Mariah Voutilainen reviews Christine Ray’s Composition of a Woman

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.

Kristiana Reed Reviews Magpie in August, by Kindra M. Austin

Austin stuns with her debut novel, Magpie in August. A lovingly written narrative about living, dying and the purgatory in between.

I’ve been an admirer and reader of Austin’s poetry since late 2016, a little while after she started poemsandparagraphs. Austin always writes honestly with the razor-sharp ability to steal the breath from my lungs and make me punch the air with my fist. However, I did not know what to expect with Magpie in August, except it grew out of her relationship with her late mother (as revealed in her interview with Sudden Denouement founder, Jasper Kerkau).

Within the first few pages, Magpie, our protagonist, was sketched into my mind in vivid magenta, violet, and deep charcoal. Magpie’s love for Peter was palpable from the first time he called her ‘Beautiful’ as if it was her ‘God given name’. Her mother, Lynette, is an angel and demon wrapped up in one and Renny, Magpie’s reader and listener, a friend and foe. Austin leads us to believe we know everything there is to know about these people. Magpie can be cruel. Lynette is fickle and flippant. Peter is a watchful guardian and Renny is silent.

But, they are people, not characters and so our omniscient facade soon falls away. In every chapter, Austin gifts us a new angle, new mirror and new prism to refract everything we knew through. In fact, it is only Peter, quite fittingly, who remains the same.

Austin gave me a safe space to reflect on my own relationships, to draw parallels and thank my blessings. Her exploration of grief and loss is beautiful. A stunning, heart-wrenching tribute to the human condition and its difficulty to love unconditionally, when love, at the end of it all, is what we do best. Every person receives redemption of some form – Magpie, Lynette, Wren, Dalton (Magpie’s father) and even Jessica Wenzel.

Austin’s unwavering guidance into the darkness of rock bottom, Lake Huron and even the supernatural was superb. Authors like Cecelia Ahern (If You Could See Me Now), F. Scott Fitzgerald (The Great Gatsby) and Douglas Kennedy (The Woman in the Fifth) came to mind as Austin matched their ability to write people not caricatures and take them to places we didn’t expect; never once causing the reader to doubt their ability in ensuring it all makes sense in the end.

Magpie in August ends just as it should. The Magpie who wakes up from a dreamy slumber in chapter 1 is the Magpie embracing all the earth and sky have to offer in the final chapter. Austin brings us full circle; allowing us to reap the rewards of a woman saving herself.

Magpie leaves us believing she deserves to breathe, love and wait for her ‘beloved stars to awaken silvery blue in an inky sky.’

Magpie in August is available at Amazon.com


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.

Christine Ray Reviews VINE: BOOK OF POETRY BY MELODY LEE

I have only recently been introduced to the poetry of Melody Lee and had only read a single piece before I dove into Vine: Book of Poetry, her recently released second book.  Vine is divided into five sections: Clematis, Honeysuckle, Jasmine, Ivy, and Wisteria.  Lee provides background information about the qualities and lore of each plant, which helped set the stage for each section as well as provide me with some nifty garden trivia.

What struck me from the very first poem This Is How I Know is how beautiful Lee’s imagery is:

‘It gracefully dances up my spine
Gently wrapping around my heart
And I flourish extravagantly’

One of my favorite pieces in the collection is Cunning Linguist, which appeals to the senses. It is multisensory and tactile, with language such as ‘I wear it like luxurious cashmere’ and ‘I gulp, I sip, swallow.’ My favorite line in the whole book also comes from this piece. She declares: ‘I am a book harlot.’ I smiled to myself and said, ‘Me too!’

Vine is filled with sumptuous love poems such as Coffee, which starts with sensuous lines ‘Pour yourself a cup of steaming coffee/honey, then come pour yourself into me’ but also has an edge that I quite liked the bite of.  Lines such as ‘but we worship each other/on skin and dirty knees’ from Let’s Be Honest or ‘Sometimes poetry is dark and brutal/has fangs and teeth’ from Dear Reader provide balance to the softer poems in the book.

Although much of Vine is concerned with the ebb and flow of lovers, Lee also has a passionate affair with poetry. Another personal favorite, Dear Reader, displays this eloquently:

‘Don’t say poetry doesn’t make sense
while you are eating the words
as if they are a last meal,
as your backbone curves, as goose bumps
rise on your legs, arms.
That is all the sense poetry needs to make.’

Where Lee’s longer love poems are lush and languid, her punctuations of micro poetry are sometimes pointed and bracing, such as the poem Warning:

‘They should have warned you
that little princesses grow up
to be red rocks and raging seas,
fire dragons and warrior queens.’

I also loved the sly social commentary to be found in Lee’s piece Church with such lines as ‘Truth is, I am allergic to hypocrites’ and

‘If Jesus and His apostles were here,
surely, they would be rolling their eyes,
maybe even tipping over tables,
if you would even allow them and their dirty feet
into your spotless, sterile sanctuaries.’

I finished Vine a firm Melody Lee fan with a keen longing to hear more of her voice, particularly her sharp social observations and pieces such as Insanity Invades Like a Tumor, which starts off sounding like another of her love poems, but quickly turns deliciously dark, bringing to mind the writing of Edgar Allen Poe.  Good thing her first book, Moon Gypsy, is already on its way.

