Book Review: Kindra M. Austin’s Twelve, by Mariah Voutilainen

Kindra Austin’s Twelve continues where Constant Muses left off, rich and intense.

By Mariah Voutilainen

After having read Constant Muses, I eagerly awaited the release of Kindra Austin’s Twelve.  I expected more of the imagery of Muses, with its cigarette smoke and endless cocktails.  While those common threads are there, Twelve favors the much more potent darkness of decay and memento mori.  In Twelve, Austin further exposes the connection between the corporeal and spiritual that she began to explore in Muses, through an emotional dissection of the year of grieving on her mother’s death.  And I felt it was a grieving ‘on’, not ‘over’:  she rests upon each painful moment of remembrance and exposes it to us fully, unapologetically.  It is that straightforward voice, plainly truthful, that compelled my own visceral response—and while I cannot fully describe in words how I felt, I do know that I was hit hard.  Austin forced me to look on the truth of death and how it can rip, how it can physically fragment those left behind.

Make me a whole person,” she writes in “An Emotionless Affair,” referring to the cracked-open ribs, bleeding hearts, vomit-stained sheets, bile and pus, immolated bones and disembodied flesh of the other poetry in the collection.  No therapy can put together what death has rent.  Still, Austin knows she can find a semblance of whole-ness in the act of writing, even as she despairs the loss of her mother-muse: “Who am I, if not a writer?” she asks rhetorically, in the poem “Your Absence is a Burglar.”  “Mother what am I supposed to do?  I’m so fucking tired of writing about you./But who am I, if not a writer?”

“Anyway, Always,” demonstrates the exorcistic role writing plays in Austin’s processing of death and steps toward healing:

Mother mine, I know your truths; yours are mine,

and I will defend them,

always.

I will make your ghosts and mine scream in terror.

Austin is her mother’s champion, but there is another who champions Austin.  She prefaces her work: “But dark as my days have been, there is one who keeps me tethered to the light…”  There are bright moments among the desperate ones.  These are found in “For My Truest of Loves,” “You Remind Me,” and the nuptial “Wedding Poem” all of which celebrate her own treasured daughter.  On many levels, dark and light, I saw the redemptive qualities of the fierce love between mother and daughter.

This book has overwhelmed me, it has slayed me with its truths.  Those were the thoughts that came to mind after consuming her book.  I don’t use the word “consume” lightly:  I ruminated as I read; her thoughts were nourishment for that part of me that ponders death.  Yet I felt as if my heart had been splayed open:  I didn’t know if I should cry, or just bear witness.  I admired and wondered yet again at Austin’s willingness to reveal herself, her assuredness that her readers would catch those emotions and cradle them.  That we could hold space for them, keep them safe, disperse them or preserve them.

Twelve is available on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.


Mariah Voutilainen, co-editor at Indie Blu(e), writes poetry and prose about all manner of things at www.reimaginingthemundane.wordpress.com.

Book Review: Eric Syrdal’s Pantheon, by Mariah Voutilainen

Eric Syrdal’s Pantheon takes readers on an epic journey through time, space and emotion

By Mariah Voutilainen

As a keen reader of sci-fi and fantasy novels, I was very impressed by Eric Syrdal’s Pantheon.  For me, the title alone recalled deities of myth, promised encounters with larger-than-life heroes, and set up an expectation of sweeping verse.  Syrdal, a self-proclaimed romantic and sci-fi and fantasy enthusiast, does not disappoint:  He deftly weaves a tale of adventure, his protagonists crossing paths with virtuous Goddesses, who coax them toward their destinies.

As I read the first section, I worried that Pantheon was a little too heavy on the usual themes of fantasy and fairy tale:  Warhorses champing at the bit, armored fighters, swords at the ready, the proverbial dragon looming over the embattled heroic Poet.  Despite this, I continued on and was glad I did, for Syrdal quickly demonstrates that his story stands apart from and above the typical.  With Courage and the Queen of Hearts at his side, and Hope, Grace, Mercy, Karma and Fate in the shadows, the Poet must make a pivotal decision.  His choice at that critical moment is masterfully mirrored in the subsequent sections of the book, and I marveled time and again at the way Syrdal coherently connected his multiple story lines, the seams necessarily apparent but still flawless.

