Sunday, May 20, 2007

Mairead Byrne, Talk Poetry (Miami UP 2007)

"You could use this stuff for stand-up and STILL have enough leftovers to construct a small working Christopher Marlowe..." Jow Lindsay
I have long been a fan of Mairéad Byrne, a poet who is as funny as she is brave and original. We first crossed paths electronically, where she proved herself to be a tireless advocate for the open mind, using her abundant wit to explode smallness everywhere. It didn't take long before I had read her work and then met face to face. Poets who are fully embodied in their work are rare, and Byrne is one for whom poetry is a lifeblood, as daily as breathing and pulsing. Her blog, Heaven, has not been so much about commentary (that she does through poetic listservs), as much as about recording her daily practice. Now, after what Byrne would describe as a long drought, we have several new books at once, culled in part from her blog.

Byrne's previous publications include two poetry collections, SOS Poetry (/ubu Editions 2007), and Nelson & The Huruburu Bird (Wild Honey Press 2003); three chapbooks, An Educated Heart (Palm Press 2005), Vivas (Wild Honey Press 2005), and Kalends (Belladonna* 2005). With her latest book, Talk Poetry, Byrne proves that she is a poet to be reckoned with, a poet who has honed her unique blend of surreal humor and wit to perfection. You have to love a poet who can say, "I wrote a book about James Joyce, but I never finished Finnegan's Wake. I got mad at Joyce. After all, I have a life too..."

I posted on Bryne's "The Difference between poetry and stand up," a while back and so won't repeat myself here. Suffice to say it is as worth checking out, as this latest volume is. The prose poems here are not unlike the gems found in Anne Carson's Short Talks, or Margaret Atwood's most precise prose poetry. They are also reminiscent of James Tate, which is to say, humorous and accessible without being obvious. These poems are funny, sly, and deadpan: "I have adopted a 49 year old woman. I've always wanted to adopt. Of course I was thinking of a younger child..." or the poem, "The Russian Week," which begins:
Inside this week is another week & inside that week is another week
inside that week is another week & inside that week is another week &
inside that week is another week & inside that week is another week so
that instead of 7 days each week is actually composed of 7 weeks each
one a little smaller than its container week but still workable...
Did I mention Byrne is Irish? That she recently became an American? Did I mention you won't find the predictable Irish representation here, no Heaneyesque pastoralism, no falling back on the lilt (She has a wonderful Irish lilt, but the funny thing is, that lilt doesn't require specific poetic content...who knew?). Perhaps this is partly because she is a rare specimen: a female Irish poet. To that end her poems tend to be about banal things such as "division of labor," which describes when a poet can and cannot be helpful: "When a person is throwing up you cannot help in the throw-up operation..." you can pat, you can admonish, she concludes, but "It is not your job." Whereas she wisely notices that, "When someone says to you: I don't think I want to be with you anymore, you say, Here is your hat."

How to wrestle with the quotidian? How to talk about motherhood, single-motherhood no less, in a poetry world that long ago seems to have banished all references to children and/or domestic struggle in favor of the grand project. "I used to be 4 years younger than my husband when he left me with 2 children & I got 7 years older very quick. Two years went by. I was 11 years older then..." Byrne takes what she has and oragamis it into tight prose portraits. Time passes, and in it, surprising slants of light appear, flicker and pass again.

No comments: