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.

Kristiana Reed Reviews We Will Not Be Silenced

We Will Not Be Silenced is a collection of poetry, prose, essays, and art which shares the lived experience of sexual harassment and sexual assault. It has been pieced together and pioneered by four incredible, courageous women who, in telling their truth, have a raised a chorus of ninety-one other writers and artists. Austin, Daquin, Finch, and Ray have undoubtedly created more than a piece of art. They have blown wind into the sails of change and made a stand which has already altered the lives of many.

We Will Not be Silenced, as the title suggests, paves the way for silence to be shattered. Shame and stigma in society have taught a lesson of ‘stay quiet because no one will believe you’, for too long. The stories in this collection, although difficult to read at times, teach new lessons. Lessons about hope.Lessons about how you are not alone. Lessons about letting your shame fly away in the breeze even if you can still taste blood in your mouth. Lessons about the strength you can find in your scars. Lessons about women and men; about how this can happen to anyone; about how this is not your fault, never was and never will be.

As a piece of art raised from an eclectic collective, the work ebbs and flows with the gentle power of the current downstream; each piece moving the reader in familiar and unfamiliar ways. The editing is thoughtful and allows every writer space to breathe as an individual and yet remain part of the whole; the heart and soul of We Will Not Be Silenced. In fact, I would love to share my favourite pieces but I would end up quoting the whole book.

With Austin, Daquin, Finch, and Ray at the helm, We Will Not Be Silenced is truly something special; a landmark demonstrating how far we have come and how far we are yet to go, with loud, unbroken voices.

Kristiana Reed daydreams, people watches in coffee shops, teaches English and writes. She is a curator on Blood into Ink, a collective member of The Whisper and the Roar and blogs at My Screaming Twenties. She is 24 and is enjoying the journey which is finding her voice.

Nicole Lyons Reviews We Will Not Be Silenced

‘We Will Not be Silenced’ is a call to arms; it is muffled voices upon strangled voices ripping the gags off to scream their stories and speak truth to power. ‘We Will Not be Silenced’ is rage and heartbreak, it is the soul-crushing pain of the worst kind of human violation being laid bare for all to see, and it is laid bare with an unflinching power that demands you to keep reading. These stories are poignant and disturbing, and they are filled with everything this world needs to read right now.

‘While We Will Not Be Silenced’ is not an easy read, but it is an important one, and while the subject matter is sensitive and the words unforgiving, these stories and essays, the poetry and the prose, the art captured within, have done a service to every survivor of sexual abuse and harassment by taking back their power and reliving their horrors without the shame that most survivors feel.

These writers and poets, the artists and voices who were brave enough to submit their work to this anthology have not only taken their power back, but they have gifted it to every victim, to every survivor, to every single person who has either shouted, “Me Too”  from the rooftops, or whispered it under their breath.

‘We Will Not Be Silenced’ is a beautiful collection of devastating pieces, it is a siren call to survivors everywhere, and a book that should be showcased in every school, stocked on the shelves of every hospital, and sitting on the counters in every police station in the world. ‘We Will Not Be Silenced’ should simply be available to everyone and anyone who has ever been violated, and to everyone and anyone who would be brave enough to speak out and speak up in an era when victims still aren’t being heard.

Bravo to the fearless writers, poets, artists, and survivors who shared their story in order to change the world. We hear you, and I know you hear us too.

– Nicole Lyons

Nicole Lyons is a force of nature disguised as a writer, a social activist, a voice for the downtrodden, and a powerful poet with a delicate touch. She is a best selling published author, poet, and a consulting editor for Sudden Denouement.

Coming Soon From Indie Blu(e) Publishing

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.

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.

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.