Blurbs for Lockdown: Scenes From Early in the Pandemic
Perhaps historical events, like forests, have understories, the life that grows beneath the overarching shadow. If so, the poems in Ellen Austin-Li’s Lockdown tell an understory of the COVID-19 pandemic, one woman’s experience of the fear and grief of the early days of the virus—a son in quarantine after time away at school, a doctor husband who faces daily exposure, the dangers of isolation for a recovering alcoholic. “We are not a safe house.” And too, these poems tell a story of resilience: the survivor bees’ “stringed sound/of thousands of wings vibrating” played to an audience of one; the cherry tree, “having opened each bud against darkness.” “Composing poems during the lockdown kept me sane,” Austin-Li writes in her Acknowledgements. We, her readers, are grateful for the clarity and wisdom of these poems.
– Pauletta Hansel, author of Friend; Cincinnati Poet Laureate Emeritus.
Lockdown: Scenes from Early in the Pandemic proves to me yet again that art is what sustains me in the hardest times. Threaded with lyrical, mythic embroidery, Austin-Li’s pandemic chapbook weaves a glittering dewy web. The opening poem pulled me in like an undertow: “Virus ringing the globe, wringing hands held apart, washed warm with water, worn and wrung with worry.”
I was swept on the tide of warm, intimate interior moments—runny egg yolks with ramen, singing teenagers, unwashed faces, bees buzzing, childhood lakes—then slapped awake by clinical reality stinging with antiseptic, such as in the poem “Dirge for the Victims of Covid19”, where Austin-Li addresses the dead victims, “stuffed in/body bags, piled in trucks, left just short of frozen.”
Austin-Li’s gathering of poems captures the alternating dreamscape and waking nightmare of daily life in a pandemic, the way fear ripples and resonates backwards and forwards in time. In the darkness, sustaining memories of closeness and hope shine—“Oh, to hold tight my friends, to breathe in/so close, I smell the mint gum in their mouths.” Beautiful work.
-Elaine Olund, Author of The Invisible Suitcase, Finishing Line Press, 2020
Ellen Austin-Li’s chapbook, “Lockdown: Scenes from Early in the Pandemic,” chronicles the upheaval of life brought about by the pandemic with courage and vulnerability. Written during the first wave, Austin-Li’s poems examine the surreal perversity of our days in quarantine, when the speaker’s isolation can be countered by the joy of a beehive and where the mind-numbing everydayness of a run still means we are barreling uncertain into the future. Most of all, it’s about how we yearn to hold loved ones close and keep them safe when we are helpless to do so. With a variety of forms, including erasures, Austin-Li’s chapbook is a testament to a very particular and painful time in our collective history and is not to be missed.
-Rebecca Connors, author of Split Map, winner of the Dare to Speak Chapbook Competition
hosted by Minerva Rising Press.
NPR Interview about Firefly:
Listen to Ellen Austin-Li’s NPR interview on Cincinnati’s WVXU: https://www.wvxu.org/post/national-poetry-month-meet-local-poet-ellen-austin-li#stream/0
Ellen Austin-Li’s first chapbook, Firefly, is available @ Finishing Line Press or from Amazon. Click either button below to take you to the desired ordering page:
Blurbs for Firefly
There’s something in being wild / that keeps things alive,” says Ellen Austin-Li in her debut poetry collection, a brave book exploring addiction and ongoing recovery through a number of lenses, including formal poetry, extended metaphor, and the unadorned, yet intricately crafted truth-telling stories of a life. From the “torched … trembling” of a girl’s first drink (“Remember, no one likes a drunk girl. Never, your mother said.”), to the playful homage to Wallace Stevens in “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Cowboy Boots” (and, of course, as many looks at the woman who wears them) to the final poem, giving us the resurrection of once fading wild things now “green and growing,” Firefly provides the gift of an intimate picture of strength and courage.
-Pauletta Hansel, author of Palindrome, recipient
of the 2017 Weatherford Award in Poetry
Ellen Austin-Li’s first poetry collection Firefly shows a meticulous eye and a careful ear that draws the reader in to this tale of an Irish lass who has a liking for the drink. Her images are startlingly precise and her metaphors show depth and understanding. These poems surge through dark seas to find—at last—a safe harbor of wisdom and determination. I highly recommend this collection where insight becomes art.
-Karen I. Jaquish, author of What Remains,
Finishing Line Press, 2015.
In Firefly, Ellen Austin-Li’s first collection of poetry, the reader observes the narrow spaces between darkness and light, between the abyss and the peaks. Through expressive language and metaphor the poems focus on regret and hope, acquiescence and determination. As Austin-Li writes, “light shimmers brightest on the surface of a black pond”. The poems in this collection provide an unflinching account of a journey towards higher ground, “hopeful for the possibility of ascent.”
-Leslie Clark, author of Driving in the Dark,
Finishing Line Press, 2017.