Pecan Grove Press, 2002 (ISBN 1931247005)
The first word that comes to mind when reading Edward Byrne's collection, Tidal Air, is "austere." From the beginning of the book to the end, Byrne's poems, all neatly carved into step-down couplets, flow along, brooding and steady like the tide. That tide serves as transition between the individual parts of the book in the same way Byrne himself is the transition between his son and his father. Tidal Air, after all, is not so much a collection of poems as it is the uniting of two long poems dealing with the sickness and recovery of his son followed by the sickness leading to death for his father. The two long poems are then divided each into twelve self-contained segments, providing a perfect ebb and flow, a sense of order. Byrne's tone throughout the book plays off that order as he meditates on the scenes so important to his life. He takes long winding journeys inside himself, filling the pages with lines at once reserved and sincere. One might easily imagine them being read aloud by Wallace Stevens, as with these lines from "On Learning of Our Son's Illness" in the poem "Whole Notes and Half Tones: Songs for My Son":
The only sound we hear is that warm afternoon
wind still sifting through the long arms of elms
everywhere around us. We watch as our son
runs alone across the grass, his figure silhouetted
now against sunshine slowly dying in the sky
In this book, one finds none of the sort of sleight-of-hand sarcasm writers like Collins, Ashbery and Halliday use so well to trick their audiences into learning with laughter. Tidal Air is a somber book filled with the sadness of loss, the fear of losing, and the hope for better days. It does everything it sets out to do and more. Byrne, whose poems appear in a recent issue of The Adirondack Review, writes lines of such ease and charm that to read them is to feel the feathery touch of a pen on a thin sheet of paper, brushing along, drawing the words rather than writing them. This is true even though the subjects being written about are harder-edged, desperate, tearing at what exists beyond the page. At times the poems in this book rise into sudden bursts of intensity, as in these lines from "Seeking Inklings in an Old Video":
But to the two of us, now so suspicious,
feeling guilt, every unsure move that camera caught
appears to be uninvestigated evidence left
behind, even in this scene when the tape runs to its end.
More often, however, the writing is subtle, and it has its power in the way the reader must trudge through the wet sand of Byrne's lines to find the shells he has left behind.
Recommendation: When you buy this book, read it at least three times: once as a collection of individual poems, once as two long poems, and once as a complete piece exploring the polarities of a man's relationship to his father and his son. Expect three different understandings to emerge. This book is a remarkable experiment in perspectives, well worth the twelve dollars.