Derrick Harriell was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Chicago State University and is currently a dissertator in UW-Milwaukee's English PhD program where he also teaches Creative Writing. He's worked as assistant poetry editor for Third World Press and is currently poetry editor for The Cream City Review. A 2009 Pushcart Nominee, Harriell's poems have appeared in various literary journals and anthologies, including The Cream City Review, Reverie,The Lamplighter Review, and is forthcoming in Main Street Rag. Cotton (Aquarius Press-Willow Books) is his first collection of poems.
"In his remarkable debut collection, Cotton, Derrick Harriell has created a mural in poems. The characters that inhabit this vivid tableau step into an active third dimension and allow us to witness the vicissitudes of their daily struggles, triumphs large and small, private desires. The community here is anchored by a specific mid-Western, African-American family which, in spite of both external and internal challenges, maintains its unity, however precarious at times. Death, passion, humor, mother wit, history, place, these are the colors that Harriell mixes and applies with such artistry that readers may not be so sure if they are watching a particular world or if that world is watching them. Harriell is among America's most exciting new voices in poetry."
Maurice Kilwein Guevara, author of Poema
"All African Americans have a historic relationship with cotton. The southern United States was once the world's major supplier of cotton. King Cotton: It fueled the 19th century need for increasing the slave trade. The migrations of the freedmen could never put distance to that fact. Derrick Harriell's poems are the doors in the neighborhoods where they settled. The people of the streets, the houses, and the bars live in these poems. The personal family history of blues and redemptions are woven in the fabric, too. Both, noble and wicked traditions are revealed in a rich credible vernacular, a musical voice, like a storyteller sitting in your kitchen or on the barstool beside you testifying to the significant particulars, situations of poetic truths, the edgy full dimensions deep within the culture. Cotton is a stirring debut, and Derrick Harriell is a blues poet."
Gary Copeland Lilley, author of Alpha Zulu and The Subsequent Blues
Ole King Cotton,
Ole King Cotton,
Keeps us slavin'
Till we'se dead an' rotten.
- Sterling Brown
As the sun spreads itself
across my slick black back
there's a party happening in Harlem.
Negros doing the free dance
beside Peeping Toms who get off
seeing monkeys blow anguish
through shiny brass
hypnotizing even the bourbon.
BoJack say in the North
Negro preachers' pulpits stand
between prostitutes and nameless curbs
smashing the word into blues verse
while the old hands sing popular songs
in unpopular rooms for unpopular folks.
Last I heard Negros had our own
city to make love to at night
and if it was real good we'd share a smoke
with the black air and giggle prayers
as we dream off to sleep.
There's whispers of a woman
holdin' the voice of God.
When the city real still
you can hear her hollering laments
to knees, hands, backs, shoulders
and legs turned ash,
tongues turned crinkled roses,
mouths turned abandoned wells.