Mariah Voutilainen Reviews Anthology Volume I: Writings from the Sudden Denouement Literary Collective — June 21, 2018

Mariah Voutilainen Reviews Anthology Volume I: Writings from the Sudden Denouement Literary Collective

Sudden Denouement’s Anthology Volume I: Writings from the Sudden Denouement Literary Collective demonstrates divergence in a multitude of ways

In late 2017, not long after I had started my own poetry blog on Word Press, I came across an intriguing site.  Its black and white vintage photos and classic layout invited me in.  The poems I read on that particular day were uniquely honest, full of rich free verse and wonderfully chosen words, so I chanced a look at the submissions requirements.  Right at the top of the page, in neon lights: “Hell- -here” it greeted potentials; the “o” and “T” fizzled out.  I chuckled with anticipatory glee, for under the classic front, something mischievous and dark lay there.  And as I read more of the collective’s poetry and prose, I did indeed feel the pull of Sudden Denouement’s careful attention to what it calls “divergent literature,” although I had yet to clarify with certainty what that meant.

In SD’s Anthology Volume I:  Writings from the Sudden Denouement Literary Collective, I found the answer.  In fact, this book served as a literary map leading me through landscapes of the human experience not found in other poetry and prose that I had read elsewhere.  This is due in part to the curators’ attention to diversity of experience and culture.  I marveled at the harmony of voices, each speaking truth from its corner of the world.  Each writer here has a part that blends in with the others, yet each piece has a distinct melody, a siren song that demands attention.  Trust me when I say that this is an odyssey not for the faint of heart; there is no gentle introduction to that world.

On the contrary, the book opens strongly, challenging readers to question their own views about what beauty and meaning in literature should be, what being a writer is.  The founder of the Sudden Denouement Collective, Jasper Kerkau, exclaims his writer identity is “anointed by almighty forces…to stand in the shadows and pay the price for all the beauty and unhappiness in the world.” (“I am a F*cking Writer!”) “These words have no meaning, when they sit on your screen,” writes Matthew D. Eayre in his poem “Subjective”.  In “On Becoming a Writer,” Christine E. Ray bemoans the possible isolation and invisibility: “…she felt like she was calling out her truths/into an empty desert landscape.”  Erich James Michaels likens the origin story of the poet to purposeful self-mutilation and self-removal from mainstream society (“Genesis”).  All of these are fighting words in a battle to speak truths that may not be acceptable to the mainstream but are vitally human.  To write in this divergent community is to steel oneself against a societal imperative to be vanilla in a land of a multitude of hidden and strangely delicious flavors.

There is no safety net in this world, either, and it is exhilarating.  The first two-thirds of the anthology jump from birds pecking at veins and skin (Ra’ahe Khayat’s “birds & h e a r t s”) to the regret of a missed life (Mick Hugh’s “Dream catcher never understood the bus schedule”) to the irony of a world in which everyone is forced to achieve the American dream (David Lohrey’s “Glass Ceiling”).  There are dark and desperate things, too, experiences thrown like blood and sometimes entrails onto the pages.  Henna Sjöblom’s “Miscarriage” is hard to forget for its painful description of the loss of an unwanted baby “I thought I could make something beautiful/out of my shame”.  Georgia Park’s “Weekly Meetings” made me uncomfortable, an invisible voyeur at a very charged gathering of Overeaters Anonymous.  “Feel up my female…I quite like the emptiness settled in the pit of me” Kindra M. Austin taunts in “Because I’m A Whore Who Asked For It,” as she succinctly details disgusting things that are done to women under that blanket excuse. These three pieces are not the only ones that reminded me of the aspects of human existence about which we are usually discouraged from asking lest we appear too curious, too unaware, too privileged.

Throughout, form and function, captivating lyricism and masterful usage of poetic devices abound.  But these are not tricks:  The stunning repository of words used and construction of phrases seamlessly blended.  I was repeatedly awed by the stories told, wishing for nothing more than continued passage into the world laid bare within the pages.  And yes, I would be remiss if I did not mention that multiple forays are required if only to immerse oneself in the minds of S. K. Nicholas and Jimmi Campkin, both of whom write prose that manages to be both shockingly sordid and beautifully compelling.  To chuckle at the humor that partners discontent in Oldepunk’s poetry.  To breathe in the headiness of Aakriti Kuntal’s lush and captivating similes.  There are gems on each page that cannot be missed, and sometimes I found them as I let words wash over me without specifically searching for meaning.

