Tuesday, 30 June 2009

The Bird Artists by Laurie Byro

The Bird Artists is Laurie Byro's first chapbook, and I urge you to buy it. She received both 2nd and 3rd place for the 2008-9 IBPC Poems of the Year. She lives in New Jersey and I first encountered her work when I judged the IBPC competition for three consecutive months and she won (anonymously) twice, with 'Wolf Dreams' and then the title poem 'The Bird Artists'. You can order it online at: http://lauriebyro.com

"In this spellbinding debut, Laurie Byro creates a magical world of rituals against harm. Precisely textured, transformative and feral, The Bird Artists has the force of myth and folklore but is firmly anchored in the quotidian. These richly wrought poems linger on and draw me back to marvel at their compact power."

That's what I wrote on the back cover. Mark Doty wrote of 'Wolf Dreams' when it won a prize he judged: "Appealing sexy and strange, it's a pleasure to read these images of transformation, which create a vivid physical sense of an animal body."

Wolf Dreams

I wasn’t sure what he wanted of me; the ice

in winter birches had made the forest slouch

into spring. All that winter I peeled

and sucked papery bark for the sweet taste.
I recognized him from his red tongue,

the furtive runs when I entered his dream

and we crawled along the forest floor, repenting
the dark. I had nothing to bargain with,

no deal to make him human. The night

was filled with briars and salt. In the summer
the air became thick with honeysuckle, slick

with mating. Beetles droned in messy beds

of clover. We slunk along, weeds stroking
my belly. I hadn’t yet decided which life

was better. Grass combed the plume of my tail.

The nights were crystal sharp. I waggled
my slit high, what was left of my breasts pushed

into a pile of decaying leaves. Who cared

how many and how often, I was not entirely his.
Eyes of owls glittered in the sleep of trees, tree frogs
sang in a green-robed choir. The moon clamped

its yellow tooth into my shoulder. I took the whole
night inside. What was to become of us? I had

packed away my white Juliet cap and veil for just

such an occasion. I held him like a warm
peach in my palm, longed for his juice to run

down my chin. Most nights I didn’t care about

the names they gave me. I held my fingers
out to him, felt the tug as my ring fell off, carried

my limbs down to the entrance of his den,

planted a birch just outside his home
as a token of my loyalty. I was free

of the chains of consequence. I gave birth

to his amber-eyed bastard who without hesitation
he devoured. When he becomes old and says

he always dreams of me, I shall make myself

a meal of him, savor his voluptuous tongue,
and suck all the bitterness from his bones.

He will not make such promises again.


  1. What do you make of the enjambent in that poem?

  2. 'Wolf Dreams' is mesmerising. Thank you for letting us know about this, Pascale.

    Laurie, congratulations on your firstborn, The Bird Artists. May you have many more successes.

  3. Hi there:

    I was told by teachers that line breaks are mysterious and hard to give "rules" for. Sometimes, I like to break on a verb so that it gives the poem a racy jazzy feel. Unless of course, I am counting beats for pentameter. This poem simply seen to "feel" right in lines of three. Hope this helps, I'd be eager to hear what you think. Peace

  4. oh Michelle: Thanks so much. I am over the moon with the reception of this. I waited almost 10 years to put something together and get something compiled. I had been in Uni press for a long time, but honestly, I'm glad I did it the way I did it. It felt good somehow, like Dylan (i'm a dylanist) like I wanted creative control and to have something come out as it needed to. Peace and best wishes. Laurie

  5. one more comment and not to I dunno impeded on Pascale's tail feathers. For months before I appeared before her anonymously and she the judge, everyone said "you and she could be twins you are so alike in your styles"--I've bought each one of her books. She's the best. Again, it reminds me of the Dylan "simple twist of fate" "I still believe she was my twin but I lost the rings. She was born in Spring" etc....

    peace all and hushing up now...


  6. Hi Michelle, really pleased you like this poem, there are plenty of other fabulous ones in the booklet including 'The Bird Artists' itself.

    Hi, Anonymous, I think the enjambments in this poem enhance the nonstop pace, and act rather like a wolf's leaps from terrain to terrain. The line breaks also read aloud quite naturally and add pauses to add extra weight to some phrases such as "he devoured".

    Laurie, I hope your full-length collection will soon follow...

  7. Laurie, I ordered The Bird Artists today and am so looking forward to reading it.

    And yes to Laurie's full-length collection, Pascale.

  8. Enjambment works most effectively when the line ends on a noun or verb in which the line contains a full unit of sense, but when our eye falls on the first word of the next line, it realises that the meaning has carried over.

    At random, i haver a collection by Michael McKim: Still This Need, and the second and third couplet of a poem called Coventry on page 25, will illustrate this example.

    Does it really keep on going or does it simply end
    with the cut on the paper? All is guesswork.

    Now you see the city for what it is, and infiltration
    on a lake brimming with laughing geese.


    So we can see that enjambent is the splicing in the middle of a clause in the sentance which when done best, keeps our eyes on their toes because in the milisecond between it taking in the end-word, to it moving left and down to the first word of the following line, we are suspended in a vaccum of unknowing if the clause seals itself or carries over, and the element of surprise enters the equation, a halting almost unconscious quiver of space and time in which the directional possibilities of the poem are up in the air and because we do not know what is coming the potential in that silence of the line being enjambed or not, offers a heightened perception of routes we may travel and adds to the overall craftspersonship which contributes to our overall reading experience.