Song of a Living Room
Invoking theorists, philosophers, and such poets as John Berryman and Lyn Hejinian, the poems of Brigitte Byrd’s third book ask the reader to follow a ribbon threaded among music, movies, poetics, and an unlinear sense of time. Its prose poems recount and deconstruct a relationship between two central characters experiencing this journey “Like an authentic vision. Like slipping into a Celtic knot. Like a new perception of space.”
“Brigitte Byrd writes dense, lovely, provocative poems. Their prose forms and often rational diction are an entrancing shell game showing and shifting and showing again the true passion and lyricism of her work. In this way, she illuminates the eternal struggle that our minds and our bodies and our hearts are always engaged in with each other and with themselves. Song of a Living Room is a splendid collection.” —Robert Olen Butler
This title is also available as an e-book.
(a brittle day passed by)
Despite his attempt at rewriting the opening scene her Georgian film took a tragic welcome. She had
almost reached the vanishing point when he broke. And then there was a tremor in his chest and he
pointed at nothing to say there is something broken and she loved him. There. Though thoroughly
convincing it was his dramatic dialogue which aroused the commotion in her lyricism. She stumbled on
his architectural syntax and held on to her ending. He indulged in peripheral sympathy. His questions
made it into the narrative. On the occasion a sensual allure sparked their sexual uproar. There was a
furtive glance at his eyes a shifting of hands on her thighs a conceptual prologue to. In other words her
show split into a new opening and there was a straightforward wait in the adaptation of their
domesticity. There is of course the bag. . . . There will always be the bag. After leaving this
performance red as his guitar they went on threading through the plot like under-written players.
Copyright © 2009 by Brigitte Byrd.
Byrd's cerebral prose poems are couched in an air of hyper-rationality that belies their visceral energy. As those progenitors of the contemporary avant-garde, The Futurists, so famously encouraged in the years leading up to WWI, Byrd casts her analogic net so widely it convincingly illuminates the interrelationship between mind and body, subject and object, ego and environment. The sum of these efforts is no less than a new way of knowing--and of knowing the self. Also, some of the most accomplished prose poems of the last decade, work which demands an active readership--one prepared to be challenged by verse so rewarding it bears not only careful reading but re-reading and re-re-reading. Very, very highly recommended. read more —Seth Abramson, Huffington Post
Song of a Living Room is an intriguing collection of poems that uses pleasurably lush language to explore the problems of displacement, alienation and the struggle to define ourselves and our surroundings. It is well worth the read. read more —Stephanie Burns, H_ngm_n
Byrd, in Song of a Living Room, treats speakerhood as a Godard-esque narration of disconnect.... there is an inimitable sort of "voice-over" in the poems. read more —Olivia Cronk, Bookslut
This book sounds good. The theme of this book is a melancholy echo, memory put to the pronoun, a musical effort made lyrical by its continual return to the French language. —Laura Carter
Byrd's method makes sense. This is the logic of daily life, of association, a leap from phrase to phrase, from line to line, a poem seeking Icarus's pleasures. read more —Franklin Winslow, Coldfront
The book is a must read for any experimental poet searching for heightened language and enduring metaphor, as well as for any reader who can appreciate the sensuality of stunning wordcraft. read more —Anna King, Apalachee Review
I was born in Paris, France, and was raised as a young child by my maternal grandparents in Montbron (Charentes), a village in the southwest of France. We lived on an island in the middle of the Tardoire River. I had a rather bucolic upbringing complete with dogs, fishing, swimming, flower-picking, biking, and delicious tartines. Early on, my grandfather passed on to me his love of nature, animals, and reading. One day, as he came back from one of his many business trips, he brought back a beautiful leather-bound collection of La Comtesse de Ségur’s work. Since my grandmother had converted part of the attic into a sort of magical play-loft, I spent many hours reading and day-dreaming about the heroines of de Ségur’s children’s novels. My favorite character was Camille from Les Petites Filles Modèles, after whom I named my first dog (another gift from my grandfather) and my daughter (much later on in life).
