Each poem is exquisitely crafted, made up of delicious imagery, wry humor, and contemplative observations, but their centers hold a queer Black man’s rebellion and reclamation ... some truly stunning, sometimes shocking verse ... Austin powerfully deconstructs homophobia and gender throughout, often using his speaker’s love of finery and art to frame the oppression of patriarchal masculinity.
Austin is a lyrical architect, rendering with urgency and plainspokenness what is arguably the most challenging kind of loneliness: that experienced amidst others ... Austin's speaker is sustained by friendship unlike any I've ever seen in poetry. Not only are friends alive and dead named across a myriad of forms (sonnets and a palindrome to name just two), but they are threaded throughout the poems in complex ways that navigate joy, grief, and ambiguity, which is the erotic at its best: knowledgeable, patient, and capacious ... This is a stunning collection for these challenging times when intimacy has escaped us but will, eventually, return. Let this book be your primer.
Derrick Austin’s second collection, Tenderness, is complicated, just like all good books of poetry are...complicated like the fullest possible range of emotion one can experience in fifty-some pages of poems ... Take the poem 'Late Summer' ... I don’t know what word to use to describe the emotion coming from the end of this poem but I know I’ve felt it before, and that I’ve never seen it expressed this way before.
... a century’s worth of grief and joy come together in a 'glorious algal bloom,' which is both an image of belonging and not, a place at once fated and also elusive. Such are the soft contradictions of Tenderness, which feels remarkably porous, attentive to the minute, and hesitant to equate intensity with meaning ... These poems demonstrate that you don’t need plot to arrive at insight or discovery and that devastation need not be the only mechanism for catharsis In 'Thinking of Romanticism, Thinking of Drake'...the syntactical choppiness of these lines makes the uplift feel surprising and suspenseful, underscoring the possibility that though we begin in sadness, we may yet end up in the sky.