An Afternoon with Mairéad Byrne

An Afternoon with Mairéad Byrne

Poet Mairéad Byrne came to us on a cold, windy, April Fool’s Day. Her poem “Spring” perfectly illustrated her presence on campus:

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After a long winter, April and the promise of sunshine and warmth made us almost giddy as we filed into the auditorium. During her reading, students seemed a bit more . . . aware; faculty seemed a bit more . . . cheerful. We had endured 31 of the darkest days on record, and now Mairéad Byrne, our April, was reading from her collection You Have to Laugh: New + Selected Poems (2013), a compilation of witty and clever musings rife with a propensity toward sadness (“Crop”) and self-deprecation (“Things I’m Good At”; “I Went to the Doctor”). If you are new to her, Byrne is an Irish emigrant living in Providence, RI, and teaching at RISD (below: her faculty profile video).

Her many publications include Talk Poetry (2007), The Best of (What’s Left of) Heaven (2010), and Lucky (2011). She is effortlessly cool and poised, naming standup as an inspiration during those days, weeks, and/or months of mired writing. An avid arts lover, Bryne quotes Bob Marley and Van Morrison, as well as Wilde, Joyce, and Beckett during her readings. Her attention to detail, her observance of the mundane, is quite beautiful. She is a master craftsperson – her short poems, sometimes even without words (“Audience”), seem to illustrate her wry humor through the minimalist approach. “And Finally” exemplifies this:

I have never been sorry

to hear those words

at a poetry reading.

In an interview with Sina Queyras, she claims, “Humor in women isn’t valorized. Humor in poetry isn’t valorized. It’s a double-whammy . . . With humor + women + poetry, the category just hasn’t been articulated yet. But there are plenty of vivid practitioners. Watch out for them. Talk. It’s happening.” And just by reading her work, those of us who had the opportunity to listen on that April afternoon became excited for what was to come.

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