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Seeded Light, poems. by Edward Byrne. Turning Point Press (P.O. Box 541106, Cincinnati, OH 52454.) 102 pp. ISBN 978-1-934999-78-3. $18.[To order: Turning Point prefers that you order from Amazon or, but do visit their web site for the book first at





What would it be like to take a walk along a shore, look around,  and see all one’s interior life? To see the passions and events rephrased in sand and sea?  This seems to be what happens in Seeded Light, Ed Byrne’s luminous new book of poems, which moves outward and inward at once.

Edward Byrne is currently a professor of American literature and creative writing in the English Department at Valparaiso University, where he serves as the editor of Valparaiso Poetry Review. His poetry has won numerous awards, including an Academy of American Poets Award, the Donald G. Whiteside Award for Poetry, and a Utah Arts Council Award for Poetry. Seeded Light is his sixth book of poetry.

These are poems of water—almost every poem has water in it, seas, streams, ponds, lakes, rain. And the poems like their subjects flow at different rates. Some seem to be waves, some ripplings, some almost still. But the element of water so strongly dominates that the reader sometimes feels adrift too, in a good way, lifted and propelled by unknown forces. Images flow into other images, or deliquesce into the air. 

In his previous collection, Tidal Air,  Byrne parallels the natural world and its rhythms to the cycle of human life, particularly the passing from one generation on to the next. Here a more complex nexus of relationships is traced on the foreground of nature’s inexorable changes, as is Byrne’s wont, the titles often referring to life events and opening new doors for the poems. This is Byrne’s signature style—the inner weather is, or becomes, the outer landscape. His techniques too are consistent and easily recognized. As in his previous book, as well as many of his other works, the verses consist of flexible couplets, second line indented, usually with about 4-6 stresses per line—but without the metronome-like regularity of traditional blank verse. The pattern is partly to the eye, partly to the ear, and the range of stresses seems not so much to control the lines as to allow them to move like waves within their frame. A part of their appeal is the subtle but persistent alliteration and assonance which carry the lines along. The poetry may recall Wendell Berry and other nature poets for whom the visible world is a translucent network of symbols and meanings.

The tone of the poems is quiet. These are true nature poems, and Byrne has the language to concretely represent the varied surface of the physical world. But the metaphysics of nature is there too, and the full palette of emotions. Wendell Berry, Amy Clampett, and other recent and contemporary poets look both at and through nature at once, and explore the spiritual through the physical. So does Ed Byrne, but perhaps not so explicitly as the others. It is more a feeling than a declared symbolism. Sometimes the description is so real the reader feels on the scene, sometimes so evocative, so transcendent, that he or she feels within the setting and beyond it.

Yet these poems are paintings too. Now and then there is a hint of ekphrasis, the most notable being “Summer Evening: Truro, 1947,” which uses as its departure point Edward Hopper’s 1947 painting “Summer Evening.” It is really a poem about both what Hopper’s art is and what art is generally. It begins with an epigraph from Hopper: I have never been able to paint what I set out to paint. A dramatic monologue, it gives Hopper’s perspective by means of a series of images.

...And even today, as late summer
rain again blurs these scraps

of landscape that now fill our window – the sprawl
of pasture, thickening grassland

spilling toward those low rolling hills beyond
a shallow pond – I also think

once more of an earlier August night in Nyack,
though not so very long ago,

and how those lovers I thought I saw embracing
on the neighbor’s lawn remain,

somewhat vaguely in my faulty recall, shaded
beneath wind-shaking limbs

of an old oak...

            Instead of invented narratives,

I’d hope viewers notice contrast caused by sunlight
brightening an empty room,

the bleaching of a beachfront cottage facade
under summer’s noonday flare,

or the softening of solid objects during dusk.
Thus, I must mix of imagination

was any of my memories...

He describes the painting as it appears, and finally comments that

Although others can endlessly speculate about
the troubled lives of both figures,

their personal story was not a real concern for me
nor what I most wanted to show.

It is an exercise in composition and form: merely light
streaming down, the night all around.

Creation for the artist as well as the poet is a mix of observation, abstraction, imagination. Hopper is rather an anomaly in this collection. These are not Hopper scenes, which often show frozen moments glimpsed through glass, catching loneliness and isolation in unfulfilling lives. These are dynamic poems, always moving through a scene, through a life. And yet Hopper serves as a counterpoint—often the poems suggest that if you don’t move, if you don’t enter the stream, you are caught like the characters of Hopper’s paintings, frozen behind glass. Byrne enters the current, without reservation.

The poetic project throughout the collection is described in terms of blurring and clarity, darkness and light, reality and imagining, stillness and motion.  These poems don’t profit from selective quotation, especially of short passages, because of their flow and the accretion of their imagery. The emotionally resonant “Cross Sections: Notes from a Memoir,” for instance, is effective because of the two scenes it contrasts, both rich in nature and art, as well as because of the images in each half. What is especially attractive about Byrne’s poetry is that the details seem natural, almost but not quite ordinary. The reader doesn’t feel as if he or she has strayed somehow into a biology textbook (as may happen now and then with other contemporary nature poets.) In “Cross Sections, ” Byrne describes an uncle’s old New Jersey cottage beside the sea,/ its salt-blistered pinewood siding painted slate gray/ with slight lines of white trim rising high above/ the Atlantic on a bluff covered by clusters of bayberry/bushes or dune shrubs and the stubble of scrub/ brush... The reader can see it. When “Wildwood Crest,” New Jersey: 1965" is contrasted with “Le Havre, France: 1984" in the second half of the poem, the pairing elucidates both.

These poems take readers on very human journeys through translucent landscapes where the world is in some way in balance, or in touch, with what we are. They especially lend themselves to meditative reading, and their gift is a sense of deepened understanding of and participation in the natural world.

Seeded Light, reviewed by Janet McCann