Ceaselessly honest and uncannily self-aware, the poems in The Drowning Boy’s Guide to Water dance between grace, music, and truth. With a voice that’s leaning in instead of away, this collection is a lively and necessary debut that cracks open the complications of skin color, love, and the natural world.
“Maybe if my blood were blue I’d have three hearts like you,” Cameron Barnett writes in one of the many imaginative poems of The Drowning Boy’s Guide to Water. Maybe Barnett’s blood isn’t blue, but it’s fueled by the clarity and candor of the blues. Moreover, his poems pulse with the generosity of a three-hearted sensibility: “one for forgiving, one for forgetting, one for moving on.” These poems weave the personal and public histories rooted in our natures—our gardens, our spirits, our bodies. Compassionate, shrewd, and mature: this is a marvelous debut.
Complexity and surprise arrive with each page turn of Cameron Barnett’s debut collection, The Drowning Boy’s Guide to Water. Barnett’s poems push past the “likes” of these digital days toward the deeply difficult work of self-reflection and discomfort. There is no one way to be Black in the United States and these poems affirm that reality. They are an answer to both Black-checking and America’s tired legacy of racism. These poems know to be Black is a beautiful and varied state of being. “I was told it was a bad thing,” they admit, and then turn that lie on its head.