Nicole Lyons’ Review of Kindra M. Austin’s Heavy Mental — March 11, 2020

Nicole Lyons’ Review of Kindra M. Austin’s Heavy Mental

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Within the pages of Heavy Mental, Kindra Austin lies, and she lays her heart out for all of the world to feast. And feast, we do, on this, the pinnacle of her soul’s work.

To say that Heavy Mental has catapulted Austin and her work into the same literary sphere as Plath or Cohen or Atwood is as true as the sky above and our souls below. And I, a ride or die fan from the get-go, am both excited and afraid to see what she will publish next. Because in all reality, if I were to take my last breath in the morning, Heavy Mental is the perfect literary swan song for me to go out on, with my only wish being that I had written something as brave, as ugly, and as beautifully honest myself. I don’t know how she’ll ever top this one.

Heavy Mental is a lifetime of hurt and hope. It is unconditional love given wholeheartedly under the strictest conditions. It’s a child grieving and a mother coping when death and drink and every ugly aspect of our lives pull up a chair to join us at dinner. Heavy Mental is depression and addiction, the unending cycle of it, the tide of it, the winds of it, the elements of all of it that erode the foundation of families and filter inside the smallest souls. Heavy Mental is grief and acceptance, love and devotion, anger and fear, and Kindra Austin writes all of it absolutely fucking spectacularly.

In Heavy Mental we take Austin’s hand and wade into her world of unconditional love and soul crushing sorrow, and just when we think we can’t take anymore, Austin tightens her grip and pulls us in to the deep end.

With surgical precision, Austin carves her truth into our hearts. Her wordplay is steeping in irony and glorious in wit, even when it’s quiet and contemplative in nature. And I think that’s part of her gift – the silent punch of it all. Heavy Mental is a memoir birthed in love and delivered in honesty, and everything about the book is perfection.

Austin does not mince words. She doesn’t write to stun, or to shock, or to please anyone. She writes only to tell her story, and shed the weight of it all, and in doing so, in shrugging off any attempt to pander to readers, she has written something so extraordinarily beautiful and breathtakingly honest that I’m not even sure she knows what she has done.

Heavy Mental is not only one of the best collections I have read this season, I’d wager it’s probably one of the best collections I’ve read, ever. Kindra M. Austin is most definitely a writer to watch out for, and Heavy Mental is by far the book to grab this year.

—Nicole Lyons, The Lithium Chronicles I & II


Heavy Mental releases in March 2020. Stay tuned…

Editor’s Note: Nicole Lyons and The Lithium Chronicles Volume II — December 18, 2019

Editor’s Note: Nicole Lyons and The Lithium Chronicles Volume II

Editor’s Note

 

Raw. Fierce. Brave. Brazen. Honest. These words are often (and accurately) used to describe Nicole Lyons’ writing. I’ve also seen her called a crazy bitch; the real burn is that Nicole lives so much inside her truths, she’s able to say, “Yes. I am a crazy bitch.” One of the things I admire most about my lioness is that she never allows naysayers to hold power over her. Nicole takes what is meant to be derogatory and makes it into a crown. Bipolar Affective Disorder, however, doesn’t genuflect before her; BAD is always seeking to usurp the reign she has over herself.

Working so closely with Nicole on the Lithium Chronicles has shown me facets of her being that I’ve never before seen through my friendship eyes; to be her editor is a fascinating position. Nicole neither appreciates nor responds to placation the way some other writers do. Trying to help her through a crisis of confidence sometimes triggers my own anxiety because I want so desperately to make sense of her mind—I want to say brilliant mind, but Nicole would only tell me to shut up. That’s the thing about my lioness—she’s unpretentious. In this, the second volume of The Lithium Chronicles, Nicole is a speeding train in which we are the passengers. By the end of this exhilarating journey, we will have seen the things that have made her into a humble woman, and we will respect her all the more.

 

—Kindra M. Austin, co-founder of Indie Blu(e) Publishing


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Candice Louisa Daquin Reviews Nicole Lyons’ The Lithium Chronicles Vol. II —

Candice Louisa Daquin Reviews Nicole Lyons’ The Lithium Chronicles Vol. II

The Lithium Chronicles Volume ll.

