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Poetry for Life

Poetry for Life

In her latest book, Mairéad Byrne parcels her poems into tidy little subsets she succinctly summarizes with words like calendar, everyday lunacy, war, family, instructions. Yet even this master of brevity can’t resist the urge to end her collection, The Best of (What's Left of) Heaven (Publishing Genius, 2010), with the ultimate caveat category: everything else. Despite her economy with words, she clearly has a lot to say.

An associate professor of Poetry + Poetics at RISD, Bryne is a keen observer of the fascination and foibles of everyday life – many of which inspire her engaging play with words. “I can’t think of a book of poetry more deliciously all over the place than Byrne’s,” notes Joseph Goosey in a review in The Rumpus. “In a poetic climate where everybody appears to be tying this poem to that poem – reaching toward a stylistic and thematic cohesiveness that can be wrapped up in a pretty little present of a review – Byrne ventures everywhere, does it all and does it, for the most part, better.”

Byrne’s poetry has less to do with verse, rhyme or traditional form than it does with rhythm, pacing, imagery, the inner workings of the mind and the pure joy of words themselves. She finds poetry (and humor) in ridiculous signage, unexpected juxtapositions, intonation, repetition, life’s perpetual absurdities and much more.

“I think the thing I like most about Byrne’s poetry,” notes British poet and playwright Luke Kennard, “is that it makes me laugh like a monkey (baring my teeth, mad with fear, involuntary, like something being electrocuted) and like a human being (subsiding into my chair, telephoning someone to read it to them straight away) at the same time.”

After emigrating to the US from Ireland, Byrne earned an MA in American Poetry (1996) and a PhD in Theory & Cultural Studies (2001) from Purdue University. Since coming to RISD in 2002, she has led countless poetry workshops and designed and taught courses in Sound Poetry, Visual Poetry, Metaphor, The Irish Comic Tradition and Writing as Art + Design, among others. She has also published seven chapbooks and three earlier poetry collections: Talk Poetry (Miami University Press, 2007), SOS Poetry (/ubu Editions, 2007) and Nelson & The Huruburu Bird (Wild Honey Press, 2003).

For Byrne, one of the most exciting aspects of the recent release of The Best of (What’s Left of) Heaven is “the serendipity” of Publishing Genius almost simultaneously releasing Pee on Water, the first book of short stories by Rachel Glaser 05 PT. “Rachel was in the very first poetry workshop I taught at RISD,” Byrne beams, adding: “Another student from that workshop is now finishing a poetry MFA at Louisiana State University, so I guess there’s a slow burn.”

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