Don’t be stoopid. It’s not me—
break-ups are rough. Tough like
Ever watch a dog chew on processed cow skin?
That shit’s indigestible; causes intestinal
swelling and diarrhea, etcetera.
some relationships are (un)just
oversized break-ups in-waiting,
glazed with meat flavoring for optimal taste.
I used to lounge with you
outside in the summer dark.
Under the stars,
we’d swig bottles of Miller Lite
and inhale Marlboro tobacco;
two Alphas trying
to cancel each other out.
That’s a goddamned lie.
never had int’rest
in your use-less
Now you howl by yourself,
who will clean up your vomit.
It’s not me—
© Kindra M. Austin
Cover Design by Allane Sinclair
TWELVE will be released December 10, 2018
From a young age I recognized something irreplaceable about the kind of writing that wasn’t neatly packaged into a ‘eat me now’ bite. Twelve isn’t a genre, it’s a diary that has come alive. I feel as if I shouldn’t be reading it because it’s like standing in a bathroom with someone throwing up, it’s feels wrong and addictive and horrifying and devastating and all the images Austin conveys burn into my retina and remain there, shocking, uncompromising and vivid. But Austin couldn’t ever look away, so neither can we. Austin can’t wake up tomorrow and call her mom, neither should we deny the hideous simplicity and infinite complexity of finding out the woman who gave you life no longer exists.
If I didn’t know Kindra Austin, I’d want to know her, it’s that simple. Her truth, the unashamed bright well written light on her pain, it makes you want to get to know her, because she’s an articulate, fierce real being and most things are not and she knows it; “our lives a fucking flip-book filled with phony animation, as / though we’ve never been anything more than a / pair of paper dolls pretending to breathe.” (Meditation). Austin isn’t going to play the game, she can’t be anything but herself, take it or leave it. I suspect most people would want a lot more not less; “I’m sorry I think / when I drink / too much.” (Sorry I’m A Bitch)
At the same time, society is afraid to ‘go there’ when it comes to exhibiting sadness and admitting how you really feel rather than the social media version. A very cruel person may say, those who are depressed are going to be attracted to sad works because it validates their feelings and they’re not as alone. There is truth to that, but it’s discounting the value of sadness as a provoker of art forms. ““I love you. I miss you so much, Mom.” I knew it was you. And I knew you were dead. / I know you are dead. / There was a long, crackling silence that made my brain itch. / Then you said, “I think of you all the time.” (A Peculiar Dream I Had). I didn’t even know I was crying reading Twelve until the wetness of my tears began to soak through my clothes.
By artform, I refer to the oft painful pleasure the reader gets in reading something poignant and real, rather than manufactured and glossy. Perhaps it’s the difference between those who revere artificiality and pretention and those who fall in love with someone whose eyes are burning as they stand in front of you showing you the guts that enable them able to go on, even as you can’t imagine how they can. “Mother, what am I supposed to do? I’m so fucking tired of writing about you. / But who am I, if not a writer?” (Your Absence Is a Burglar). This poem alone should win poetry awards, not only for the title, which says everything, but the renting devastation of its truths. Throughout, you get the sense you are witnessing something as evocative and brutal as Joan Didion’s classic; The Year of Magical Thinking.
Nothing I write will really do justice to this collection because it’s not about doing justice, it’s about witnessing the grief and survival and healing of a woman who is stronger than she’d even realized she was, and at the same time, a person who isn’t afraid to be weak or expose the fuck-you’s and holes in her soul. “We had you pushed into the furnace;/ spoiling organs and / leaking skin were / burned away. / Your pulverized bones / resemble beach sand in / Tawas, / fittingly.” (The Color of Beach Sand)
My favorite novels tend to be those with a good deal of tragedy, there is something life affirming in getting to know characters who struggle and don’t have it easy. As a writer, Austin has had her fair share of intense darkness and instead of obscuring her voice it’s just added to it. “I’ve decided that / forgiving trespasses does not heal me. / Leave the forgiving to God. / Some things are simply / unforgivable.” (Last Judgement). How can I as a reviewer really ‘review’ Austin’s experience of losing her mother and all the horror that goes with that? It seems insulting to even review this book for that reason. But because it is so important to read, I must find a way to convey why most people should read it.
