For November I reviewed the follow-up collection by Byrd, A Distant Footstep on the Plain. I’m doing it a little backwards this time by reviewing her first collection second, but it’s for a reason.
25 Years of Malcontent is, like its successor, raw and painfully real, but some of the works in this collection (e.g. “Mother’s Cadence”) are a little loftier, a little harder to grasp if you’re not well attuned to fine details related to the classics. Each poem is masterfully crafted and grabs your attention entirely; this is not a collection to read idly. I found that not only was I completely pulled into each poem, but that I reread it over and over– not necessarily due to confusion, but because each poem has such a powerful punch that I couldn’t help but reel and re-read sometimes to try to recover. Byrd’s writing is intense, she doesn’t pull any punches, and she doesn’t give you time to recover before the next one.
Her poems cover her own experiences; racism, the experience of being a lesbian, but in less of an upfront way compared to her later collection. This earlier collection is a little more masked, a little more intent on searching for the meanings of each poem, which are not always immediately apparent such as in “Dem Bones”: “it’s here! another bone for my garden / it’s received! another lady to tea”. Again, these are not poems to be idly read. If Byrd’s carefully crafted writing doesn’t get you, the raw emotion will. A few lines in “Mimi” illustrate this well: “i watched the rain destroy the roses / the length of time is not essential in these matters / i had only to wait to see the petals crumble with each drop”.