Byrd, Don 1944-
BYRD, Don 1944-
Born 1944. Education: University of Kansas, Ph.D.
Office—English Department, SUNY Albany, 1400 Washington, Albany, NY 12222. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Station Hill Press, 120 Station Hill Rd., Barrytown, NY 12507.
Poet, writer, and educator. State University of New York, Albany, professor of English.
Technics of Travel, Tansy-Zelot, 1984.
The Great Dimestore Centennial (long poem), 1982, Station Hill (Barrytown, NY), 1986, reprinted, 2002.
Charles Olson's Maximus, University of Illinois Press (Urbana, IL), 1980.
The Poetics of the Common Knowledge, State University of New York Press (Albany, NY), 1994.
Don Byrd's The Great Dimestore Centennial is a book-length poem in seven sections written to commemorate the one-hundredth anniversary of the opening of the first Woolworth store. Like the dime store, the poem is filled with unrelated bits and pieces, including cultural references reaching back to the beginning of civilization and forward into the advancing age of technology. Byrd combines fact with fantasy and mutates history, as when he describes the hanging gardens of Dallas, except that his flowers are made of plastic.
Village Voice contributor Albert Mobilio called The Great Dimestore Centennial "a honky-tonk in which no one can fall asleep. The poem owes its theatrical feel to a choral style of cracker-barrel storytelling where everyone talks at once.… Dimestore toys with the notion of an epic. Indeed, its form is the only one fit to mirror our junk-drawer culture's 'chaos of unpersonalized feeling.'" A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that Byrd's "playful cynicism is nothing other than contemporary," and added that the 2002 "rerelease of this hymn to industrialization and empire, ingenuity and alienation could not be more timely."
Charles Olson's Maximus is Byrd's study of the volumes that are the epic poem of the poet who died in 1970. Times Literary Supplement writer Hugh Haughton noted that Byrd "has a certain philosophical sophistication and writes a strenuous and abstract prose of some intensity about the historical, metaphysical, and philosophical programmes incorporated in the Maximus." Haughton added that Byrd "emphasizes the megalomania of Olson's ambition to undo all of history since the late Pleistocene in order to restore man's primary relation the world. Byrd says that Olson treats the evidence of history 'not unlike a layout for a reading of tarot cards or an astrological chart.'" Library Journal contributor Daniel L. Guillory wrote that Byrd's study "offers specialists a new slant on a poet who 'razzle-dazzled the language.'"
In The Poetics of the Common Knowledge Byrd appeals for a return to poetry. In making his case, he offers readings of various works and his opinion of why they are important. Along with the avant-garde poetry, Byrd also focuses on the information theorists—Descartes, Freud, and Hegel—in calling for a new poetry that makes sense in the postmodern world.
John Palattella wrote in Contemporary Literature that Byrd "thinks that information technology, which has altered the relationship between formal symbolic systems and the 'world' they represent, provides the linguistic conditions for a realization of the poetics and ethics that Robert Duncan, Gertrude Stein, Louis Zukofsky, and Olson practiced in writing that shares 'not objects or representations but processes and rhythms.'"As Palattella explained, "the 'measure' of a poem, Byrd writes, constructs a space that is a communal context of negotiation and orientation. Language is a concrete medium, and its rhythmic measures are real 'not by virtue of their independent existence but by virtue of actually constituting the world which they reveal.'"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Literature, November, 1981, Jerome Mazzaro, review of Charles Olson's Maximus, pp. 530-531.
Choice, March, 1981, review of Charles Olson's Maximus, pp. 944-945.
Contemporary Literature, winter, 1994, John Palattella, review of The Poetics of the Common Knowledge, p. 786.
Library Journal, June 15, 1980, Daniel L. Guillory, review of Charles Olson's Maximus, p. 1389.
Publishers Weekly, December 9, 2002, review of The Great Dimestore Centennial, p. 79.
Times Literary Supplement, December 4, 1981, Hugh Haughton, review of Charles Olson's Maximus, p. 1424.
Village Voice, August 11, 1987, Albert Mobilio, review of The Great Dimestore Centennial, pp. 47-50.*