Derrick Harriell, assistant professor in English and African American Studies at the University of Mississippi, won the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters 2014 Poetry Award for his collection of poems, Ropes, focused on the lives of black boxers in America. Cotton (Aquarius Press/Willow Books, 2010) was his first collection of poems.
“Promised Jim Crow/don’t go in the ring,/that the language of/the fourteenth amendment lies/ within those ropes. Long before Jackie Robinson bravely entered major league hatred, African Americans tied cultural pride, anxiety and politick to angry fists buffered with cotton. Derrick Harriell has mined the human history of lives perpetually in fight and woven a gutbucket stench of ghetto wail and back alley holler survival. The work of these four rounds, the transparent employment of voice and source, working the head, body, groin and knees, is a flurry of converging dialogues, real and cleverly imagined, in conversation with self, God, Uncle Sam, other Black pugilists and the women who adorn these boxers as trinket and stain. Jack Johnson, from Leavenworth, writes to Joe Louis We take turns dying. Myth, truth, lies and the substance of Black testosterone in viscous, historically-textured sonics, Ropes confirms Derrick Harriell is among the finest young poets in the country.”
—Quraysh Ali Lansana, author of mystic turf and Our Difficult Sunlight: A Guide to Poetry, Literacy & Social Justice in Classroom & Community
“In 4 rounds, Derrick Harriell tours us through the cultural history of boxing, from Mike Tyson and Joe Frazier to one of the first African American pugilists, writing from 1855. These richly detailed persona poems are spoken by boxers and also the journalists, cutmen, and girlfriends who surround the ring. Harriell’s nuanced ear conveys not just the intimacies of a sport but the intimacies of the human spirit. Ropes is a knock out.”
—Beth Ann Fennelly, professor of English and director of the MFA Program at the University of Mississippi, and author of Tender Hooks and Open House