That is the gift of someone meant to write rather than someone who simply writes for therapy or catharsis. “Mother’s a full-time drunk, and you / only got a part-time daddy. / Good luck, baby;” (Viscera in Danger (revamp). This isn’t a grown child crying over alcoholic parent, losing a mother, bringing up a sister, reconciling her own family, this is a life reaching for love despite having been hurt so badly it feels impossible to want anything. Austin is above all else, a natural writer, someone who probably came out of the womb with ideas for a book. Her infectious energy is unabated by the grief of losing her mother, because she is able to voice those experiences and write them out, rather than letting them destroy her and they are both humorous, hideous and a reality we rarely permit others to view; “mourning after reflection—in the fingerprinted glass. / My cheeks are hollow / but my gut is bloated / from too much diet soda (I’m watching my figure) and vodka.” (At the Diary Case)
If you think this is no great thing, I can attest that it is. Usually grief leaves you wordless, numb, unable to pick up where you left off. To be able to turn grief into art, that’s the sweet spot that few artists ever attain. It separates the wheat from the chaff and in this case, produces unforgettable, rich and crushingly painful poems and prose, both haunting and beautiful in their agonies. “I see your name card. Your plate has been placed upside down, and your napkin, folded, at the left. There are no utensils, or a chalice set for you.” (Dead Mothers Don’t Dine)
Personally, I want what I read to haunt me, to stay with me, to alter me. I want the author to have the guts to climb out of their anonymity and offer themselves to the reader. Too often these days we read safe, careful, highly edited prosaic poetry and prose that has been sanitized by MFA programs and has completely lost the original thunder of its origins. If you read a poem by Austin you know it’s by her. In a world deluged by would-be writers and frantic Instagram poets, it’s easy to get really tired of reading others feelings and they all merge together. To pick someone out of the crowd just by the timber, intelligence and reflection of their voice, that means they are crafting words into roads and pushing us down them.
Some happiness addicts may not appreciate this book because I guarantee there will be times you will be grieving right alongside Austin. I say to this, we should not look away, we should own the reality of grief and see within it, the truth and experience of its piece of us. Austin isn’t a depressing writer, she’s a truth teller and as such, she sits among the greats who also wrote their truths unapologetically.
It should be mentioned Austin is also wicked clever and at times you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I particularly related to An Emotionless Affair because it’s damn smart, rude and absolutely accurate. For anyone who has gone through the psych-route or been a therapist, you can hear those truisms screaming; “It’s an emotionless affair, the goings-on between patient and psychiatrist.” Austin cuts to the center of truth like a bad-mouthed surgeon who reads 17th century gothic classics on weekends.
Whether you have lost a loved one, been abandoned by your mother, had an alcoholic in the family or not, you cannot be senseless to the yearning humanity of these poems; “I’ll fall asleep tonight by the light of the lava lamp / you gave me last year. / When I was thirty-eight, and/ you were alive.” (Thirty-Nine) and if you do, well then, your diagnosis as sociopath is confirmed, for there is everything we are in these words and it’s impossible to be unchanged witnessing these 12 months; “Old age is a fable; / I was forced to stop counting at 58. / Today, you’re supposed to be 59, / but instead you’re fucking zero.” (Zero).
How do we find something different within poetry today that isn’t affected and trite? People are becoming more pretentious whilst proclaiming greater honesty, the more we share the less we are ourselves. Austin has her finger on the trigger when it comes to shaving the irrelevant and getting to the point. “You know what I think? I think forgiveness is infinitely intermittent, and real acceptance is bullshit.” (Intermittent Bullshit). If you’re tired of reading Self-Help books that promote forgiveness and clean, easy recovery, then take a leaf out of someone who has actually been there and not with bleach and plastic gloves on. I’d quote nearly every poem in this book to illustrate reasons why it has to exist, but that would spoil so much and I’d rather you discovered Kindra Austin’s work for yourself.
And then there’s this; “There are 300 seconds in 5 / fucking minutes, and / 3,600 seconds in 1 hour, / which means there are 86,400 seconds in 24 hours, / or 1,440 minutes in a goddamned day. / All of that translates to a lot of fucking time spent forgetting to remember you’re dead.” (Never Any Good at Math). I’ve reviewed a lot of people’s work but I don’t want to say anything more here. I just want you to read Kindra Austin’s book, Twelve.
