Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Otherwise, My Life Is Ordinary - Bobby Byrd (Cinco Puntos Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Otherwise, My Life Is Ordinary.  Bobby Byrd.  Cinco Puntos Press.  El Paso, Texas.  2014.

Bobby Byrd's Otherwise, My Life Is Ordinary is a big book and it is packed.  Byrd starts us off with a very amusing and informative personal essay outlining his life and practice of poetics.

It sounds a lot like he is a mischief making Buddhist with a taste for wine, a good pot of beans and always a good story to tell.

Back Roads To Far Towns

I wish old Basho would come to my house.
Especially when it's winter, a paltry desert winter,
Warm enough this evening to sit outside in the city night
Huddled up in a warm jacket and a good hat
The trees bare-boned,
Old men, Basho and me--
We will drink some red wine
A bottle of the $7.49 merlot from the 7/11
The one with the yellow kangaroo
And we'll swap stories.
Like that one about the frog jumping into the pond.
What's the story behind that, huh?
Or maybe he'll want to know,
What's it like to be pissing in the backyard with my two sons
The full moon like a Chinese coin.
We'll sit there on our sorry asses
At the beauty of a dying cockroach
We'll write a few poems
Three-liner thingamabobs
Old-man fingers
Useless 3x5 index cards
I'll lose somewhere
Why not?
The gate swings open and shut
Open and shut
The cockroach is the gatekeeper
Basho and me
We will empty that bottle of wine

     "Enough," he says, "is always exactly enough."

"That's a good one," I say, and we giggle
And the big bright moon
Dodges back and forth behind the clouds.


Otherwise, My Life Is Ordinary is anything but ordinary.  It is not ordinary to write this close to the surface of the earth, to be this grounded.  These poems lack all guile or artifice, instead they overflow with a vitality to be envied.

A Sonnet For Love

Flossie put her plums in the icebox.
Bill ate a plum and wrote a famous poem.
I tried the same trick on my wife.
Turns out she doesn't like cold fruit.
That's what she said.
She turned over and went to sleep.
That was afterwards.
I got up twice in the night to pee.
At 5am she let the cat in and fed him.
When she climbed back into bed she farted.
We giggled and went back to sleep.
After a while she let the cat back out and made coffee.
Sometimes I do all that stuff but it's so nice when she does it.
This poem, like all of my poems, is for sale.


In Byrd's "ordinary life" there are short sledgehammer poems and long rambling John Steinbeck Tortilla Flats monologues.  Byrd is political, practical and never, ever precious.

Not sure I've ever read a book of poems where I felt a clearer portrait of the poet emerge.  This is a poet I want to share wine and stories with.  These poems reflect a rich life well lived, full of music and family.  Byrd states his priorities so clearly I think I could pick him out of a crowd.

These are fine poems on a very human scale.

Imperialism In The 21st Century: The Bush Years

George Bush flew to Pakistan.
They hated George Bush in Pakistan.
With good reason.
George carries his bible like an AK-47.
The Muslims carry the Koran the same way.
It was them against us, us against them.
But Mohammed
He paid George no never-mind.
The prophet fed the president bitter pomegranates.
The president refused.
He didn't want his lips purple with the juices.
Lee changed the channel.
Kathryn Hepburn was pulling leeches off poor Humphrey Bogart.
The African Queen was lost in the swamps and the reeds.
Life always happens like this. There is no story without trouble.
Kathryn Hepburn was undaunted.
Humphrey Bogart was in love.
The Germans, like the American Empire, didn't stand a chance.


Today's book of poetry loved the weight of these poems because they hold the right amount of humour, the sufficient stroke of gravitas -- but Byrd never takes anything too seriously, it is all serious mirth.

Growing Up In Memphis, #3

In 1952 Dewey Phillips invented Elvis.
It happened on the radio.
Rock n' Roll saved my life.
In 1960 the bad guys sold Elvis into slavery.
Don't let anybody tell you different.


Bobby Byrd

Bobby Byrd—poet, essayist and publisher—grew up in Memphis, Tennessee during the golden age of that city’s music. In 1963 he went to Tucson where he attended the University of Arizona. Since then he has lived in the American Southwest. In 1978 he and his wife—novelist Lee Merrill Byrd—moved to El Paso, Texas with their three children. The city and the border region has become their home.

Bobby Byrd, the recipient of a poetry fellowship from the NEA, a D.H. Lawrence fellowship, and an international fellowship to study in Mexico, is one of the most accessible poets writing today. His work is compassionate, tender & joyful. He is the author of numerous books of poetry including Pomegranates, Get Some Fuses for the House, On the Transmigration of Souls in El Paso, The Price of Doing Business in Mexico, White Panties, Dead Friends & Other Bits & Pieces of Love and his most recent, Otherwise My Life is Ordinary.

"Byrd writes poems like a novelist.  Epic ones.  His lines are full of fiction, bullshit and beauty."
      Eileen Myles - poet, performer, novelist and essayist

"Bobby Byrd has wrought a singular music over the years made of memory, love, place and a kind of bluesy Zen.  I love this book.  It's a hymnal to life."
     Luis Alberto Urrea - author of The Hummingbird's Daughter"

"Bobby Byrd's poems have that rare ability to make profound the ordinary rituals and events of everyday life.  His hand-carved stories twist our hearts and make us remember ourselves."
     Tom Russell - singer/songwriter

Bobby Byrd, poet, publisher.


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