Poem by James Byrne

Eyewear welcomes a poem from James Byrne this morning, as America refuses to rule out a military option in Libya, and rebel forces are beaten back.  Byrne is one of the best of the younger generation of British poets, and is also an editor of anthologies, literary studies, and the vital Wolf magazine; he divides his time between New York and London.  His latest collection was Blood/Sugar (reviewed here recently) from Arc.

‘are you in the hills Ashur’

for Ashur Etwebi

to find an anchor-point
in the burning compass 
to ask your Sufi acumen
your active pacifism
and colossal progeny
are you in the hills Ashur
the prophecies you wrote
read predatorily acute
there at the blade shaft
amid battle-shrapnel
connecting peace war
to holy war to bureau war
these eternal strictures                        
handiwork for bribe cuts                    
to mass in the censoring
scythe over Green Square
still-shot for Libyan TV
agenda-set cutaways
strip cold an entire family
from the video montage
along border strongholds 
the rancour to delete 
phone folders cameras
the palpable hallucination 
a child blown deep
at the belly for the same
old rhetoric same facts
useless to an emergency
are you in the hills Ashur
steely and bulletproof
the black oak shell-skin
of the roadside corpse
not you not you but
freeze-framed to broker
the convivial fuel deal
a pack full of joker cards       
the mad dog’s wheelmen
de-rig photo propagandas
he becalmed and resolute 
jeeped in a spoof studio 
not at the drum fields
pointing his rotten cane
who guards the pass there                  
only dust in the footages
left-over luggage 
the finger-waggling
counter-bluff guzzled up
by SUV track distance
where I come back
blind after the dream
after the nightmare
to a dead phone line
to your epicurean face
missing in the crowd

JB. March 6th 2011 


This poem makes me think repeatedly - what human suffering is going on in Libya behind the TV images?
oliver dixon said…
Taut,powerful lines, subtly-judged between political contumely and a more lyrical impulse. It feels like the next step on from some of the Middle East-themed poems in Blood/Sugar. Hadn't heard of Tripolan poet Etwebi but just found a marvellous long poem of his at:


Hey James, when's that new Wolf arriving?