As an older child, I lived with my father in Paris as a result of my grandfather’s unexpected death. I suddenly was propelled into a completely different world. I remember roller skating on the busy side-walks behind my new friend, my father’s dog, and having to slalom between cars to follow her across the streets. My father enrolled me in a private Catholic school where I received an excellent education. It is at Sainte Elisabeth’s that I developed an interest for the arts. I took piano lessons, voice lessons, dance lessons, and participated in theatre productions of Molière’s plays. It was a very cool school where we had the opportunity to spend a month in the Alps during fifth grade, which I did. Besides having to wear the mandatory, awful, navy wool hat with white motifs and white pompom, living with my classmates in a chalet was a very exciting adventure. Until I started high school, I wore a uniform and walked in line, two-by-two like Madeline, to go to the swimming pool and to the stadium—a weekly event. I had dreams of becoming a ballerina, which my father attempted to thwart by lulling me into participating into equestrian sports. Then I dreamed of being a veterinarian, and he was reassured.
Beside Biology, my favorite subject was History. Not only did I love learning about the different periods of the French History, but also I was mesmerized by the world’s ancient civilizations. I am still fascinated with Ancient Egypt and Ancient China, and I love French and Chinese period movies. Actually, while I lived with my father, my maternal grandmother often came to spend a week in Paris and took me to the movies. She just loved cinema and certainly passed her passion for films on to me. For years, I have tried to watch at least two or three movies per week. Anyhow, I used to love staying with her in a hotel near the Opera, catch a cab to go to the movies, and grab a croque-monsieur in a Parisian brasserie afterward. During that time in Paris, I spent many short breaks at my paternal grandparents in Normandy. My grandmother loved animals and raised rabbits and sheep, besides the dog. There were also beehives, a wonderful garden, and a pond. Often times my grandfather would play the piano for me and tell me terrific stories. He was the first one to introduce me to the work of Johann Sebastian Bach and to anthropology.
At the age of fifteen, I returned to live with my maternal grandmother. This time we lived in Angoulême, Charentes, which is the birthplace of the novelist Balzac, among other French historical figures. You can imagine the Balzacian world as you walk along the narrow cobble-stoned streets of Angoulême. I finished high school at the lycée Saint Paul, another private Catholic school perched atop ancient fortifications. I had a typical French adolescence hanging out at café terraces, smoking dark tobacco, and drinking espressos with my friends after school. After graduating with a Baccalauréat with an emphasis in Biology, I went to Poitiers to attend medical school. That was a big mistake. I lasted six months. I have to say that my decision to pursue medicine was not all that rational since it was based on the distance between my student apartment and the nearest possible school, by foot, which turned out to be the medical school. At least I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed the daily walks through the old medieval city while they lasted. After that, I tried Law School in Bordeaux on a whim, indeed did not like it at all, and moved back to Paris.
Being very young and living in Paris was very much fun and contributed to my education in a worldly kind of way, the way living in a metropolitan area opens up the mind, I think. I saw tons of movies, concerts, and performances. I also read a lot and started to entertain the thought of writing. I had always written long letters to my friends and family and had kept a journal for years, but it was then that I thought more seriously about writing. I also started to form my own political opinions and became involved in politics. When the entire government collapsed with the death of Francois Mitterand (who had attended the lycée Saint Paul in the late 1920’s), I felt very much disillusioned. Since I had kept up with dance classes, I decided to audition with a dance company. It was very interesting to suddenly enter another completely different world, the world of spectacle. When we toured, I had the opportunity to discover Asia and Eastern Europe, for instance. And what is funny I think is that I really took a slow boat to China. . . . I suppose that there is some truth about writers needing to experience life before writing. At least, in my case, this is true.
After a couple of years in the company, I decided to visit my mother who lived on Maui (Hawaii), was mesmerized by the beauty of the island, loved the carefree life style, and hung out there for two years before moving to the South where I started college at the University of West Florida. I received a PhD in English/Creative Writing from Florida State University in 2003 and currently teach creative writing at Clayton State University, which is a small university, and a member of the Georgia University System, located in the Southern crescent of Atlanta. I like being in academia. I like the intellectual demands of it. I like being around students. I like the flexibility of my schedule. There are things I dislike, of course, but really, I think I finally made the right choice. How else would I be able to sit with my dog and my cat a couple of afternoons a week, listening to music, writing or reading? How else would I have raised my daughter by myself and been home as much as possible with her (and the dog and the cat)? I like that she grew up in academia and was exposed to the life of the mind earlier on. I took her to poetry readings, fiction readings, plays, dance productions, and we have seen many movies together. I took her to coffee shops and bookstores. She took me to horse riding lessons, horse farms, horse shows, and tack shops. She can also do pretty much anything on a computer, which is very cool and helpful to me. So far, we have traveled abroad to France many times, of course, and once to Russia.
