In the Hands of the River

“speaks to the complexities and trials of life in a part of West Virginia that is too often overlooked or written off”
The Washington Post Book World

“memorable imagery […] lush sounds and incredible emotional precision”
Electric Literature

Runner-Up for the Weatherford Award, Appalachian Studies Association

Best Poetry Collections of 2022, Electric Literature

Best Southern Books of September 2022, Southern Review of Books

2022 Featured Fall Books, Academy of American Poets

“What can we do but seek nectar where it blooms,” whispers the porous and questioning speaker of In the Hands of the River. In these haunting, layered poems, Lucien Darjeun Meadows affirms the interconnection of human and environmental identity. With delicate precision, In the Hands of the River subverts traditional poetic forms to show how a childhood for a queer boy of both Cherokee and European heritage happens within and outside dominant narratives of Appalachia.

This debut collection weaves ancestral and personal threads of trauma, reclamation, and survival into a multi-generational and multi-species tapestry that reaches from the distant stars visible in an Appalachian holler to the curl of a clover stem and the touch of the beloved, here and now. Moving across time, yet always grounded in place, these poems address the West Virginian landscape, both in exaltation and extraction, balanced with poems about the speaker’s own body, and emergent sense of queer identity, as “a boy made of shards.”

Release Date: September 13, 2022
Cover Art: Jeannie Hutchins


Hub City Press


Barnes & Noble



“Meadows employs poetry to queer time, space, and perspective to tell a coming-of-age story that spans generations and experiential planes. [… These] poems articulate the relationships between body, ancestry, and environment, and how these relationships are simultaneously symbiotic and symmetrical. What happens in the river, the river remembers; what we give to the river in one generation, the river will transmute into another. […] The now of the poem is also the past, is also the memory, is also the now of the now.”
—Sara Slingerland Sheiner, Atticus Review

“[These poems] are flexible and graceful, full of desire, starvation, and imagination. They edge warily around catharsis, centering instead images of the fleeting moment and the senses alive within it. In this tender, prismatic debut, the voice of a lost child searches the force and stasis of his love for his mother, father, sister, and lover, always—and this is why the child is still with us—allowing it to move through him, to take him where it will, like the living force it is.”
—Anna Laura Reeve, The Red Branch Review

In his beautiful collection, In the Hands of the River, Lucien Darjeun Meadows examines the wildness and the wilderness of an Appalachian childhood. Here, landscape is ever-present and constantly on the cusp of change—mountains become scars, insect examinations become executions, and homes are one rain away from gone. His loosened sonnets grow in the woods rather than the garden and strain against the tamed version of the form. His stanza stagger away from the edge with a third that brings us and all our songs to the river.” 
—Traci Brimhall, author of Come the Slumberless to the Land of Nod

In the Hands of the River is a stunning and harrowing debut collection. With exquisite attention, Lucien Darjeun Meadows draws us deeply into an Appalachian landscape where ‘mountains rub their shoulders blue / With horizon and a father’s scent is an ‘open parenthesis of ginseng and smoke.’ These poems are so vivid and unflinching, and so richly intertwined with the elements. I felt the title’s promise at every turn: held by the river of Meadows’ language, carried into music and truth, carving a way toward ‘the thrill of light.'” 
—Chloe Honum, author of The Lantern Room

“Nestled in the hollers of Appalachia, Lucien Darjeun Meadows’ poems serve both as an ode and an elegy to the place of his upbringing. The poems of In the Hands of the River center on the body through which this landscape—and the stories of those who inhabit it—passes through. I admire this book for its unflinching, aching look at the intersection of queerness and Appalachia, for its complicated portrait of an absent father and a son’s self-demolition, for its attention to the beauty tucked within brutality. In the Hands of the River is an important, stunning debut.” 
—Jacques J. Rancourt, author of Brocken Spectre

“Singing deep and clear from the hollers of Appalachia, Lucien Darjeun Meadows offers us an extraordinary debut. The poet speaks at once from the interiors and the precipices of home, of heritage, of body and land, inhabiting both the lip of the well and its source. Each poem, each line, vines this book into a coming-of-age opus that is vivid and lush, fierce and arresting, luminous with wonder and heartbreak.” 
—Jennifer Elise Foerster, author of The Maybe-Bird

“What an astonishing debut Lucien Darjeun Meadows has given readers with In the Hands of the River. This collection of poems, with its singular clarity and incisive imagery, documents all manner of beauty despite a life of terror and deprivation. In these poems, West Virginia is a land of natural wonder and terrifying need, where fear scars the land and its people. But Meadows avoids all the cliches about generational poverty in language that soars and drifts, rising like a prayer over this speaker’s ever-shifting youth. Meadows loves language, loves song, and loves the hard difficulties of a life lived on the margins, as one who looks at the river and finds in it the salvation needed to witness all this fierce Appalachian beauty.” 
—Allison Joseph, author of Confessions of a Barefaced Woman