Vine: Book of Poetry is available through Amazon and other major retailers

Candice Louisa Daquin Reviews Nicholas Gagnier’s Leonard the Liar

As a kid I read a short story in a magazine that has stayed with me ever since, the poignancy of the story was so powerful I never forgot it. When you read a lot of fiction it takes a unique tale and way of conveying it to be unforgettable, I could probably name all the books I’ve read that have had that impact.

Which is why, reviewing Gagnier’s book has been such an unexpected experience. His little novella is one of those rarified stories I won’t ever forget, alongside Françoise Sagan’s novella, Sunlight on cold water, which has quite a lot in common with, whilst not being in any way similar. I don’t, however, want to compare this book with others; it would be too easy to say Gagnier could be the next Paul Auster (but he could) or that his writing has hints of Flaubert’s tragi-heroine Emma in Madame Bovary (which it does). Neither is it sufficient to note Gagnier has the phantasmagoric echo of older writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera and yet simultaneously,  is very much a writer of his generation the way the Beats poets captured theirs. Nothing will truly sum up his alacrity with words and conveying emotion, you’ll just have to read it for yourself.

I will say, this proves novellas, which are making a strong come-back in the field of fiction, are a force to be contended with. In many ways it is harder to put into a short story, everything, yet we know by the likes of Roald Dahl (Kiss Kiss/ Over to you), that it’s not only possible, it’s like an extension of a favorite poem. Gagnier has that alacrity of verse, and his characters get under our skin very quickly and stay there. Of course, the protagonist, Leonard (who is not a liar) has the greater relationship with the reader, but Gagnier pulls off some very believable and well-rounded female characterizations as well as a slew of side-fellows who bolster the credibility and believability of his storytelling.

With the line; “Death is the ultimate break-up,” this novel plunges the reader into a fast-paced emotional rollercoaster, imminently relatable for anyone who has suffered loss or queried the fates. There are some classic lines that complement the strength of the story, including the retort; “Do you always talk like you’re already dead?” There is a lot of pathos and dark humor too; “If he’s a douchebag supreme, you’re engaged to marry him and he’s spending time with dying ex-girlfriends behind your back.” There’s also heart-stopping matter of fact horror and grief alongside a savvy understanding of the male psyche and human condition, this alongside a backdrop of death, which much like a classic black comedy, the theme of death prevails but is not off-putting.

When Leonard considers that; “You are doing this to see how you are,” that’s the crux of his experience thus far, but not his entirety. Leonard is a man who believes dishonesty is the devil’s playground yet continues to struggle to tell the truth, believing himself a broken soul who only messes up everything good he is given, this, therefore, is his story of redemption and discovery. As he says of his own catharsis; “Mom and dad left a house and a gaping hole in the ground. It took two decades to build my own house over them.”

Gagnier’s storytelling is at once a simple shock to the system, as it is wily and philosophical, it would not do his work justice to say he’s a modern author, because he has the informed maturity of a hundred voices previously working their way through his creative process. I am reminded of some of my favorite movies in the visuals this story provoked, namely The Rivers’ Edge, for it has a gritty, bittersweet undertone of youth turning into middle age, infatuation becoming love, connections transforming to loyalty, and the fragility of life. As Leonard says; “Every moment you spend planning for something to go wrong is one less moment you’ll have, in the end, to make things right.” Fortunately, Gagnier ensures his character arc is redemptive and profound, you won’t forget his little book any time soon.

Leonard the Liar is available at Amazon.com

 

Review of A Sparrow Stirs its Wings, Rachel Finch by Kristiana Reed

From the moment Sudden Denouement Publishing announced the publication of Rachel Finch’s debut poetry collection, I could not wait to read it. Finch made a brave and bold entrance onto Blood into Ink, with ignition pieces like Girls are not for Beating (pg.35). I was hooked by her ability to sing fire with a bloody mouth.

A Sparrow Stirs its Wings houses this spirit of fight and flight. Flight not from fear but from the space she has shaped to soar. The structure of the collection reminds me of Alfa’s Silent Squall except Finch begins with the girl crossing her heart and hoping to die, walking on eggshells (pg.19), and ends as a woman who recognises strength and hope in her reflection:

I did not notice the growth, until I had grown,
I had not seen myself changing, becoming,
until the woman I forged reflected my gaze
and held my stare with no shame.’

  • Hold the Stare
  • In fact, I would even say Finch’s sparrow does more than stir its wings – it unfurls them in the morning sun and defies the laws of gravity. This debut collection is more than just honest, beautifully brutal storytelling. Finch has created a collection the reader will feel compelled to return to, time and time again. Moon Breathing makes me fall in love, Heal is the advice I need imprinted on my palm and Still Smouldering never fails to provoke a visceral reaction:

    ‘I was reborn a dragon feasting on the fire in my belly, lit with milk teeth in my mouth’

    Finch’s voice has found a home, in these pages and in my chest. She touches her readers. She tells the truth and explores hers. She leaves you with the following words:

    ‘You are the smell of rain before it hits the soil.’