For you Rowena – Kindra M. Austin
Review by Candice Louisa Daquin
I’ll begin by saying, it’s not easy to write a review of a book that you don’t want anyone to know the twists and turns of, because then what do you write about? With this novel I feel almost possessive, usually when you read a novel you really want others to read, you share what you most liked about it, but with a suspenseful and taut thriller that’s incredibly hard to achieve without giving key ingredients away. The reason this would be so devastating is that this novel builds brick by brick and so to read it out of sequence or know anything of what is to come, would spoil the crescendo.
Instead let’s talk about what I can make mention of without any spoilers. If you haven’t read a novel or poem by Kindra Austin then you may not know she’s a woman who absolutely doesn’t hold her punches. Think back 100 years, women couldn’t and wouldn’t do that, but even now, sometimes there is an apologetic politeness or restraint in how women describe the world. When you read someone who is willing to just BE on the page, then you know you have found the truth.
What is truth in fiction? Truth is reading the novel breathlessly and then when you put it down finished, you have emptiness, a feeling of wanting to go back, find the characters again, and inhabit them once more. Truth is relating so deeply to the carved souls of those people written on a page, that they become hyperreal to you. Just like Cathy and Heathcliff were to their generation of readers, we’ve moved on and we can use profanity and be honest about our frustrations as women; we can talk about sex and anger and rage and emotion and do so at a deeper level than we could when we were censored.
Women writers were really censored? You bet they were. And those who did speak truths did so through oblique metaphor rather than carnage on a page. Male writers however had many years of spilling it before women could join the fray and as such, they established themselves as the first of their generation to really ‘tell it like it is’ and women were usually not even part of the conversation. I’m not men-bashing by stating this, but women labored under a longer societal pressure to conform and behave and when they were freed, well fiction like this was born.
Are we talking Capote wearing a dress? By no means. A woman’s truth may be as visceral but it’s entirely different. The emotional landscape is vivid in an intensely feminine way, positively reflective, it goes deeper. The smut and sordidness of life may be equally explained but where a woman can be often two dimensional in male authors work, a woman can explode and show all her layers when a woman writes her.
Lately I’ve been fortunate enough to read some excellent male authors who did sterling jobs of creating female characters that I as a woman could relate to, but this is the first novel I’ve read in some time where I literally crawled beneath the skin of the two female lead characters. If I look up now, I may see them sitting at the table with me, I will smell them as I leave the room, and hear them laughing. They are so uncannily present I believe, it would be challenging for a man to write them with that much alacrity. Just as I could not write a man as well as some of the male writers I know. Does that limit the female and male author to their respective genders? Absolutely not. It simply gives a woman an opportunity to present female characters so fleshed out and present that its astonishing, in a world where male authors are still the dominant force (especially in the thriller genre).
Speaking of genres, I expected this novel to be a thriller of sorts, a psychological mystery. But it really defies any labeling in part because it is wickedly original and flies in the face of being nailed down as one thing or another. I read some female written gothic fiction once that almost reminded me a little, but still didn’t have its edge. At once disturbing, and familiar, you are not sure whether you want to run or continue to read, but you end up reading because of course you do, that’s inevitable. You’re a thing possessed.
I start a lot of novels and put them down, by the first fifty pages I am bored and don’t care what happens to the characters. So often that heady MFA format and predictable collection of characters (the genius who is dysfunctional, the bad-ass girl who happens to be gorgeous) are too routine. When reviewing a book you obviously can’t put it down even if it bores you so it’s always a fear reading a book that it may end up to be insufferable. This wouldn’t be the case here; if I had every novel ever published to read, I’d still want to read For you Rowena. Maybe the simplest way of reviewing this book is to tell you why.
For you Rowena is among other things, a love story, the kind you won’t be expecting and haven’t yet experienced. It has elements that all of us who have ever been caught emotionally in more than one allegiance will understand. In that, it is a very classic tale like Anna Karenina because we, all of us are suckers for love stories with tragic and painful experiences that we can relate to our own love histories, and those that go beyond anything we have experienced we live vicariously with, because ultimately, would anyone be as interested in reading a love story that has no tribulation and only happiness? Alas we are creatures of disturbance and as such, we demand emotional upheaval and not just calm waters. I’m not sure why that is, but an author worth her salt will need to ‘bring it’ and Austin brings it plenty. Hell, she sets it on fire and then invites you to dine on the embers.