I think that I found a balance raising a child while I was pursuing my education and writing seriously. Suddenly, I was preparing my daughter’s lunch box, leaving little notes for her to find under her sandwich, and reading intensively for my studies, and after a while, I started to incorporate a writing schedule into my life. This is really how I was able to write my first book, Fence above the Sea. Having a minimal writing discipline and squeezing a writing schedule in the midst of a myriad of work and domestic duties allowed me to write my other books The Dazzling Land and Song of a Living Room, as well as finishing a new manuscript while starting my new life as a college professor in Atlanta four years ago and preparing my daughter for college. Learning to systematize my life helps me remain balanced, although I always need a short period of emotional destabilization to enter a project. Moving from a college town to a suburban town south of Atlanta knocked me off balance, at first, and then I realized that I really like the landscape in Georgia. It reminds me of the Charentes region with its tall oak trees and pine trees, rolling hills, charming sandy creeks and multiple lakes. And there are also huge magnolias, which I love. They remind me of my childhood when I thrived on climbing high up in a tree, pretending I was a squirrel and it was my home. And like a squirrel, I ended up carrying books and tartines in my tree. And of course, I grew to like Atlanta, which hosts a very nice music scene and the cultural life found in large cities. In fact the combination of country and urban life works very well for me because I can take a short drive to Atlanta and get stimulated intellectually before retreating in the woods to write—in isolation. . . .
My early literary influences are Marguerite Duras and Milan Kundera, which I read in French when living in France. As I started a new life in the US and read in English, the respective works of Samuel Beckett and Gertrude Stein became my English language influences. About five or six years ago, I discovered Pascal Quignard’s work (a hybrid work composed of nonfiction/fiction/& philosophy), and recently, I developed a particular interest in Simone de Beauvoir’s creative work and philosophical work. So I guess that I am influenced by writers whose creative work merges with philosophy and poetry but is not poetry per say. That said, I love Anne Carson’s work—but again, hers is a hybrid work. And of course, I always read a lot of contemporary poetry, long works of fiction, and French “existentialist” philosophy. I also listen to alternative and world music and watch independent and foreign movies, which are essential parts of my creative process. The music helps me recover the mood of a work and stay within it as I compose, which is always a challenge since, like most everyone, I live a very fragmented life. Like books, movies are a way for me to better understand the human condition, and they often leave me in a sort of reflective mood. . . .
As soon as it was released in 2000, I read Lyn Hejinian’s The Language of Inquiry, a book that helped me define my own poetics and understand my own aesthetics. Like Hejinian, I believe that “Poetic language is . . . a language of improvisation and intention. The intention provides the field for inquiry and improvisation is the means of inquiry.” Thus in writing Song of a Living Room, my field of inquiry was a couple who step into a relationship as one steps into a magic circle (more accurately in their case, they step into a Celtic knot) which opens an imaginary world to them, a world they create, a world that also creates them, a world that forces them to create each other, a world that blurs time and space, a world in which they escape reality, a world in which they may lose themselves.
Because prose poetry is a form that is natural to me, a form I love, I wrote Song of a Living Room as a series of prose poems revolving around these two characters. There is a bit of ambiguity at times since there is a third character whose absence is felt throughout. This third character is anchored in reality and must be left outside the main characters’ imaginary world, like most consciousness of reality, if their relationship is to survive, which indeed it does not. The poems build upon each other as the book progresses, until the end circles back to the beginning following a shift, which signals the two characters’ return to reality.
Since form and content are interrelated, I composed a strangely “circular” narrative where the ending seemingly finishes where the beginning started (as in a Celtic knot), and yet the two characters have changed (or maybe they could not keep reality at bay any longer without falling into madness). This movement is signaled by my reusing, in the last part of the last section of the book, most of the words found in the first section, which I like to think of as a sort of structural deconstruction since the “meaning” has changed. By their very bareness, the very last pages of the book show a sort of final dismantlement of the dream-world which the two characters had entered at the very beginning.
To go back to Hejinian, “Poetry . . . takes as its premise that language is a medium for experiencing experience.” This is a very important concept to me because I firmly believe that all writers write more or less from their experience, and maybe for me it is more than for others. . . . Anyway, while writing Song of a Living Room, I drew from my daily life, my experience, and transferred this experience into the characters’ experience, which amazingly informed my experiencing of experience. As a result, throughout the collection, the poems flirt with fiction, and simultaneously, they are my reflection on the elements of fiction. Inevitably, the poems drift into the surreal, which means that I do not resist my imagination but run with it. The poems play with language, which indeed I love to do, and eventually, the structure of the book deconstructs itself (at least that was the attempt).