What happens to a writer who began to write to make sense of life, as she evolves as a human-being? Does she stay the same? Does her writing change? Add to this, the liquid mercury of emotions that push and pull that writer in myriad directions. How does this reflect upon her, the human? And how does that translate into output? In Burn The Pages, I Dare You, we see Lyons at her best, using emblematic bleeding wordage that outlasts the moment and sears into our brains; “They burn those women into memories, / inside barrels, and outside of libraries. / They write stories about / women like her, the kind / of women in the kind / of stories that make the driest / bones wet and the holiest knees bleed.” Is it any wonder she had literally forged her own fierce brand of warrior chant?

Nicole Lyons can go months where there’s nothing to throw her off-kilter and then, seemingly in that quietude, a raging flashflood comes out of nowhere and she’s upended. She has never had the surety of emotions many take for granted, maybe this is why bipolar writers captivate the rest of the ordinary world, because they are anything but and they’ve had to carry an immense weight their entire lives which can translate into extraordinary creativity. “It is a difficult thing, / the knowing and the not, / and the weight of carrying it all.” (Hard Love).

In God Damn If I Haven’t Learned, Lyon’s posits the question; whether through everything she’s experienced, she’s closer to real understanding. Lyons is a heady mix of self-deprecation and fierce survivalist spunk, she’s got courage and guts and at the same time can sell herself hideously short, this comes out in her poetry and it’s what makes her deeply human. If she were solely an egotist, we’d loathe her, if she were a coward, we couldn’t get behind her. In many ways she’s both, that’s the mercury, the madness and the smooth method of her. The irony of living being, despite it all, we still don’t really learn our lessons, we’re just after all, ragged, imperfect humans. “I fight a war within myself / that I am certain will leave me / with casualties.” (This War).

It is this hypnotic brand of flawed, imperfectness that captivates us most of all. Who would really sit with Lyons if she had all her shit together? Would we find her as fascinating? As compelling, if she knew the answers to everything? Like a best friend, we want Lyons to understand and translate our own fucked-up shit. We want her to be the big sister who can give us sage advice and then party hard with us, but ultimately not have the answers to everything. It’s what makes her real, makes her vulnerable, and likable. That access to the howling inside her, where we don’t just know the pretty surface stuff, but the demons and the hauntings too.

Lyons work distinguishes itself from others of her ilk by her intelligence and depth. I found that out the first time I read more than her shorter memes, widely circulating most social media. She’s actually a damn fine writer, of substance, and it’s the depths of her I find myself returning to far more than the clever one liners. That said, she’s got those too, and they’re wicked smart; “Exhaustion, the kind prescribed by psychiatrists, had found a way inside of me.” (Oblivion). What hangs a powerful piece is the gravitas behind the one liner, you almost need both to succeed. Lyons says one thing but it has an entire book worth of meaning behind it. For every one of us who has seen a psychiatrist and finds medication stealing our truest selves, we can relate to the simplicity of Lyons acute observations.

If you ever wanted to know what it was like to be labeled crazy, to wonder if you were, to feel it sometimes, and to know deep down you were as sane as anyone else, then The Lithium Chronicles ll will lend you the insight necessary to glimpse into that world. You may think in terms of stereotypes, One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest kind of ideas of what mental illness feels like, but there is nothing quite like reading the raw words, the quiet observations of someone who has gone through the system, survived it and can look back on it with a degree of distance.  Perhaps for some of us that is a morbid voyeuristic taint on our behalf, whilst for others, it’s attempting to understand what someone we loved endured or went through. The value of understanding cannot be diminished, even now, even in nearly 2020 we don’t give nearly enough credence to mental health or the experiences of those going through a largely unregulated system where individuals are truly at the mercy of the medicine machine.

Poems like Fine On The Outside expose the innards of what it is like to suffer with mental torment and yet, still be able to function and appear well. Nobody to talk to, nobody realizing how bad it can get. Lyons writing in this poem is a fine example of how her use of colors, small observations, concise and well grafted word-play, enable her as a poet to describe two things simultaneously; the emotion and the physical expression of the emotion as acted out in say, a yellow table, with a smoky mountain in the background, and crows in her trees. Those kinds of metaphors and images stay. They linger in your mind long after reading, because of the power their grafting into emotions creates. This is poetry at its finest, this is the kind of poetry people remember and quote to one another.

