Kindra M. Austin’s Constant Muses is a eulogy, a message of comfort and a warrior cry
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.
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.
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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.