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Otherwise My Life Is Ordinary

The Rag Blog
[Bobby Byrd’s] poems aren’t obscure or difficult in the way that much contemporary poetry is intentionally obscure. Byrd means to communicate. He wants to be understood and to reach readers. … Byrd is in your face. He’d like to shock you and offend you and then be your best friend, even if you are from Austin, New York, or Memphis, three American cities that he revisits in Otherwise, My Life is Ordinary … he has taken ordinary things and people — beans and plums, the bitchy waitresses, and the haunted widow — and turned them into something extraordinary.
British poet Tony Connor once told me, “A poet at 17 is 17. And a poet at 71 is a poet.” Connor published his first book of poetry, With Love Somehow, in 1962 at the age of 32. I met him in 1965 when he published his second book, Lodgers. His eighth book, Metamorphic Adventures, came out in 1996. Connor has stayed the course.

So has Bobby Byrd, the Memphis-born poet who has lived in El Paso, Texas, with his wife and children, since 1978. Soon after the Byrds arrived in El Paso, Bobby and his wife, Lee, founded Cinco Puntos Press, which has published half a dozen of Bobby’s books, including White Panties, Dead Friends & Other Bits and Pieces of Love; The Price of Doing Business in Mexico; On the Transmigration of Souls in El Paso; and most recently, Otherwise, My Life Is Ordinary. Son Johnny Byrd runs the press these days.

His dad, Bobby Byrd, is a kind of Texas wise guy and a man of wisdom, too, a Zen Buddhist priest, in fact, since 2010. Kinky Friedman would probably like his new book of poems; so would Willie Nelson. The Dalai Lama might get a kick out of them.

Byrd writes about his own life, his boyhood and youth, getting old, and about his time in Memphis, New York, and Texas. His poems aren’t obscure or difficult in the way that much contemporary poetry is intentionally obscure. Byrd means to communicate. He wants to be understood and to reach readers.
But he’s also about digging deep inside and expressing himself, which he does in the introductory essay, “How Did this Happen?,” and in the 49 poems that sound as though the author is in the same room talking to me, to you, and to anyone who will pause a moment, slow down, and listen.

Byrd has done a lot of listening all through his life. He’s listened to black music, Latin rhythms, and to the ways that ordinary people speak in El Paso and elsewhere. In “Benny Has Gone to Live with the Angels,” Byrd’s neighbor, Cecelia Ledesma, tells him that Benny, her dead husband, “still pulls at the sheets.” And then, the next night, Byrd himself hears Benny arguing with an “old vato.”

Byrd writes fearlessly. He’s not afraid to call a waitress “bitchy,” to describe Walt Whitman as “an old fart,” and to toss around the words fuck and fucking, which still can’t be broadcast on National Public Radio. No, you won’t hear these poems on NPR, perhaps because the author writes explicitly about sex in “Lying in Bed After Lovemaking” and because he doesn’t have a kind word to say about President Richard Nixon and President George Bush, both of whom flicker across these pages.
He’s explicitly and overtly political in “Imperialism in the 21st Century: The Bush Years.” Last time I listened to NPR, I realized that it wasn’t proper to say imperialism and George Bush in the same breath.
Byrd keeps coming back to poetry and to his sense of himself as a poet, as though he has to remind himself that he’s a real poet in the wide open spaces of Texas, an unlikely place for a poet like himself who identifies with the Spanish surrealist, Garcia Lorca, in “Channeling Garcia Lorca in Van Horn, Texas.” The poem begins, “one reason to go to Van Horn is to make poems.”

It comes to a close with the provocative line, “Austin is a shitty place to make poems.” Byrd is in your face. He’d like to shock you and offend you and then be your best friend, even if you are from Austin, New York, or Memphis, three American cities that he revisits in Otherwise, My Life is Ordinary.
If this book represents Byrd fairly, then his life probably is ordinary. But he has taken ordinary things and people — beans and plums, the bitchy waitresses, and the haunted widow — and turned them into something extraordinary.

Like Tony Connor, Bobby Byrd is a poet and a survivor, too. He’s an ordinary man who writes poems to survive and he survives because he makes uncommon poetry that expresses the 1960s utopian dream. “I want to walk in Peace and Beauty,” he writes in a long poem in which he agonizes about the spate of mass murders in Juarez, Mexico. He adds, “I want to be here next year, / Digging holes, planting trees, making prayers.” And making more poems, too, one hopes.
- Jonah Raskin, June 20, 2014  Visit Website
Eileen Myles, author of Chelsea Girls
"Byrd writes poems like a novelist. Epic ones. His lines are full of fiction, bullshit and beauty.”
Luis Urrea, author of The Devil's Highway
"A hymnal to life. He adds to the joy in this new sunburned collection that digs its toes into the El Paso grit but stretches its mind into the stars. I love this book."
Connie Voisine, finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Poetry
“These poems devastate me with how fearless and funny they are. The big notions are contained in our smallest everyday interactions and Bobby Byrd will not let anyone forget it.”
Cultural Weekly
“With poems like ‘Poetry is Waiting for me in the Other Room,’ and ‘I Make a Good Pot of Beans,’ [Bobby] Byrd demonstrates his expertise at making the ordinary into something extraordinary. This poet is a master craftsmen and it shows in every poem.”
Otherwise, My Life is Ordinary
By Bobby Byrd
Cinco Puntos Press

Bobby Byrd’s poetry is cut from the same cloth that was worn by William Carlos Williams. Byrd writes about working in the garden and everyday conversations. The 50 poems in this collection as Luis Alberto Urrea notes, “are made of memory, love, place and a kind of bluesy Zen.” Byrd grew up in the South, Memphis, Tennessee, to be specific, and now lives in El Paso, Texas. The poems in this book are prefaced by a potent essay, “How Did This Happen?” Among many insightful passages in this preface, he says, “I used to tell my kids, and now I tell my grandkids that I’d be dead without black music. Race music. 1950s Memphis music. It was a cultural revolution for us white kids growing up in the South.” The influence of soul permeates every page. Byrd uses poetry to turn the lens on himself and his revelations are both profound and funny simultaneously.
Another passage from his Introduction offers an excellent summary of his work. Byrd writes: “My poetics are simple enough. Nothing new really. No manifesto. I believe in those experiences that open up holes in understanding. Sometimes it’s a word or phrase spoken on the street; other times I can be watching a beetle climbing lonesome down a concrete curb or my beloved and I can be making love. I think of these times as a spiritual experience because I let go.” With poems like “Poetry is Waiting for me in the Other Room,” and “I Make a Good Pot of Beans,” Byrd demonstrates his expertise at making the ordinary into something extraordinary. This poet is a master craftsmen and it shows in every poem.
- Mike Sonksen , January 21, 2015  Visit Website

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