Fanmail – Derrick Austin

Trouble The Water


Dear Derrick Austin,

I have just finished reading your newly published collection of poetry, Trouble the Water. I began reading your book on my couch late last night and kept reading into the early hours of the morning. I paired your delectable poems with tart dried cranberries and slices of white oak cheddar. I enjoyed every bite.

I appreciate the unique Florida setting that influences this collection. I currently live in Tampa, Florida, and it was exciting to read about the places and weather conditions that I recognize. Your commentary on hurricane parties, flash floods, sudden rainstorms, and the shadowy waters of the Hillsborough River brought a sense of meaning to my own environment.

What I love most was the struggle in these poems. You said in a 2015 interview with Image journal about Trouble the Water that it would try to convey the “tensions that exist between [your] sexuality and a spiritual tradition [you] find deeply enriching and frustrating at times.”

I am striving, too, in reconciling my personal identity with my religious identity. Your poems’ juxtaposition of the lurid and the sacred present this reconciliation process vividly. To me, your poems are snapshots of something ongoing, a necessary process that doesn’t have an end.

The scripture epigraph of John 5:4-6 frames your text perfectly—those words in red I know so well: “‘Wilt thou be made whole?’” Jesus said this to a man seeking healing at the Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem, but I felt these words directed to me as well. It is a difficult choice. Can we be whole without the appendage of religion? Are our untouched selves enough?

Your last poem in the collection, “Vespers,” was my favorite one to capture this same idea. This is our ongoing prayer, a question:  “Lord in the camellia, drifting in and out of sight, / like those blushing, perfumed heads will you welcome me?”

We can only ask. And keep asking.

As poetry transforms dim feelings into tangible images and sensations, I got to know myself with more certainty after reading your collection. Thank you for that.



Jubalee Penuliar

 … return to Issue 8.3 Table of Contents.