Paul Austin

Notes on Hard Times
Paul Austin
-Review by Roy Beckemeyer

Notes on Hard Times

I first met writer/actor/director/jazz and blues-loving resident of New York and Oklahoma Paul Austin at The Scissortail Creative Writing Festival in Ada, Oklahoma. Paul emotes poems in a way other poets envy. His recent book, Notes on Hard Times, is filled with poems honed for performance that you’ll hope to someday hear him read aloud.

These are also poems of consequence, poems rich in metaphor, in humanity, that must be read, pondered. The titular (first) poem in the book sets the tone, one of hope and courage:

     “…I am myself your sorrow as you are mine.

     But I will not dismay, for sorrow will not admit of dismay. Dismay is prelude to despair, despair prelude to paralysis.

     I will not dismay…”

Paul’s Hard Times run from historical: “Warsaw Ghetto, 1942:”

     “A man holds a machine gun
     to a boy’s face in brash daylight.

     The crowd knows what the boy,
     who wears a yellow star like theirs,
     does not…

     Knows the man will make them wait,
     prolong their suffering, days, weeks,
     wait till they long for him to come back
     and kill someone, anyone

     to end the misery of waiting.”

to individual: “The Jazz Lover:”

     “her unwritten
     apple-pie-less
     diary of adolescence
     a polyphony of riffs
     imprinted by Miles
     Mulligan Mingus
     treasures no flowers
     pressed between pages.
     no pajama parties
     …
     her history
     a jazz lover’s life
     of cymbal brushes
     smoothing the sheets
     of saxophone soul kisses…”

to philosophical: “Wittgenstein”

     “…would hit his forehead
     hoping to knock loose the right word
     leaping from neuron to neuron
     within a whirligig of thoughts.”

Here are novels, biographies, memoirs compressed into stanzas:

     “My immigrant father raised
      a storm on the cold star
     of my childhood.”
          (from “Delmore Schwartz / American Poet”)

     “The young man stops
     not knowing where to go
     a pilgrim with no mecca
     in the chill late afternoon light.”
          (from “Episode”)

     “if they ask for you
     pack your bag and go —

     if they ask for poems,
     say them a poem

     …chant your lament
     dance the rising sun,
     rhyme the hour of joy,

     … otherwise,
     the voice of power
     will be all they hear.”
          (from “If They Ask”).

Notes on Hard Times, by Paul Austin (Village Books Press, Cheyenne, OK, ISBN 978-1-936923-29-8, 2019, 60 pp.), is available from Village Books Press, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. Paul is on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/paul.austin.90038

A 2004 interview with Paul is online at http://www.scdemocratonline.com/archives/2004/news/04April/27/austin.html