Then there’s just damn irresistible solid writing, the kind of writing capable of elevating an author above nearly all others, despite the competition;  “I don’t think you want to know me / like you say you do / I don’t think you want to know how /  my hips ache with the weight / of women crumbling / under angry men / and bridges painted whiter/  than any Holy Spirit / asked them to be.” (Karaoke Blues). Poems like this, they remind us why Lyons is forerunner in the poetry world, why her work is Tweeted by Canada (the country) and consistently used as tattoos and motivational prints on people’s walls, why essentially Lyons is indelible. That’s exactly what she is, impossible to forget or rub off. She stays. Her worth is insistent and permanent.

Before I read Lyons, I was a fan of longer poetry, and Lyons can write some amazing longer pieces, more than proving her worth at any poetic form. But as anyone familiar with Lyons range will attest, some of her best work is in the briefness of her statement, how she’s uncannily capable of saying so much with so little. It takes a certain sharp mind to achieve this, to let it sink in with just a few lines. You have to be absolutely fearless, able to speak your truth, and not hold back, and in this emptying, you achieve a purity few people have the guts to offer.

There’s a visceral raw energy to Lyons work that speaks of magic, nature, humanity and suffering as well as always, hope and beauty. The gift of grafting both extremes may come from her battle with light and darkness. She is a woman who cannot do things in halves. She must either burn out entirely or not at all. There is no fade in this poet, she’s not middling, if you see the trees alight, it’s she who’s torched the forest. And I appreciate deeply the resonance with the natural world and its interweaving with emotions and life, that ties them all together in a way that makes a profound sense. “You wash your sheets / and the guilt from your cock, / you wipe the walls / and your mouth / and drop a clean kiss / on top of the shame / you left at your door.” (The Savage Bits). When a writer is capable of opening her cavities and extracting that kind of electric, pulsating resonance, it’s bigger than mere words, it becomes a testimony.

One might argue there are no boundaries to writing like this, it is completely unapologetic and exposed. But Lyons has the craft of a true writer, she knows how much to say and when to stop, she knows what to reveal and what not to, if you think you’ll know all of her by her writing, you never will. She’s sprinting ahead of us, outpacing our shallow labels, because as well as being able to be out of control she’s very much a creature who has had to understand the nature of control and how to survive. You may think you have her number but she’s already left you behind. That’s because her understanding has been forced from the extremity of her experience and perpetual battle with emotions that many would be drowned by.

Some have likened Lyons to a female Bukowski but I think that’s minimizing her reach; “I am a whore, and I know I am / because I was given that label / by an angry man after I shared / his time and gulped at a sixteen / dollar shot while we laughed.” (WHORE). The important distinction being, Bukowski was a nihilist who thought only of himself and didn’t care whom he ruined in his pursuit of the graphic viscera of life. Talented undoubtedly, his persona was rotten to the core, reflecting his true nature. Lyons may argue she’s no different but I would dispute that. Lyons is a mother, a wife, she’s a friend, a champion, she cares, if you ask her to help you, she will, does that seem like the selfish nihilism of Bukowski? Isn’t it possible, Bukowski took the easy road, parodying with good verbiage, the madness induced in a bottle, whilst Lyons reflects her own battle with darkness, and retains that essential humanity despite it? I know who I’d admire more.

So when we read the surface humor and horror of whoredom, blow-jobs, the seeming pit of despair, we need also to pay attention to the salvation within the little observations, the tender moments woven throughout, that speak of her family, her love for things, her nimble ability to endure and not lose that tender part of her she likes to pretend doesn’t exist. How else could Lyons unravel with such insight, the duplicity of this world, the vanity and the absurdity, and reflect it back to us with an intelligence that belies the idea she’s just a spinning top without connection. She’s very much connected, her womanhood, her femininity, the very core of her, fuses with the natural world and lends her a strength no bottle swilling vagabond can truly attest to.

When I talk of Lyons dexterity with deeper understanding, this comes from her observations, a life time spent watching the outcomes of her own and then others, has attuned her to the minutia and enabled her to consider inside out, what we take for granted; “Perhaps beauty swirls / in the bowl, / mingling with bile / retched out in shame.” (Hiding Beauty). Surely a poet able to wrestle truth from every stereotype is one worth holding onto. For so much in our world is the cliché, the over-used hackneyed phrase. Lyons is a cut above that kind of generalization, perhaps because she knows what its like to be judged herself, she’s the last person to hurl an unwarranted judgement but she’ll not shy away from saying it as it is. Perhaps if she had a typical fat ego, she’d been less approachable, more predictable, maybe she wouldn’t know how to wield magic and make us gape at her insights.

