Seeded Light by Edward Byrne

Turning Point, 2010
Edward Byrne’s sixth collection, Seeded Light, consists entirely of meditative lyrics in one form: free verse couplets. This structure seems to express a fervent wish for reconciliation in various conflicts that recur throughout the book. All these paired lines convey hopefulness that the troubled marriage depicted here might survive; that “we” (a frequent pronoun in these poems) might triumph over “I”; that summer and winter, past and present, light and dark, and a host of other warring binaries might resolve into balance.

Often this volume does achieve the beauty of equilibrium, even in its most elegiac moods. In the opening piece, “Moonlight in the City,” a boy’s discontent is eloquently expressed through descriptions of the “urban wreckage” surrounding him. A lunar glow, however, transforms his environment and makes space for imagination so that his thoughts may follow “the paired lines / of elevated train tracks” to dreamed-of distances. In “Thanksgiving,” the speaker’s young son cries out in the night because “he’d felt loss move through his room from dresser / to desk to chest; an absence had already taken place” and the world is so finely poised that he can feel the alteration. “Summer Evening: Truro, 1947” is another particularly strong poem; it depicts the “disturbing intrusion” of unwanted elements, in this case human figures, into an artist’s plans for a painting. The intrusions, in fact, animate and deepen what is meant to be, according to the artist, an impersonal “exercise in composition and form.” The liveliness of any art, Byrne implicitly and convincingly argues, depends on union of emotion and intellect, design and accident.

Although the latter poem seems to be in the voice of Edward Hopper, further, the painting’s human scene resonates strongly with tableaux from the rest of the book. Just as in several of Byrne’s poems, in Hopper’s work a young couple is shown in the middle of a difficult conversation. She is unhappy, or at least so Byrne imagines; he is trying to explain away the problem. Although a whole book in one form is hard to pull off with complete success, such loops and resonances make sense of its consistency. For me, the flaw in this book is not its sameness but its occasional wordiness: because the images and scenes are so recursive, I wished for more compressed language, fewer glosses and clauses. Like the young man in Hopper’s painting, Byrne sometimes explains too much. However, even this fault is a sign of the author’s generosity, his yearning to diminish the misunderstandings that separate people. This spirit of goodwill and connection, despite pain and loss, pervades Seeded Light.

LESLEY WHEELER is the author of two poetry books (the most recent, Heterotopia, is the winner of the Barrow Street Poetry Prize) and two scholarly books; she teaches at Washington and Lee University in Virginia. She has published reviews of poetry collections in Shenandoah, American Book Review, Cortland Review, and other journals.