By the time I began reading the final third of the Anthology, I wished for respite from the unearthing of discontent and the unforgiving barrage of reality, even as it was sometimes cloaked in fantastical imagery.  And a partial reprieve came in the form of odes to the seasons: “The Marigold of months has sure begun./Fling back the shutters and let down your Hair…” (Lois Linkens’ “the Yellow month”) and Spring has “a vessel/for the softest fragrance” (Iulia Halatz’s “Song of Spring”).  There are testaments to romance and even epic love like Eayre’s “Out of My Hands,” but little if any frivolous romanticism here, just reality painted in elegantly brash words and unique imagery.  Finally and fittingly, remembrances of death serve as the beginning of the end of the Anthology.  In those poems and prose, I saw the openness of heart and strength of spirit required to allow total strangers to see the pain of losing a loved one.

Sudden Denouement’s Anthology exposes and breaks many of the taboos of being truly and unashamedly human, giving us permission to look at and embrace them in the moment of reading. I was allowed a glimpse into the writers’ souls; comprehending their words was an exercise in the development of understanding human nature.  This is a world in which the heaviness of life weights everything down until it is distilled—frustration and hate, love and unfiltered sex, bodily urges, addictions, the complexity of human interactions.  Descriptions are brightly painful in some cases, transparently critical in others, but always smack of truth.  Divergent work demands that there are no holds barred; the writer reveals everything, and cuts close to the bone, even his or her own, in order to create a pulsating, living amalgamation of words.

Anthology Volume I:  Writings from the Sudden Denouement Literary Collective is available through on Amazon.com and Amazon.com.uk.

 

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Book Review: Kindra M. Austin’s Constant Muses, by Mariah Voutilainen — April 30, 2018

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.

 

Book Review: Nicholas Gagnier’s Free Verse Revolution: The Collection (2010-2017) by Mariah Voutilainen — April 23, 2018

Book Review: Nicholas Gagnier’s Free Verse Revolution: The Collection (2010-2017) by Mariah Voutilainen

Nicholas Gagnier’s Free Verse Revolution: The Collection (2010-2017) is a farewell describing a difficult but fruitful journey

By Mariah Voutilainen

If this is your first introduction to Nicholas Gagnier’s work, as it was mine, you will find within the pages of Free Verse Revolution:  The Collection (2010-2017) a testament to the power of writing in the face of a life lived with personal traumas and challenges that have led to successes.  In the preface, he writes that “poetry did more than any therapist or medication could,” and this is evident in the poems collected within this eight-part anthology.  It would have been interesting to know where each poem stood in the chronology of his work to get a sense of how his style developed over time in the context of his personal experiences.  Still, in reading, we are made privy to Gagnier’s struggles as a very young writer growing up in a fractured family, the trauma of a close friend’s suicide, his own battle with mental illness, the love and healing that has taken place in the years over which these poems were written.

There is no doubt in my mind that Gagnier’s rhythmic free verse is written to be read aloud.  I found myself wanting to go back after one silent read to belt out the lyrical staccato of poems like “Sagittarius Dream” and “Men ‘Til Breakdown” in the quiet of midmorning.  “Drunk on You” made me wish I had a melody.  More pensive and angry pieces gave me pause; I spoke them softly to hear the form hidden within the flow and found phrases that exorcised the pain of growing up (“Unpumped Blood”), frustration with politics (“The American People” and “How the Fuck”), or the love for a child whose life experience is so happily different from his own (“I Wasn’t Ready (To Love You)” and “Sorry”).

Gagnier makes strong comparisons in his poetry, taking emotional themes and pairing them with seemingly unrelated objects and ideas.  Wrinkled suits herald the demise of a relationship in “I Don’t Love You Anymore”; locational signifiers such as zip and area codes pair with writing poetry about life experiences in “Hashtag Poetry.”   References to mathematics, from algebra to geometry, abound.  I found mentions of electrical sockets (“Pocket Lint Paraphernalia” and “Currents”) amusing but also unsettling.  “Cancer Kindness” was apt; I was taken with the link forged between a decimating disease and human interaction, especially because of its positive end-feel:

they’ll forgive you

how you fall,

and you’ll always be a

medicine the world can

call on.

Just as kindness can be a virulent growth, so can life’s complications yield palliative poetry.  And Gagnier’s poetry has a healing quality, even in its most acerbic moments.

Overall, the poems collected within FVR are accessible and relatable while maintaining a level of complexity that encourages readers to delve deeper to figure out Gagnier’s meaning.  I hoped to find personal connections to his poetry and was not disappointed; I was especially moved by the pieces relating to his daughter and mother.  Truthfully, there were times I felt I was swimming in and around words on the page, only to approach the poem again and discover its truth.  But this slight disorientation was pleasant, much like the spin you take while dancing with a partner—you come back with a heightened awareness of their presence.  My only disappointment is the fact that the publication of this anthology marks the end of Gagnier’s dance with poetry for now.

Free Verse Revolution:  The Collection (2010-2017) is available for purchase on Amazon.com


mariahv 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.  This is her first book review