Douglas Manuel's Trouble Funk is sharkskin and unfiltered cigs, blue-lit basements and sedans with wings, the bop and slow drag and every street corner where strangers lift their voices to make song. It's a preacher goodfootin' across the pulpit and blue screams from both sides of a closed door. Trouble Funk is the quintessential soundtrack for the era that scarred and blessed the best of us, it's a DJ spinning stanzas of fam, the trials of manhood, God's glory in the body, and the unquestioned ferocity of black love. As defined within its pages, Trouble Funk "is funk. Is rock. Is blues. Is jazz. Is ragtime. Is work song. In short: is Black, always Black on both sides all the way down."
Douglas Manuel’s Trouble Funk curates a compelling soundtrack for the lives of Damon and Denise, a couple living in Indiana from 1964 to 1987. This is a rich and original collection of documentary poetry, including artifacts of music, dress, and news––from Jheri curls and afros, bell bottoms, Pall Malls and roller rinks to the hostage crisis, the Klan, police brutality, drugs, and violence. With powerful rhythms and a multitude of vivid details, fragments, dialogue, and historical markers, Manuel bears clear-eyed and compassionate witness to hope and heartache, tragedy and reclamation. Each poem is titled with a song and date, so you can be fully immersed in the experience, both reading and listening to the music. This is poetry that makes you care, poetry that: “Is funk. Is rock. Is blues. Is jazz. Is ragtime. Is work song. In short: is Black, always Black on both sides, all the way down.”
In these stunning poems of love and longing, Douglas Manuel offers us richly textured lyrics inspired by three decades of Black music, refreshing nostalgic beats. This book is a playlist for Black joy and perseverance, each line smooth as Soul Train and studded with sonic delights. I will carry these playful, resonant poems with me--"lift and flit, lift and flit"--catching their sweet signal, like late-night radio in the wee hours.
"In his breathtaking debut, Testify, Douglas Manuel charts the raw emotional complexities and the impossible daily reckonings that confront a young black man coming of age today in America. Faced at every turn with condescending, fixed assumptions about his 'proper' role in his community and culture, the speaker faces each indictment with a stunning and searing intelligence. Each powerful testimony in this collection stands as evidence of an eloquent and dramatic new voice in American poetry."
--David St. John
"In Douglas Manuel's Testify the act of witnessing is by turns burdensome and bittersweet, narrative and lyrical, ecstatic and irreverent. Here the holy words are the ones that offer no easy epiphanies yet grant us dazzling, off-kilter compassion and a strange, surprising grace. These potent poems testify to those ambivalent moments that might rend or right us, as when an interracial couple drive past a truck with a Confederate flag painted on its back windshield and from which a little boy turns to smile and wave: his 'blond hair // split down the middle like a Bible / left open to the Book of Psalms.'"
--Anna Journey, author of The Atheist Wore Goat Silk
A book of elegiac ambivalence, Testify's speaker often finds himself trapped between received binaries: black and white, ghetto and suburban, atheism and Catholicism. In many ways, this work is a Bildungsroman detailing the maturation of a black man raised in the crack-laden 1980s, with hip-hop, jazz, and blues as its soundtrack. Rendered with keen attention to the economic decline of the Midwest due to the departure of the automotive industry, this book portrays the speaker wrestling with his city's demise, family relationships, interracial love, and notions of black masculinity. Never letting anyone, including the speaker, off the hook, Testify refuses sentimentality and didacticism and dwells in a space of uncertainty, where meaning and identity are messy, complicated, and multivalent.
Douglas Manuel was born in Anderson, Indiana and now resides in Whittier, California. He received a BA in Creative Writing from Arizona State University, an MFA in poetry from Butler University, and a PhD in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Southern California. He is the author of two collections of poetry, Testify (2017) and Trouble Funk (2023). His poems and essays can be found in numerous literary journals, magazines, and websites, most recently Zyzzyva, Pleiades, and the New Orleans Review. He has traveled to Egypt and Eritrea with The University of Iowa's International Writing Program to teach poetry. A recipient of the Dana Gioia Poetry Award and a fellowship from the Borchard Foundation Center on Literary Arts, he is an assistant professor of English at Whittier College and teaches at Spalding University’s low-res MFA program.
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