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Living by Troubled Waters by Roy McFarlane

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Living by Troubled Waters is the third poetry collection by Roy McFarlane – an extraordinary, uncompromising book exploring slavery, colonialism, and the continued tragedies visited upon Black bodies whilst these legacies remain unresolved. In his close examination of the horror of racialised violence, McFarlane examines how the strong currents of the past and present flow side by side. His poems ask us to think about the Black Mediterranean of today as much as we do about the Windrush scandal and the aftershocks of trans-Atlantic slavery, where Black people are still imprisoned, enslaved and drowned as they flee persecution and poverty.


Living by Troubled Waters is innovative, formally experimental and far ranging in scope; erasure & inclusion (to make known) poems interweave and speak to the wider body of the collection. In his use of archival documents as a space for activism and linguistic intervention, McFarlane writes back into history, reclaiming voices and reshaping narratives. His poems also draw strength from themes of place and displacement, social justice, Black motherhood, family, art - and from the power of poetry itself as a witness to troubled times. 

Praise for Living by Troubled Waters:

“In the spirit of Marley’s call for us to ‘chant down Babylon’, which is a declaration of the power of song to bring about change, Roy offers Living by Troubled Waters. Roy’s poetry has always been about history and liturgy, outrage and melody, meditation and agitation wrapped up in careful metrics of love. This collection, his strongest so far, expands the territory of what counts for a poem to include ideas about the holy that hark back to the Bible and Blake, and forwards into the politics of Garvey. His sense of the UK’s black heritage and his insistence that it must be recognized power his sonorous poems. If there is a seer in current poetics, someone who stands before an audience that shouts, ‘preach’ and that person delivers passionate compositions that cry for justice and champion the disenfranchised, destroyed and silenced, then surely, our best candidate is Roy. You can hear his conviction in these poems and feel him too; his intuitive intelligence for the telling image, line and phrase. Also, Marley challenged us to ‘emancipate yourselves from mental slavery’ and Roy’s poems provide mechanisms aligned with the nerves and blood and brain to achieve just such a freeing up of consciousness, an uplift of spirit and a deepening of our overstanding of these troubled times. Roy is to be celebrated and congratulated for Living by Troubled Waters is a must-read. “ - Fred D’Aguiar

"Roy McFarlane has written a book of sagaciously interwoven poetry. It is a work of great cultural significance, layered with striking elements of visceral disruption and moments of intimate tenderness. Living by Troubled Waters contains many historical references that relate to the present day, putting themes such as race, relationships, identity, womanhood and masculinity front and centre. Passionately and intelligently written, this collection is an incredible piece of work." - Kat François

“If God is a Black woman, Roy McFarlane’s poems know it. Steeped in the divine light of Black womanhood, the core of this third collection pulses with a ferocious, feminist radiance. Behold the poet building his house of language on altars to the dispossessed, the underserved, the marginalised, the survivors of empire: you cannot quit such radical urgency. You cannot tune McFarlane’s lyrical anguish or adoration out of your system: it lingers in the blood, like soul music, like good Jamaican Sunday lunch. Living by Troubled Waters forgets no-one and absolves white fragility of nothing. These are rallying odes to Windrush veterans, paeans against the trivialisation of Black women’s medical trauma, Molotov cocktails for the systemic racism trampling the throats of a thousand George Floyds: read them to see how they reverberate with pain, how they linger in the skull with flames of such victorious self-possession.” – Shivanee Ramlochan


“Roy McFarlane has created one of the most affecting and original explorations of race in modern times. Erasure, redaction, and revelation of those past and present who have experienced prejudice, inequality and white darkness is at the heart of this collection.” – Antony Owen

Nine Arches Press



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