Dave Kavanagh reviews ‘Somewhere but not Here’ by Stephen Byrne


Dave was born and still lives in Loughshinny, a tiny farming and fishing village in the coastal North Co. Dublin. His work has seen recent publication in a number of anthologies as well as online at sites such as madswirl.com and Medium.
Dave was the originator of The Blue Nib and now plays second fiddle to the more experienced poet Shirley Bell.
Dave is married with two wonderful kids and splits his time between Ireland and the island of Fuerteventura. He is currently working on a novel and a first collection of poetry.

 

 

Stephen Byrne is an Irish chef and writer currently living in Chicago. His first collection ‘Somewhere but not Here’ which is reviewed below won the RL Poetry Award, 2016 International category. He has been published worldwide in places such as Warscapes, Spontaneity, Indian Review, Tuck Magazine, The Poetry Bus, The Galway Review, RædLeafPoetry-India, The Original Van Gogh’s Ear Anthology and many others.  He is the food writer for ‘This is Galway’ website.

 

 

 

 

Stephen Byrne’s ‘Somewhere but not Here.’ is a small collection. Stephen was very deliberate in keeping it short because as he says himself:
“I see this with themed poetry books these days—too damn long, plus if the topics are not your uplifting type, or on the personal, short I believe works best.”

This book is not built around an uplifting theme nor is it all written from personal experience. At first, you may find this remove a little disconcerting but as you read you share the writer’s rage, and Stephen has plenty to be angry about in this selection of his work.

Byrne started work on these poems in 2014 when the images that flickered across his TV and filled up his media feeds were of a world in chaos:
“I was watching the bombing of Gaza by Israel as well as watching the keyboard social-warriors go to war too. I realised that we watch a lot of world events, wars, tragedies, social injustices, from the comfort of our couches unbeknownst or uncaring of how lucky a position of a nice warm couch can be.” 

These tragedies both global and personal inform the poetry that bursts out of the pages of Somewhere but not Here.’  Poetry fuelled by the writer’s sense of all those things wrong in the world at that one moment.

At the time he wrote these pieces, Byrne was taking part in the ‘How Writers Write Poetry’ with The University of Iowa’s International Writing Program. During this creative period he witnessed the atrocity of the Gaza bombardment amongst other harrowing stories that came through media and news feeds. He was moved most by the human stories,  and individual poems within the book deal with these.

Neither Mourn Nor Forget  tells the human story of the Iranian woman, Reyhaneh Jabbari, waiting for death, and the letters she wrote to her mother prior to her execution.

Impossible To Stop reflects on history, how it informs the present and the future. One knows that the poet is addressing a larger audience.

And the title piece informs us of the theme of the entire work; Somewhere but not here grapples with immunity to disaster that doesn’t affect our own immediate world and to which we pay lip service by pretending to listen but so long as ‘someone else suffering does not dirty our doorstep’ we will remain unconcerned.

The poignancy of ‘A Father calls to his child on live leak Because you’re a Girl’ tell us a little of where the writer’s heart is at while he writes. Stephen is on the side of the human casualties of war and injustice.

A letter to bullshit on the internet, A dirge to fake news.’ & ‘Raise your heads.’ address the readers’ apathy and the virulent spread of misinformation on social media.

The latter of these two is unashamed slam style poetry, a call to action and an appeal for those tied up in the trivia of social media, mobile phones, self absorption and all those other things we waste our time on, to Stop, Stop Stop and look around at the real nature of our world, to raise our heads in passion and rebuttal at the injustice.

Over half of the work included in the book comes from this immersion and the writer’s anger and frustration.

The rest of the book comes more from Stephen’s own experience and deals with social injustice closer to home and specifically with the issues of mental health and the rising spectre of suicide.

The writer takes well aimed shots at government and politicians as well as honouring the memory of those who have died.

Byrne says:
“Back home in Ireland I was writing too about suicide that was happening at an alarming rate (still is) and not talked about as much as it should be. Living in Galway and by the river, it was a constant nightly commotion; the helicopter over the water, the fire brigade and cops, the family frantically pacing up and down. From my balcony, this was too regular.”

This epidemic is addressed in the sad but wonderful poem Sea’ which was one of this reader’s favourite pieces in the book.

Where Flowers Grow,   written for Fiona Pender, and the unfound victims (buried where flowers grow.) This piece is written in the voice of one who knows more than he reveals and is guilty, as we all are, of sometimes turning away from these things we cannot face.

Byrne believes that poets not only can make a difference but they should:
“I think poets and writers, should use their talents to bring light to such moments, regardless of whether they do it safely from their nice warm couch or work-desk. Topics such as suicide need voices and now is the time for the writer to chip in and bring to light as much as possible.”

Byrne has used his considerable talent to bring together these well-crafted poems and though they tackle topics which may make us squirm and which are neither uplifting nor personal, they are each in their own right essential poetry.

I would like to extend my thanks to the poet Stephen Byrne for allowing me to read and review this piece and for sharing with me his thoughts and feelings on both the subject matter and his writing process.

Dave Kavanagh February 2018

Somewhere but not Here is available on Amazon on the link here 

or by clicking on the image below.