Let me speak plainly. Kindra M. Austin is not only my friend and an incredible writer, but my business partner at Blank Paper Press. If you are looking for a reflection of this book not steeped in bias, you may want to look elsewhere.
That does nothing to undermine my respect for Twelve, her newest release of poetry and prose. Nor does it mean I am incapable of critiquing it. As an anthology, it steers into its own darkness, and may not invite everyone quite like it spoke to me.
That said, Twelve is one of my favourite collections of the year, alongside Nicole Lyons’ Blossom and Bone and Austin’s novel, For You, Rowena. It ranks up there among one of the most heartrending collections I’ve ever read. This is because Twelve’s airtight narrative of bereavement gives you little breathing room against the barrage of Austin’s grief over the death of her mother.
You come to me often, and I can’t take it—seeing your Cheshire smile, and glittering eyes. I’d thought dreams of you would bring me peace, but those visions of you animated, and the dulcet tones of your voice, well-remembered, bouncing against the walls of my skull only cause me agony. I hold a wake with a devastated rib cage, fractured from the distension of a lamenting heart—my heart, it heaves, weeping tears of its own, crimson.
Wake, excerpt from Twelve
And this is not a beatification. There is a sad acknowledgement the relationship at the book’s heart was conflicted and imperfect, like any parent and child have. Yet, Austin comes out the other side more fond of her mother’s memory than not, and hopeful for the future. Nowhere is this more appropriate than Wedding Poem, which celebrates her newlywed daughter- an event Austin mentions in the fantastic opener Proem should have included her mother.
The imagery is bleak at times, but death and grief are not pretty affairs. It is Austin’s sheer command of the written word that bleak imagery is, in fact, imbued with more hope than hopelessness.
Happy Halloween— you’ve been dead twelve months today.
Twelve, excerpt from Twelve
Poems like Someone Told Me I Was Queen and I Don’t Fear the Reaper are classic Austin I had seen previously, and was happy to see some of her best work included. But pieces I had not previously read- such as Thirty-Nine, Marbles and I Can Love September– made me stop and read them several times and gave the older poems new context.
Overall, Twelve is a collection which reminds us death is not about the dead, but those who are left behind. In Austin’s case, she has shaped it into a torch carried for hers, and wields it to light the dark ahead.