michigan, has only strengthened his love for Florida’s green and vibrant landscape.“The distance from home has made home all the more vivid for me,” he says.
Austin was a fellow with the Wisconsin Institute of Creative Writing this past year, and this opportunity gave him the necessary, and often taxing, chance to travel and promote Trouble The Water. He has also served as a Cave Canem fellow (apologies for the butchering of the pronunciation during the interview), where he found a place to experiment and hone his craft in a setting with other black writers. He says finding a place to write with other black writers was instrumental in his development.
Austin also stresses the need to find community and familiarity when approaching poetry. “I feel like now more than ever, I think that there are ways to find the poets that really speak to you,” he said in regards to finding writers, presses, and communities online in order to break down the notion that poetry is not easily accessible.
Austin spoke with Tone Madison contributor John McCracken about his past year living in Madison, and read from Trouble The Water, on this week’s podcast. You can also follow Austin on Twitter.