In I Have Fallen, Lyons says; “I have died one hundred deaths / to appease doctors, / and family, and friends, / and I did it all / in the name of sanity.” This is one of many examples where Lyons uncannily hones in on the truth behind diagnosis, illness, judgement, pursuit of perfection. She’s not a cookie cutter idealist seeking 10/10 she’s never had that luxury. Survival is nothing to take for granted when you don’t know how you will feel the next day, the next hour, the next minute. The pursuit of ‘sanity’ as per the medical industry is a subject few elucidate on, almost a dirty little secret. Perhaps by shining a light on the absurdity of such a request, Lyons demonstrates that survival is underappreciated and we’re all buying into a false bill of goods.

Finally, there are poems like To My Best Friend, On the Day Of Her Death, which, if I say anything about them, I would do an injustice. Equally, poems like The Value of a Beautiful Heart, remind me again, that comparing a female poet to a male poet, comparing a like with like or a kind with kind, is an injustice also. Lyons is greater than Bukowski or Baudelaire or Billy Childish, because she’s a mother, so she’s not going to shit on everyone just to have the last say, and she’s not going to not give a damn just because it’s fashionable and will get her notoriety. She may have more regrets than all of them put together, but she possesses a conscience, a will to meaning, a heart. And because of that, I say, Nicole Lyons eclipses those famous names you may wish to compare her to, she outshines them, she’s more real than they ever were, and maybe we need to start re-thinking whom we call heroes and whom we admire and why.

Maybe just maybe it’s possible for a poet to be incredible and still have a conscience, still give a damn, and not just live vacuously and with abandon on the froth of a daydream. Personally, I always preferred non-fiction to fiction, there’s something real there, something beating and insistent, that’s what this kind of poetry is, and within Nicole Lyons I find someone true whom I can admire and yet, relate to, and like, as a human being not a hedonist. Because she’s not just full of piss and vinegar, she’s one of the good ones too. Maybe at times, despite herself.

-Candice Louisa Daquin / Editor of SMITTEN This Is What Love Looks Like, Poetry by Women for Women.


TLC - NICOLE LYONS VOLUME ONE front cover Updated 4-13-2019

 

 

The Lithium Chronicles Volume I is now available.

Amazon US

Amazon Canada

Amazon UK

 

 

 

 

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The Lithium Chronicles Volume II is due for release in December.

Kindra M. Austin Reviews Kristiana Reed’s Between the Trees — May 14, 2019

Kindra M. Austin Reviews Kristiana Reed’s Between the Trees

My reflection in the train window settles

between the trees

beyond the glass

lining the field of gold.

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In itself, the opening of the title poem speaks of forlorn reluctance, wishes, and wonders. It must be because there’s something so powerful and intimate about one’s reflection; we study ourselves and pick up every nuance, whether we want to acknowledge ourselves or not. As I continued to let the verses unfurl, I wondered if Kristiana Reed had written this poem for me.

Between the Trees, as a poetry collection, is a heroic tribute to Self. I say heroic, because self-discovery is a demanding journey that many of us often quit, or never even begin. What strikes me most is that Reed brings her vulnerabilities to light without abdicating a single fiber of her resolve to persevere in life, “I want to reach inside myself/and find perennial blossoms, /butterflies, and next times” (Perennial Blossoms), and in love. “I want to listen to bird song/and reminisce about love, /about your touch” (Reminisce).

On the surface, Kristiana Reed’s poetry appears to be delicate, but don’t be fooled by a simple glance. Within these pages, you’ll find countless chasms to explore. This body of poems and prose is certainly Reed’s body. It is her mind and soul. I hope that when you read Between the Trees, you take the time to contemplate her truth, and perhaps apply this level of honesty to your own life.

 

Between the Trees releases this week, and will be available globally on Amazon. Links to come!

A Review of John Biscello’s Nocturne Variations — November 5, 2018

A Review of John Biscello’s Nocturne Variations

Nocturne Variations: John Biscello

Reviewed by Kindra M. Austin

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Nocturne Variations is a twenty-first century presentation of avant-garde literature.