Aside that beckoning lure, For you Rowena is also a masterful psychological expose of what makes us humans tick, emotionally. Something few of us really understand without referencing other experiences and looking back in hindsight. Austin gets the emotional jungle we live in, what we crave and we destroy and how we hurt those we love and we do things that make no sense but at the time they are what sustain us. Austin presents us with people we can peer into and discover things about ourselves, sometimes disquietingly. Her characters are shockingly realistic, at the same time there is a fantasy overlaying that and a mystical beauty to Austin’s descriptions of the world about her, which creates a deft juxtaposition between narration, description and dialogue.
Immediately after finishing, my first thought was how visual For you Rowena was. I could literally SEE the scenes and the characters as if they existed on film. It takes a lot to paint so vividly the entirety of a story, not just a realistic dialogue but the full fleshing of person’s you’ve created and then manipulate those creations into coaxing the reader into a sympathetic lasting relationship. Often times you can walk away from a character, you can say ‘I really don’t care what happens’ but that’s impossible here. It is equally impossible NOT to relate to their respective trajectories and the arc the story takes, you are sucked in and kept there, holding your breath until the end.
It would do no good to quote from For you Rowena because everything is within a context and doesn’t survive on its own. That is the intensity of the write, and to say this is simply about love or relationships or murder or desperation or frustration would in no way reveal the heart of this novel. As with any well written novel that stands the test of time, it is the relationship formed with the central characters, our sympathies, anger, and emotional investment that define our impression of the novel as a whole. Does it stand out in a literary sense? I believe it does, because Austin knows the nuance of novel writing requires that fine balance of character versus scene versus dialogue and she gracefully navigates the reader through a very intense hate/love storyline without once losing us.
On a personal note, any of us who have loved passionately and been unsure of our decisions can really sink our teeth into this tale, as Austin presents the quixotic ficklety of human nature, its treacheries, its alliances, and ultimately, its surfaces and depths. I wrote four pages of notes as I read, but I used nothing of them in my review, because they were more my impressions formed from the gut-punch of this book than something I could usefully employ. The ruin and recovery of people is written in the same intoxicating quality as I would expect to find in any memorable novel, adding only a modern flourish. Indeed there is even symbolism, redolent in the significance of broken things, and small observations that speak of loss.
Will it be a novel for everyone? I’m sure some will find the ugly nature of passion disquieting, but more likely there is something missing in all of us that we can discover in For you Rowena. If you have ever had a terrible ache, or shame, and not known how to articulate it, or understood yourself, what led up to its creation, this novel will explain those attachments, as it will bring you right to the edge of understanding how someone can kill. The horror of that and its shocking banality is vividly captured by a writer who can wield a psychological intuitiveness within her characters that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
Perhaps when you have read this you will see why I cannot speak at length about those characters and that story, just as we cannot casually open Pandora’s box. A novel that bewitches us will invariably defy breaking into its composite pieces, it works as if by magic, though the skill required to make those pieces harmonize and fit together is invisibly sewn into every page.
Plainly put, I loved reading this novel. It created in me such an admiration for its authoress and a real fired up passion to find more books that gave me that bequeathed thrill. I found nothing predictable about it, and everything original. For you Rowenaliterally grabbed me by the throat and held me until the reckoning, and what a reckoning it was.
What lines would you cross for the one you love?
Rowena is a Helen of Today, dangerously coveted; she’s a paradoxical woman searching for self-certitude through pleasures of the flesh. Only one amongst her myriad of lovers can save Rowena from herself.
This is a story of human connection and its devastating power.
In three days, I release my third book, a novella titled, For You, Rowena. I’m honored to announce that Allane Sinclair has yet again created a cover that encompasses a universe I’ve imagined and put to paper. I couldn’t ask for a better collaborator than Allane. As always, I hope my words serve justice to the emotions that scream from her artwork. Allane Sinclair is the real deal, folks. She pours every bit of her soul into her work, and it shows.
For You, Rowena, at its core, is about self-preservation, true love, and the roads a person might travel to claim that love as their own, despite the obstacles; it’s about abusive relationships, self-exploration, redemption, and revenge.
For You, Rowena is not written in the narrative style of Magpie in August. Though two different animals, I hope that those who’ve read Magpie will recognize both the strengths and vulnerabilities I’ve instilled into the main women characters of Rowena.
For You, Rowena is scheduled for release on 31 August, 2018 in paperback and Kindle format via Amazon.