Soon enough I saw and admired the Poet for what he was: a part of the human soul that comprehends the complicated relationship between suffering and joy; perhaps he is a reflection of Syrdal himself?  I cheered on the heroine, who takes the form of a talented cellist struggling with depression, an AI computer system designed to keep a deep-space traveler alive, the immortal and vengeful Daughter of the Phoenix.  In every incarnation, she engages in a struggle with fear and desire to realize her role in the workings of the universe.

I began to anticipate the arrival of the Goddesses, to appreciate their place in Syrdal’s cosmos, which spans time and space and delves deep into the human soul.   My three favorite sections of the volume, “Amor Vincit Omnia,” “Time and Again,” and “Lightspeed” occupy these dimensions beautifully.    “Amor Vincit Omnia,” the kernel of the novel, takes us to the mythical halls of the Goddesses and their sister-liege the Queen of Hearts, but also paints the earthly encounters between Fate and her most admired hero.  There is the presentation of the age-old question, “Love Conquers All/Is that phrase true?” The answer is given through the rendering of Fate’s essence.  Syrdal refines that essence and extracts it via her interactions with the Queen of Hearts:

When the talk

moved back to

the importance of

her duty

her resolve shattered

into a million teardrops

of pain

And this pain is multiplied within “Time and Again,” as the Poet is jettisoned from existence to existence, just so that he can fulfill a freeing, but horrifically soul-crushing directive.  At the culmination of each experience, he pleads with Mercy.  The reverberations of her pitying refrain “Not today, Love,” are heard as well in “Lightspeed,” a space operetta in which time and the chasm between human and artificial intelligence are, paradoxically, the hindrances to and the impetuses for love’s expression.

Ever wary of revealing an ending, I will still give you this:  Pantheon finishes as epically as it began.  All along, the Queen of Hearts and her sisters have artfully molded their heroes’ journeys, bringing them back to central truths about life and love.  Should you read this book (and you should!), I trust that the imagery of that final section will be long lasting in your mind, along with a sense of awe at Syrdal’s beautifully written verse and sense of literary craftsmanship.

 

Pantheon, produced by Sudden Denouement Publishing, is available from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in paperback and Kindle formats.


Mariah Voutilainen is an aspiring writer who enjoys reading sci-fi/fantasy, flash fiction, and poetry of the medium-dark and romantic varieties.  She marvels at the beauty of everyday life in the Pacific Northwest.  Her ruminations on all manner of things can be found on her blog, (re)imagining the mundane.

Book Review: Kindra M. Austin’s For You, Rowena, by Mariah Voutilainen

Kindra Austin’s For You, Rowena uncovers a mystery about love and relationships, and how loss can come back to haunt you.

By Mariah Voutilainen

Given a choice of literary genres, mystery is never my first to pick up.  Perhaps it is the constant and nagging question in the back of my mind: “How did the author create such a puzzle that I can’t immediately solve?”  The details, perfectly interlocking, lead to an ending that is usually satisfying, but leaves me somehow disappointed with my own inability to catch the culprit before the final chapter, or worse, obsessing about tiny clues in an attempt to solve the crime.  For You, Rowena was a different type of mystery for me:  I didn’t wonder so much at the intricacies of how a crime was planned or carried out; Kindra Austin set the scene and created characters so fascinating and sympathetic that the only question in my mind was “How did it come to this, and how will it end?”  This book goes beyond the machinations of an interesting mystery; it is a stirring exploration of human behavior.

Austin excels at character development through the course of the novella; the titular character, her lovers, and supporting players change very believably, very humanly.  This is especially true of Rowena.  I found her completely unlikeable from first mention; yet as I learned more about her, I grew to understand her attitude of seeming detachment and aloofness, to look beyond the words coming from her mouth and see the revelation of her true character through the actions she takes.