Super. But what is avant-garde? Avant-garde is a French term that means advance guard; people and ideas that are ahead of their time. It’s a concept that refers to artists, composers, and writers whose works oppose mainstream values. As a noun, avant-garde is defined as new and unusual or experimental ideas in the arts. Often connected to political activism (think of Theater of the Absurd, Bob Dylan, and John and Yoko), there exists a misconception that avant-garde must always be politically driven.

Regarding visual art, it’s of popular thought that the avant-garde movement began in the mid-nineteenth century with French painter Gustave Courbet and his astonishing gift for realism. A notable example of Courbet’s opposite is fellow modernist Salvador Dali, the Spanish surrealist who created The Persistence of Memory. Courbet and Dali differ in style and perception, but their works are equally avant-garde.   

That’s all good to know, but we’re supposed to be talking fiction. So, what are some examples of avant-garde literature? Literary experts go bananas over James Joyce’s Ulysses; first published in 1922, this epic is best known for its stream-of-consciousness style. Another disturbance to convention was T.S. Eliot’s publication of The Waste Land, a poem that obliterated traditional form and ideals. 1922 had proven to be a formative year in the writing world. Thanks to writers such as Joyce and Eliot, we saw the influence of the modernist movement flourish in the works of Virginia Woolf, Ezra Pound, and ee cummings.

Fast-forward to post-modernism: radical novelists like George Orwell and Anthony Burgess, and the experimental poets of the Beat Generation continued to revolutionize written expression. In the twenty-first century, however, avant-garde literature, or experimental fiction—whatever you prefer to call it—has become rather familiar. We’re living in an age so saturated with uniqueness, it’s a challenge to produce anything that is not derivative.

Enter John Biscello.

Nocturne Variations is the tale of young Piers, a runaway, huffing enthusiast, and doyen of shadow puppetry. Within the pages, Biscello has created a kind of dystopian subculture where the illusory and the palpable breathe equal air; he’s built a world where even the shadows have distinct voices, and philosophy and folklore weigh the same.

“Of course the Neverlands vary a good deal.”
― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

 Welcome to Tabanid, the L.A. vaudeville nightclub where dark and lascivious characters come alive. We meet our protagonist in the coat closet, engaged in a tryst just as she’s due to take the stage. One develops an opinion of Piers straightaway; seemingly carefree and wild-hearted, what Piers may lack in savoir faire, she makes up for with an offbeat kind of charm. The camaraderie between Piers and her shiny shadow partner, Trink, endears her even more—as an observer, it may be easy for readers to overlook Piers’ addictions in the beginning.

The world in which Piers subsists is a cruel one, and not unlike our own. She is often confronted by a monster called childhood trauma, as well as the devastating knowledge that she isn’t who she is supposed to be. As her story progresses, the spiritual theme presents itself organically through her musings, self-reflection, and interactions. Yes, we learn a great deal about Piers when she must run away from L.A. We also discover that this world can be a kind and forgiving one, not unlike our own; for in the old coal-mining town of Redline, there exists a new life path awaiting Piers.

It takes the relationships that Piers develops with Henry Hook and Gwen to reveal Piers’ actual nature. Once the enlightenment hits, you realize you’re not only an observer; you realize that you want to take care of this tragical shadow being.

“Wait for me somewhere between reality and all we’ve ever dreamed.”

                                                                                                            —J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan 

Nocturne Variations includes an arrangement of features that one might consider too ambitious. On the contrary, these pieces intermingle with the narrative quite naturally. Poems; diary entries; newspaper excerpts; interviews; notable quotes; and notes on cinema all operate as single vehicles with a shared destination. This composite not only makes odd sense, but it excites.

Biscello’s command of dialogue interested me because of the unusual structure, and I’d quickly decided that standard formation would have only disrupted the story’s distinctive movement. This novel is proof that he is one of the great visionary authors of today. He impresses with his employment of unconventional construction, multiple points of view, and cinematic scene direction without sacrificing a single thread of the human element.

Simply put, this novel is bold in design and syntax. As an author, ravenous reader, cinephile, and lover of art, I challenge anyone to argue that John Biscello’s Nocturne Variations does not qualify as both avant-garde literature and multimedia artwork.

Nocturne Variations releases on 30 November, 2018, and is available for pre-order on Amazon.