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In this day and age (or as it has been since humanity evolved to create power structures in order to keep each other in check) everything is political, and Stephen Byrne's Somewhere but not here is no exception to this rule. Inspired by the savageness of humanity's every waking moment, this award winning poetry collection touches on the infestation of "fake news" to brutal gang rapes half way across the world. Byrne's ultimate goal is to engage his readers' minds in such a powerful way that "the night will fall in screaming / & the dawn will snap in two." He is trying to create discomfort for those individuals who think they are impervious in their own snug homes, who believe themselves to be out of reach from "the men of nightmares & dreams." Byrne's cutting poetry highlights that ownership of that supposed safety is simply an illusion. For those whose bubbles of security have been rudely popped, they will feel a "wet chill, like a frozen / tongue touching your cheek."
If there is any question as to the nature of Byrne's mission, readers need simply cast their eyes upon the beautiful, tragic opening lines of "Unforgotten."
We sometimes close a book /
that whispers requests from those /
who want to return but never can
Poet William O'Daley states that through Byrne's words, "We share in the poet's empathic vision..." Readers will indeed be cajoled, pleaded with and warned throughout this poetic assembly to search for a connection with their fellow human beings, not matter what country or social caste they happen to reside in. It is "begging the world / to stop / imploding & listen." Listen to the whispers of the dead, the dying. At times this overarching message can feel heavy handed. Readers may find themselves rolling their eyes and muttering, "we know, we get it" as they rifle through the pages, but an understanding must be had. Like the child in "A Child Awake At Midnight," those who process Byrne's material with a mind open for critique of this present reality will be "awake at the stroke of midnight / opening his eyes to the sound of the wind."
In terms of presentation, the poetic styling of words onto the page is anything but uniform. This strategy of applying different poetic forms throughout the collection does ensure that the readers will not find themselves becoming fatigued even when digesting this intense material. Byrne does not confine himself; he will use proper punctuation for one piece and then tosses out all of the rules in the next. As the poetry's subject matter changes in shapes and sizes, so to does the poetry. While the poems are staunchly supporting the collection's overall theme of "raise your fucking heads / raise them high / raise them hard," Byrne's ability to provide visually interesting pieces is exemplary. No two are alike. It must be considered that this approach only enforces Byrne's comments on the human society. Like these poems, no two people are completely the same either.
For those individuals eager to obtain more knowledge on the subjects of Byrne's poems, he has thoughtfully included a 'Notes' section with just enough information to act as a launch pad for more investigative research. Though readers will also may want to do some more research on Byrne himself as he is an Irishman come to Chicago who is not only a poet but a chef! The world is truly a fascinating place filled with fascinating people. Lovers of social justice and newcomers to that arena will most likely take pleasure in this book, but no harm will come to any who take a peek within its covers. Somewhere but not here won the RL Poetry Award 2016 and can be purchased on Amazon.com.