Mara, Lucas and Adrian, Rowena’s friends and lovers, are equally fascinating and surprising in their strange love for a woman whose idiosyncrasies and (at times) warring attitudes simultaneously repel and attract them.  Caught in the gravity of Rowena’s sun, their orbits are elliptical, closer and farther at times, but always revolving around her.  At times, I wished I could enter into the intrigue myself—to step for a moment into Mara’s slippers, or perhaps be a fly on the wall.  Either way, I was equally pulled into Rowena’s circle.

To delve deeper into the novella for this review would require revealing the storyline and its marvelous twists and turns, so I will refrain from spoiling your read.  Austin’s novella, much like her poetry, is full of the imagery of smoky rooms and cocktail kisses, dark evenings and secretive places.  The story of crime was artfully entwined with emotional and romantic loss that touched the deeper spaces of my heart.  Ultimately it left me with a buzz of satisfaction, and the surprise that my detective intuition was not far off.

For You, Rowena, is available on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.


Mariah Voutilainen, co-editor at Indie Blu(e), writes poetry and prose about all manner of things at www.reimaginingthemundane.wordpress.com.

Book Review: Christine Ray’s Composition of a Woman, by Mariah Voutilainen

Christine E. Ray’s Composition of a Woman invites readers to see what a woman is truly made of

By: Mariah Voutilainen

“Betrayal is an inside job” writes poet Christine E. Ray in her debut Composition of a Woman, which will be released July 31st by Sudden Denouement Press.   Ray, who unabashedly displays her “inner badass” on her blog Brave & Reckless, is no new-comer to the indie writing scene.  Careful contemplation went into the organization and creation of this volume, and as such, it speaks to Ray’s decades of experience in writing, years spent editing in the Sudden Denouement Literary Collective, and curating in the writer collectives she helped to found, Go Dog Go Café and Indie Blu(e).  In poems strung together like delicate bones, Ray has crafted a personal story that sometimes hinges on the idea of betrayal, but also on the inner strength of a woman finding love even as she has found loss, finding her voice in spite of being told she is less than.  The trajectory follows an atlas of human form, from nerve to blood, in which she describes a relationship to her body, to her thoughts, to her womanhood, to her writer’s existence.  I was taken in (admittedly in part by my own fondness for the poetics of muscle and bone) from the first poem, by words and phrasing that hang on themselves gracefully in their simplicity while conveying a multitude of emotions.

The imperative of a poet is often to unveil some hidden kernel of human nature or experience and attempt to imbue it with feelings that are difficult to translate into words.  To be an interpreter whose words reassure the readers that every experience is exquisitely unique and yet relatable.  In this, Ray succeeds, especially in the sections “Nerve” and “Blood”.

“Nerve” shows us the confusion, frustration and uncertainty of strange physical symptoms and the process of medical diagnosis.  Ray explores such subject matter with an underlying layer of humor, good-natured exasperation at the disloyalty of hips that creak and mouths that swear to reveal hidden pain.  In the poem “My Right Foot,” she informs us that “my right foot went on strike/declaring that unsafe working conditions…/made continuing unacceptable”.  The body eventually cooperates, even if petulantly, but most certainly amusingly: “my right foot…sulked the rest of the way home/damn ungrateful foot.”

And in “Blood,” Ray openly and strongly addresses society’s expectations of girls and women.  Although her poems draw from common characterizations of women like sugar and spice, the Virgin, the Mother, the Crone, and Lilith, they are still fresh through her voice.  In “Stepping off the Spiral Path” Ray declares “I reject the title crone…I refuse the mantle/of invisibility…I choose instead my naked soul”.  The extraction of this soul through words in “Lost Voice” requires the revelation of a “…truth so deeply hidden/that you must dive inside/hand to elbow buried into slippery entrails/to reach it”.

As I read Composition of a Woman I marveled at Ray’s ability to strike at the most tender of places in such an unassuming way.  True, there are many moments in which her voice roars, but as she brought the book to a close, I was left with a quiet simmering warmth.  It is this warmth that moved me throughout; traversing “Nerve” and “Brain” and “Breast” and “Rib” to finally settle in “Blood”.  Just as poetry is more than just words on a page, more than the sum of its well-placed allusions or expertly crafted metaphors, so too is a woman more than just the body she lives in.  In this book, Ray demonstrates just how much more.

