Tuesday, June 05, 2012

The Organ Builder Austin MacRae

The Organ Builder
Austin MacRae
Dos Madres

Review by Rene Schwiesow

Despite listening endlessly to Axl Rose sing “November Rain” in the early 1990’s, I would never have thought that one day I would read a sonnet about Guns ‘N Roses.  Austin MacRae brings the music of “Sweet Child of Mine” into the present moment and Axl, despite his less than savory reputation, is remembered again, for just a moment as a god:

Axl was my god in seventh grade,
a bullied small kid’s king of balls out rock.
I screamed “I wanna watch you bleed!” and prayed
that Slash would murder every asshole jock.

This sonnet is not a token to meter and rhyme in “The Organ Builder.”  MacRae, who teaches English at Tompkins Courtland Community College, has filled the book with form poetry.  By the end of a first reading my iambic tongue was most definitely awakened and that first taste, delicious.

In a villanelle entitled “Mowing” MacRae brings humor to the form:

The man across the street is mowing.
He smiles and waves at passers-by.
He has no clue his crack is showing.

In a nod to writing in form, MacRae talks about accepting slant rhyme in the craft with a sonnet entitled “Graceways,” which is also the title of a previous chapbook:

I crumpled up my quiz on verse that term,
an eighth-grade student who denied that “grace”
could rhyme with “ways.”  My teacher, though, was firm:
“The answer’s true.”  I turned and made a face.
That night my mother tried to smooth thing out:
“She’s right, the rhyme is what we call a slant.”

The couplet ends the work with:

The rhyme still echoes, showing me the ways
that imperfection leads a soul to grace.

The volta a nice turn toward the application of the work to life.

My favorite work of the book is a poem entitled “The Luthier at his Window.”

He turns his back on her, tries to forget
her perfect curves, sleek neck he fussed and fretted

over for so long, arched like a lover
against the wall.  Outside the first drops start

to fall.  He needs this distance from his craft
a moment to compose himself before

the turning of pearl, the tightening of steel. . .

Beautiful.  The last poem of the book does not disappoint us, offering that final sweet morsel of form in “Bee Season:”

Nectar-driven day burns down to evening
as light-swarms crumble to ash, vanish with day,
and endless summer, at its height, is leaving. . .

Austin MacRae’s fine-tuned work has brought high praise.  He is clearly a poet dedicated to the way in which words fit into a poetic puzzle.

Rene Schwiesow is co-host of the popular South Shore Venue, The Art of Words.  The wearer of many hats, Rene is thankful that writing helps her to remain grounded and sane.


  1. Anonymous12:08 PM

    nice review rene. i'm just getting into form so it was interesting to read your excerpts from this book. irene

  2. Austin MacRae4:39 PM

    Thank you, Rene! I'm so glad you enjoyed the book enough to write about it! Best, Austin