(This is an appreciation, and an introduction to www.saraiaustin.com.)
Sarai Austin, poet and writer, mother, sister, and wife, died suddenly and unexpectedly four months ago, October 16, 2016. Besides friends and family members and all the detritus of a normal life she left behind a lot of writing, mostly poetry. There are a lot of poems.
We were a bit reclusive these past years: I went to work, and she did too, finishing, in the carpentry sense, decades of writing work. There was no urgency we thought, but she wanted to get it done, and given that writing is only finished when you stop, what we have is what she gave us.
Like Emily Dickinson, whom she mentions in her long poem Cowboys (“I have been asking for a cowboy hat all year / …every occasion, I ask for a cowboy hat/ and The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, /but no one ever takes me seriously.”) she didn’t publish much, though not for lack of submitting manuscripts to magazines and little presses at fifty bucks a pop, a brutal and foolish business to someone not directly involved. Publishing has changed in the internet age, particularly poetry publishing, the door moved and the locks changed. She went back to the writing itself, and a few small chapbooks she laser-printed and folded and stapled in her studio down the path to the other side of the backyard of our 118-year-old house. She loved the house, she loved her studio, and she loved her work.
So, here’s a website, www.saraiaustin.com. She secured the domain and did some design, but I’ve taken it over. The layout is mine (I’m learning as I go), the words are all hers: I haven’t changed anything, not on purpose anyway, not even the spelling of Sassafrass, the title of her chapbook of blues poems, nor have I softened any of the moments in her poems that are no more flattering to me than I deserve. (She might say I’m making it all about me, but they’re not all about me.)
I hope she would like this website if she could, like that some of her poems are out now, available to more than the small audience of small press literary judges and recipients of her small batch handmade chapbooks. There’s also a selection of photos. There will be more poems later, as I go through what she left.
In truth, the real reason I worked this website was so that I could have access to these photos and poems wherever I have an internet connection, but I doubt I’m their only audience. I’d be remiss if I weren’t partial, but the more I read and reread her work (she didn’t show me everything, and I’m finding new stuff as I go) the more I appreciate this aspect of the person I lived with for 27 years. I hope—I expect—some of you already or will love these poems too. It’s not language poetry, it’s not poetry I would or could write (though she told me if she died first I’d probably steal it), it’s not political except in the way that the personal is always political, but maybe it’s what poetry is supposed to be if it’s supposed to be anything: wrought from the lived experience of the poet, in this case of a woman born at home on a farm on the banks of the Mississippi, living the second half of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first in America—Missouri, Arizona, Utah, California—married twice but a long-time single mother, a mentor and friend to other writers, and, of course, to me. I miss her, but I hope it’s not too foolish to say she’s still here, in these words and in these photos, in the memories of all who knew her, and of those who meet her here for the first time.