Composition of a Woman is available at Amazon.com, Amazon.ca (Canada), Amazon Australia, Amazon Europe ( Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.de, Amazon.fr, Amazon.it, and Amazon.es,) as well as other major retailers.


Mariah Voutilainen, co-editor at Indie Blu(e), writes poetry and prose about all manner of things at http://www.reimaginingthemundane.wordpress.com.

Book Review: Kindra M. Austin’s Constant Muses, by Mariah Voutilainen

Kindra M. Austin’s Constant Muses is a eulogy, a message of comfort and a warrior cry

By:  Mariah Voutilainen

Upon opening Kindra M. Austin’s Constant Muses, I was immediately taken with the  noir-y feel of her poetry.  As Austin’s opening piece suggests, it is “eternally October” in the world that she paints with her rich verse.  Skies are heavy with the weight of autumnal storms, the air thick with cigarettes, tongues dipped in bittersweet alcohol.  Within this October specters lurk: female warriors, a mother with many faces, preserved memories.  It is a séance in which the past is called up to hold hands with the present.

Austin’s verse is brimming with clever language that indicates her command of poetic device as well as quirky turns of phrase.  In some poems the voices conversate; they speak truth through their easy-going innits, sammiches and lookits. In others, o’ers, ‘rounds, ‘tils and romantic description reflect a more formal poetic language.  Throughout, she uses rhythmic and aurally pleasing vocabulary liberally.  This facility with words is a talent that allows Austin to capture her various moods beautifully, and in a manner that can be comforting, melancholy, or disquieting.

The macabre featured in many of her poems shocked me momentarily, but then I came to appreciate the references to blood and teeth (“Regretful Revenge”), viscera bloated with memories (“Bellyful”), the consumption of physical bodies to hold on to the spirits within them (“Garden”), as part of a bigger message of the corporeal tie to the internal and spiritual.  In contrast to that graphic imagery, exasperation predictably oozes from her poems critiquing society; in them she calmly eviscerates the hypocrisy she observes (“Revolution” and “It’s Awful, Isn’t it?”).

One of my favorite poems in the collection is “I Need New Cleaning Supplies.”  Within this short piece I found an exquisite sadness and frustration that is echoed throughout the book:

I sweep you away with my broom, and
wipe the walls clean with bleach.
But recollection
invites re-collection.
You are the dust collected in my corridors.

Anchoring threads are beautifully woven through the collection:  Gin and tonics, menthol ciggies, mothers and daughters.  October and 1987 also appear several times; I wished I could send Austin a note, asking about their importance.  And then I read the prose, discovering that it might have been worthwhile to begin with the memoirs and diary, which shed light on the significance of alcohol and cigarettes, both references to and constant reminders of her mother.  She follows personal memoir with flash fiction; the former details her struggle with a life-changing decision about motherhood, while the latter pulls us into a world of black humor, revenge fantasies and suicide-inducing depression.

The final section of the book, a diary of the month following Austin’s mother’s death, takes us on her journey of mourning.  She is in conversation with her mother throughout, recounting even the smallest details of the funeral preparation with irony: “Funny, I can imagine having a conversation with you, Mom, about the need for funeral luncheon supply stores.  You always did get my humor, and I can hear you laughing at my ranting.”  Austin’s honest delivery and willingness to reveal her complex feelings, from distress and guilt to love and forgiveness, is generous and brave.  It is this bravery and generosity that led me to re-read this book several times, peeling back layers to reveal the sources of such wonderfully emotional writing.

Constant Muses is available for purchase on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk, in paperback and Kindle formats.


Mariah Voutilainen is an aspiring American writer who waxes mostly poetic in Southern Finland.  A former teacher and current stay-at-home-parent, she enjoys reading sci-fi/fantasy, flash fiction, and poetry of the medium-dark and romantic varieties.  Daily ruminations on all manner of things can be found on her blog, (re)imagining the mundane.