Music is the motif, the pulse, of these poems. From Americana, Folk, and Bluegrass, to Country, Gospel, Blues, and Rock, Blood Harmony potently depicts the interconnectedness of musical genres. From Emmylou Harris, Loretta Lynn, Jean Ritchie, Ricky Skaggs, and Guy Clark, to Aretha Franklin, Percy Sledge, Etta James, Wilson Pickett, and Otis Redding, musical legends abound, “with the list of greats growing almost as long as the story of music, of life, itself.” Music also becomes the larger motif highlighting how interconnected we all are; whether “creek, brook, or stream,” Austin believes everyone is “water from the same source.” Writing of her years singing blood harmony with her brother in foster care and tracing her kin’s roots back to Scotland and Ireland, Austin poignantly invites us to sojourn with her on an odyssey that, while elegiac, is less requiem than it is a paean to hope.
Praise for Blood Harmony
An ecclesiastical thread runs through this fine book, in that everything has its season, and everything—including joy and grief—goes together. Austin’s poems achieve through their own high and lonesome registers what we expect from the best blues or hillbilly music: the human experience in this weary world is affirmed, even dignified. I am glad these refreshing, bone- and blood-deep poems are in the world.
author of One Man’s Dark, The Common Man, and Bucolics
Blood Harmony introduces a lively new voice to Appalachian poetry. Lana K. W. Austin celebrates the bonds of memory and blood in poems of both harmony and drama, remembering the blood spilled in the coalfields, and the struggles of families with loyalty and courage. The poems pay tribute to the place and soul of the region, the music of blending voices, adolescent desire, and the exuberance of motherhood, the enduring legacy of Jean Ritchie and Bill Monroe, and the mountains where the music was born.
author of Dark Energy, Gap Creek, and Chasing the North Star
The great circle is unbroken in Lana Austin’s first full-length collection, Blood Harmony. The arc of mothering and hard unmothering, Kentucky floods and wanton drink, the luthier one with the carved grain and sorrowed ballads. In poems birthed from paradox, Austin’s fierce coupling of alto and effervescence infuses and uplifts family and community portraits and tributes to the high lonesome of her upbringing—Jean Ritchie, Bill Monroe, Emmylou Harris. Her own unshakable voice prevails amid the downbeat of wounded genealogy, love’s aching counterpoint and antidote to loss. So put your hands on the radio still warm and faintly glowing, scoot closer to hear Austin’s “damned salvation of sound.” The circle thrums as it bends toward that stubbornly joyful noise, the chord so deep and alive within us.
author of Mother Land and This Shaky Earth
Walt Whitman once advised young poets to “Be outrageous! Be outrageous! But not too damned outrageous.” Lana Austin’s Blood Harmony has exactly that balance of old and new, of the immediate and the distant, of challenge and embrace. Her Kentucky landscape shows as familiar as a family heirloom and the music of her poems is as clear as a harpsichord in a meadow. This first collection reminds us how the soul is always seeking, in its dream of place, the final character of one’s identity, one’s home. The Gospel says abide and these poems are enactments with bold, electric, convincing authority. Lana Austin’s is a new country music worthy of a great readership. Let it be.
author of Little Boats, Unsalvaged,
The Wick of Memory: New and Selected Poems,
and Hunting Men: Reflections on a Life in American Poetry
Attentive to history, place, pitch and character, the poems of Lana Austin’s Blood Harmony find bonds in music that dovetail with chords in family and community. Her lovely and passionate verses interweave precise knowledge of traditional mountain and CW music with marvelous invention which renders a mandolin “an amulet of sound” and describes listeners to Emmylou Harris as “embered… into incandescence.” These poems are handmade and heart-carved with a luthier’s canny expertise. Anyone wishing to go, as her opening poem invites, “In Search of the Wild Dulcimer” need look no farther than this collection where kindred sounds blend beyond description. In thrall to depths of the spirit, her poems are also sweetly free. Blood Harmony will make you sigh and sob, clap and stomp.
—R. T. Smith,
recipient of the 2014 Weinstein Prize in Poetry
and author of Outlaw Style