Book Interview: Somewhere but not Here by Stephen Byrne

Stephen Byrne was born in Dublin and now lives in Chicago. His first book of poems Somewhere but not Here was born of the RL Poetry Award 2016 (international category). His poetry and other writings have appeared in many journals and magazines worldwide in print or online including The Indian Review, The Poetry Bus, Galway Review, The Blue Hour, Boyne Berries, and many more. Stephen has participated in workshops with Kevin Higgins, Karen Solie, Simon Armitage, Stephen Murray, Jane Hirshfield, Marvin Bell and Robert Hass and has studied ‘How Writers Write Poetry’ with The University of Iowa’s International Writing Program 2014 as well as 2015 and also ‘Modern & Contemporary American Poetry’ by University of Pennsylvania. He has read at many venues throughout Ireland including Ó Bhéal, The Long Valley Bar, Cork, Over the Edge in Galway, The Playhouse Derry, Northwest Words in Donegal and The Redline Book Festival Dublin.

1. Why Somewhere but not Here?

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When I was putting this collection together, it was from a person, watching the world from their couch, home, computer, and so on, a world at war with itself and not touching their doorstep.

The book split into two halves, and the ‘but not Here’ section became a section about suicide and mental health which does touch our doorsteps, so the title became this. I’m not into over-the-top fancy-pants artsy poetry book titles, and this just worked.

2. Your poetry has evolved over the years. Do you agree? Explain.

Big time. I use to be about the ‘I,’ the personal, but over the years, even in my reading, so much poetry is about the individual, and I find it boring. I became obsessed with poetry written from another POV or poetry writing lyrically, hinted with mystery and surrealism such as Brigit Pegeen Kelly or Lucie Brock-Broido. Authentic story-telling and brilliant imagery; it’s a style I like to write with too.

3. Stephen, what are your three favorite poems in the book?

Efflorescence” because it was the subject that hit me hard and prompted me to follow up the subject of worldwide events, “A Father Calls to His Child on Liveleak” again because of the subject matter and emotions I felt observing and writing it and because it was a writing form-challenge too, and “Wandering Through The Silence of Fuente Grande” because of the feelings that hit me when I visited the area of Federico Garcia Lorca’s unmarked grave, my favorite writer and the fact that I was standing in a sea of bones of victims of Franco regime.

4. Stephen, talk about one particular memory that is buried in the pages of the book.

Returning was written after I visited my original home in Dublin and witnessed how nothing had changed, how the place was actually deteriorating for the worse, how sad and broken the area looked, the wild horses running along the streets, the broken walls of gardens, and the quietness, a creepy silence, not the way I remembered when I grew up there.

4. Did you work toward any particular theme?

The theme worked itself out. When I began writing the poems in this collection, it was 2014, and the Gaza destruction was happening as well as otherworldly events that struck me and kept me writing. Closer to home, suicide and mental health was a topic that hit close to home, way too often, and I was writing about this also, and the two themes met each other in the middle to produce this work.


5. How did you know your manuscript is ready for publication

I wanted it short. I had what I regarded as my most influential poems on topics which were not the usual themes that keep people engaged in a book, some hard to read regarding issues, so I knew, this is what I want, the size I want, the feeling and emotional response I want and omitted a couple and stuck to not adding any more poems.

6. Stephen, which contemporary poets are you reading now? 

Always Nathalie Handal, my favorite living poet, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Charles Simic, Robert Peake, Helene Cardona, Tyehimba Jess, Elaine Feeney.

7. Any book/s of poems, in particular, you would recommend?

Tyehimba Jess’s Olio, Nathalie Handal’s Love and Strange Horses, Danez Smith’s Don’t Call Us Dead, Brigit Pegeen Kelley’s Song and Orchard, Feng Sun Chen’s Butcher’s Tree, and Lucie Brock-Broido’s Stay, Illusion.

8. If you had a chance for bartering your poems for anything, what would that be?

Curry recipes. I’m a huge curry eater as well as a person who cannot handle anything too spicy, but, have a good curry recipe from any region worldwide, and I’ll swap you a poem.

9. Three reasons why people should buy Somewhere but not Here?

One, it’s a short book but story-packed of events from around the world that should not be forgotten, two, little poetry books are beautiful and easy to read and fit beautifully in your home library, three, I will love you forever for becoming part of this book by reading it and sharing it to as many people as possible, spreading poetry and stories that writers work hard to create and create a form of entertainment.

Buy Somewhere but not Here by Stephen Byrne here.