top of page


Available for pre-order at BOA and your local bookstores. Consider requesting Tenderness for your local libraries.

"Derrick Austin is to a blank page what Titian was to a white canvas. In both of their works, audiences will find an exemplary adroitness with portrait, landscape, and myth. Tenderness, Austin’s second poetry collection, weaves a sinuous lyric that navigates both the physical and metaphysical surroundings of a traveler desirous of understanding, desirous of being understood. The reader senses a certain urgency in the question of how to find tenderness and connection in a world intent on the project of othering. Austin skillfully excavates the rhizomatic truth of belonging and the vulnerable places where God can be found—a touch, a glance, a history, a remembrance."

—Airea D. Matthews, author of Simulacra

"It's nice to know that poetry is still a place to go and find some Tenderness, and Derrick Austin's gentle touch is filled with genuine compassion and those soft wounds of the heart that act as release. 'A heaven wider than androgyny is sugar on my tongue.'  The world is not shut out but let in, writ in dew and dust, ecstatic invocations and quiet elegies, hurricanes and the calm just after. After all, tenderness is not only sweet. It is also the place where we recognize the threshold of pain. 'There's a snowbank/ of roses on the sidewalk/where American unmade me.'"

—D.A. Powell, author of Repast: Tea, Lunch, Cocktails

"Austin is a lyrical architect, rendering with urgency and plainspokenness what is arguably the most challenging kind of loneliness: that experienced amidst others. His second collection, Tenderness, channels the unexpected pain that one only knows after having been touched.

But through all of the near misses, the touches that do not connect, or do but for naught, 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. "Tend your joy, you whisper,/ As if a charm against eviction or some harm/ We might inflict on each other./ For once, I don't hear you," Austin writes, knowing the risks of tenderness and allowing it anyway. This is a stunning collection for these challenging times when intimacy has escaped us but will, eventually, return. Let this book be your primer."

—Phillip B. Williams, author of Mutiny, in NPR

"In Derrick Austin’s Tenderness, 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."

The Poetry Foundation

"It is in this vein that Derrick Austin tumbles the reader into his second poetry collection, Tenderness (BOA Editions). The book’s silken walls enclose us like a luxurious boudoir so alluring you might miss his subversion of traditional (re: white, patriarchal, heterosexual) Western thought and art. 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."

Washington Independent Review of Books

"Maybe more remarkable than any allusion or citation is the way Austin architects an experience of proceeding through Tenderness. It’s as if the book presents itself as a series of rooms to be toured, each one rendered in refined detail, their guide a speaker with no hesitation to divulge the most intimate machinations of his personal life."

Salamander Magazine

"If ever something was needed in our contemporary world, it is tenderness. In this aptly named book, the poet treats the facts of his life with the compassion we all deserve. Through personal journey, myth, and the refreshed perspective that travel brings, Derrick Austin captures the briefest and most characteristic of tender moments in love and friendship. 'Taking My Father and Brother to the Frick,' a poem of lyrical beauty and meticulous honesty, paints how we long to be loved entire: 'Entering the narrow hall / I ignore my favorite portraits, their ruffles / and bodices, carnations and powder puffs / afraid to share my joy with you / yet your bearing in the space—the procession  / of your shoulders, the crowns of your heads— / makes them sing anew.' But tenderness also contains dark moments in the psyche, best told by myth. In 'The Lost Woods as Elegy for Black Childhood,' 'We never came home / before the streetlights buzzed. / All we do is dance in leaves / Cackle and Dreaming, we call it // Our mothers call it grief.' Tracing the path of depression, the author expresses doubts 'That I'm getting this all down wrong, that I'm getting it down at all.' Austin's art manifests an ache it also heals: in 'Ballet Folklorico' dancers / wearing large, startling papier mache heads / danced near me / like family I had forgotten / because I had forgotten how / profoundly loved / I have been.' Beautifully wrought, minutely observed and profoundly honest, these are poems to which a reader will return."

Judges Citation for the Northern California Book Award

bottom of page