Every Dress a Decision
Elizabeth Austen tests the boundaries between the known and the unknowable in her debut poetry collection, Every Dress a Decision.
The aftermath of a brother’s mysterious death forms a subtle narrative spine, around which other pressing questions revolve. In a voice both lyrical and wry, Austen’s poems engage headlong in the contradictions of 21st century social expectations, desires and identity.
Every Dress a Decision was a finalist for the 2012 Washington State Book Award in poetry. Read reviews in the Yakima Herald, Prick of the Spindle , Galatea Resurrects, or at the Seattle SLOG.
Available in bookstores and online.
“If Elizabeth Austen is “between gods for the moment,” it’s because—gratefully!—she hovers and dances close to the vestigial, the elusive, and the transitory. She sees with a steely eye. She sings with the purest pitch. By turns tender and tough, spare and lush, these poems speak to and for the fleeting, fleeing world. An absolutely stunning and cohesive first book by a first-rate poet! Every Dress a Decision is a joy to read, and reread.
—Nance Van Winckel
“Elizabeth Austen’s poems are pellucid, interior, and powerfully original in both vision and voice. This book welcomes into our view a writer of language-substance, awake ear, and revealed—and revealing—heart.”
“Elizabeth Austen’s poems have great emotional range, formal rigor and an ambition of scope that is tempered beautifully by a considered intimacy. A poetry both luminous and grounded in the world.”
—Chris Abani, Sanctificum and Hands Washing Water
The Girl Who Goes Alone
The Girl Who Goes Alone (Floating Bridge Press, May 2010) SOLD OUT.
“Elizabeth Austen has written what just may be the modern female anthem. The title poem of her chapbook, The Girl Who Goes Alone, will take your breath away with its simplicity and truth. It is the kind of poem you want to share with your best friends and your daughters. Each poem in this slim but meaty volume is a gem, thanks to the poet’s mastery of language. Her On Punctuation should be required reading in every English class, and Her, at Two, … should be carved into the headboard of every baby girl’s crib.”
—Style Substance Soul
“Deceptively simple, this work by Elizabeth Austen, and not a false note either. All the big emotions are handled so that it seems rational to have them, to spend your life figuring them out. And it’s nothing to get crazy about. It’s life and you can discuss it, dissect it (as this poet does) and assent to the truth of how many things emotion can lead to. Simple, but not easy to attain, this form of truth telling, but it’s not new for Austen to accomplish it. She’s a fine poet and here’s the proof.”
—Eloise Klein Healy
Where Currents Meet
Where Currents Meet (part of the Toadlily Press quartet, Sightline, October 2010). An “intense sequence of poems … written just at the nexus of social obligation and the desire to simply be,” writes Molly Peacock. Listen and read sample poems here.
skin prayers. Twenty-six poems recorded live at the KUOW Performance Studio in Seattle, Washington. Available at Open Books, CD Baby and wherever I’m reading.
“…Of course, Elizabeth Austen’s poems are a pleasure to read—in her hands, the page is a marvelous place: the white wilderness where the various animals of the alphabet reveal themselves, their fine shapes, their clear and complex interrelations, and the range of epiphany their movements make possible. But it is the physical voice of the poet that reveals the invisible body of each word, the sonic body, the thing that actually touches the ear. The pleasure of Elizabeth’s poems is, surely, in their thoughtfulness, in their deceptively quiet pursuit of food worthy of the head and heart, but these poems also exist as a type of music, as the song of one person speaking carefully to another. Inasmuch as the melody beneath a phrase of blues supports and magnifies what feels true to the singer, human speech with its rises and falls, pauses and precise inflections, also adds to our grasp of what’s what to the poet. This is a truly engaging—perhaps enchanted—collection of poems, and the living fact of Elizabeth Austen’s voice is good news for the world.”
– Tim Seibles, author of Buffalo Head Solos
“…engaging poems—whose subjects range from mothers to punctuation to the habit babies have of putting everything in their mouths—are given added depth and resonance through her sensitive readings.”
– Nancy Pearl, author of Book Lust and More Book Lust
11 thoughts on “Books”
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As one of the “linear readers” at Elliott Bay, I thought of a better way of describing how the re-ordering of poems in Every Dress a Decision works. The dedications and first poems changes the key of the poems from major to minor, and with understandably heartbreaking results. Another great gift for me was a complete re-interpretation of “The Girl Who Goes Alone.” While it remains an excellent feminist manifesto, coming at the end of the preceding poems, it becomes a guidebook through the wilderness of being human that anyone can use.
In the Spring 2011 edition of my own quarterly e-newsletter (I’m a Jungian psychotherapist in Seattle), I’ve included a link to the segment on Elizabeth on The Seattle Channel’s “Art Zone” with Nancy Guppy. A friend sent me an email weeks ago with a link to the segment…I was so intrigued–by both the poetry itself and the presence with which Elizabeth performed it–that I made the effort to attend her reading at Elliott Bay Books…which only confirmed and deepened my first impressions. To view the newsletter on my web site, go to: http://www.dankeusal.com/ and follow the link at the bottom of the page.
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I came across ‘Every Dress’ at the library recently and wow…so glad I did. Powerful and inspiring. I hope to attend a reading and/or workshop of yours in the future. Thanks Elizabeth, looking forward to more.
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My book read your book Every Dress a Decision. Any suggestions for book club questions?
Thanks for choosing my book for your book group – I appreciate that. I suggest you start the conversation by having people read aloud a poems or two that they enjoyed, so you all get a chance to hear them aloud. Here are some ideas for discussion questions: Which poems were memorable for you? What struck you about them? Did you get a sense of a narrative/story as you progressed through the book? What are the outlines of that story? How is your experience of that story different because it’s told in poems?
Also, if your group has questions for me, please feel free to post them here, and I’m happy to answer (though it might take me a week or so, as I’m on the road a lot these days). Again, thanks for reading my book!