    And you can’t help but believe them.

    Image courtesy of Alfa

    You can read more of Kristiana’s writing at My Screaming Twenties

     

     

    Nicholas Gagnier’s Review of Vine: Book of Poetry by Melody Lee

    Some works- be it visual, musical or, in this case, written- are immediately apparent as a labour of love and appreciation for the craft they’re derivative of. There is a metaphysical manifestation in their creation, love of a craft for the craft itself. You can find examples of this phenomenon in any creative industry. The most immediate example off the top of my head is Stephen King, who probably could have retired decades ago and deprived us of some great works. He writes because he loves to. Donald Glover doesn’t have to be Childish Gambino in his spare time, especially with his level of success. He does it for passion.

    You can see these energies in Lee’s Vine: Book of Poetry. There is excitement hiding in the way she turns syllables and matches sounds, almost effortlessly at times. There is little social justice warriorism here, and when her feminist side does come out, like in the four excellent lines that make up Warning, virtue signaling this is not, but a deftly applied example of feminine strength.

    “They should have warned you

    that little princesses grow up

    to be red rocks and raging seas

    fire dragons and warrior queens”

     Warning by Melody Lee

    Instead, Lee tends to ride the line between the universal human experience (Education, November) and the investment in her art (Indelible, Death Lives in the Sepulcher of My Soul) with grace. References to her inspirations abound, Lee is a product of those who came before her, an amalgam of styles she has made her own.

    The book is cleverly divided into semi-thematic chapters, each named for a type of vine (Clematis, Honeysuckle, Wisteria). At first, I was perplexed by the lack of an index, until I finished the book and found a helpful appendix to return to previous pieces.

    “Wayward November winds

    Caress my bare skin

    Like dead flowers and silky petals of chrysanthemums”

    November by Melody Lee

    Overall, Vine: Book of Poetry is an enjoyable read. As a father to a six-year-old girl, I am often on the lookout for books I can pass down to her alongside my own, and I am happy to say Melody Lee’s little book squarely fits into that category. I wholeheartedly recommend it.

    Review by Nicholas Gagnier, FVR Publishing

    Vine: Book of Poetry is available now at Amazon.com and through other major retailers.

    Kristiana Reed Reviews Nicholas Gagnier’s Swear To Me

    Swear to Me, an anthology of struggle and survival from Nicholas Gagnier, is a triumphant reveal of lonely hearts which aren’t so lonely after all. It appears a slim book of poetry when in fact it is the friend checking in on you. The friend who makes you a hot beverage or pours you a drink. The friend who listens without questions. The friend who doesn’t shrink from the boxes you’ve labeled ‘MADNESS’ but helps you unpack them. The friend who with just a smile, call or brief squeeze of your hand says: ‘You’re still here and I’m so glad you are.’

    There is an undeniable sense of community in Swear to Me. Gagnier himself comments on the contributing writers being ‘the heart of a message this book represents.’ They are the chorus swelling behind Gagnier’s honest, raw solo. The standouts for me were Christine Ray’s ‘Wrecking Ball’ and Nicole Lyons’ ‘The Mmm of Her’. This chorus hits a crescendo with ‘A Room So Still and Quiet’ – a culmination of the powerful, healing voices Gagnier evokes in his poem ‘Survivors’ – they are the ‘light that refuses to die.’

    However, this anthology is also crafted in the knowledge we don’t all want battle drums and war paint; sometimes we just want to know we are not alone, we are understood. Gagnier and his words are the close friends we all need and deserve and whilst some poems ignite a fire in your belly, others nod with understanding or wrap you up in shaking, ‘we can do this together’ arms. ‘A Normal Life’ is one of the most touching odes to struggle and survival I’ve ever read:

    ‘you are my beacon, even brighter

    overcompensating madness

    in the maddest of ways.’

    It’s love. Battle drums, war paint, and love. Love of yourself, others and life itself – embracing the madness as your normal. Letting the walls crumble, the expectations you are something other, pack their bags and realizing the home you want to build is inside you with a ribcage scaffold. ‘Ten Year Story’, ‘Beautiful Human’ and ‘Longhurt’ are other personal favourites which all remind me of the importance of love and acceptance.

    Finally, like all good friends, you will always have fond memories to reminisce about during your darkest and brightest days. The friend I found in Swear to Me is no exception. Upon finishing this anthology, I’ve returned to two poems in particular time and time again. ‘Homeward Legend’ reminds me the heart on my sleeve isn’t a weakness, and my story is not over. ‘Almost Happiness’ reminds me we do not have to be everything all at once – we don’t have to bottle up the darkness and strike false smiles like matches because:

    ‘Almost happiness is better

    than none.’

    This anthology was a long time coming (ten years) and yet I’m glad because in it Gagnier displays his heart for all to see and touch, and in this act of catharsis gives you the courage to do the same. To live unashamedly in the dark and in the light.

    Swear To Me is available on Amazon.com, Amazon.com.uk, and Book Depository


    Kristiana Reed day dreams, 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 & Sudden Denouement, and blogs at My Screaming Twenties. She is 24 and is enjoying the journey which is finding her voice.