Austin James
Hybrid Sequence Media
June 25, 2020
Reviewed by Brian James Lewis

Hello darkness my old friend…I mean, welcome back to the Skullcave, home of Damaged Skull Writer & Reviewer! Sorry, I’ve just been pounded by Austin James’ poetry collection Shrapnel which is definitely RAW. Let me put it this way, if you like poems about birds, flowers, sunshine, and crystal-clear mountain air-go get your kicks elsewhere! Ditto, if you require poems that always rhyme. But if you’ve been kicked around by life and had your neck stepped on more than once. Maybe drank and drugged in excess in hopes of evading your stupid, shitty life and all the pain that goes along with it, only to wake up naked in an ambulance? If so, SHRAPNEL was written for YOU!

Part painful autobiography written in angry scrawls by a rusty switchblade on public toilet walls and part calls for help mixed with proclamations of anger, lust, and loss-Austin James’ work leaps out of the pages and attacks readers’ eyeballs. Speaking of eyeballs, even the front cover of this volume is twisted! At first, you see a spiny nightmare creature, but then you realize it’s being attacked by another from the rear. Maybe they’re mating, as bad thoughts often do, until you’re reeling over the brink.

The first poem to whack our eyeballs with a stick is simply a date; 22, 409 and begins with, “Ten things I don’t want to talk about…” The images keep scrolling, until we realize that we’re reading about a dead person and how hard it is to let go even if we want to. There’s also a strong undercurrent of anger, both at the hospital staff and for everything that’s led to this. I lost my Mom very suddenly this year, so I feel this.

The poem “Yahtzee!” on page 36, answers some of the questions non-writers ask those of us who do. We might as well try to explain the universe. But James unapologetically offers this:

Don’t call me a poet
I just can’t cope with the depths
so I shit my guts onto the page
like a handful of dice
to see if anything adds up

Can’t beat that for honesty! And isn’t that kind of what we all do when writing rough drafts?

Something a bit more seasonally oriented is the poem “Cold Front” which dispels the whole warm and cozy “Hello Fall” ridiculitude. James’ isn’t a bit happy to see all traces of summer packed away in favor of colder weather. Hell, even: “All the songbirds are sipping mojitos on some beach in Mexico” How nice for them! Meanwhile we’re stuck inside shut windows watching flies die while stirring grainy, bargain brand hot cocoa mix into a cup of tepid water. Whooee! Try not to remember that gun hidden in your nightstand. Happy Fall, indeed!

So there’s a sampling of the ride you’ll be taking when you read Shrapnel-Raw Poetry by Austin James. I also dig the cool snippets of art included with the verse that really do contribute to the vibe. “The Tree of Dermatology” is a favorite. This collection is difficult to place a number rating on because it is so raw and there are times when you might not like what you’re reading. But as a valid, artistic expression of a person living in these modern times, I think it rates a solid 5 STARS for its intensity and microdetails hurled into a huge space, kind of like, well, Shrapnel.

Looking for more information? Check out Austin James’ profile on and say howdy to him on Twitter @AusJamesWriter. Hybrid Sequence Media is a cool independent publisher of horror and weird with lots more groovy stuff happening this year. You can reach them on Twitter @HybridSequence and click the link to their site. Tell them that Damaged Skull Writer sent ya! Until next time, I’ll recede back into the darkness. Happy Horror Reading!


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