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‘…she breaks my heart with terrible ease…’ an interview with Adam Robinson about Mairéad Byrne’s THE BEST OF (WHAT’S LEFT OF) HEAVEN

I buy every Publishing Genius Press title. No matter what. So I didn’t know Mairéad Byrne. So I’m not a huge fan of most poetry. So what. I bought THE BEST OF (WHAT’S LEFT OF) HEAVEN anyway, & I was truly & honestly exploded by this book. There is unmistakable craft here, unflinching language, & a voice that I have simply not heard before.

After the jump is a short interview with Adam Robinson about publishing this beast of a collection, then when you’ve come to your senses & realize you must have this book, go here to pick up a copy. You will not be disappointed.

How did you first come across Mairéad Byrne? Is she a writer you’ve known and followed or is she someone new to your purview?

She’s a writer I’ve followed for a while. I first read Mairéad’s poems in 2006, in the Binghamton (NY) public library, on her blog. I was just cruising along, following links, when I came across Heaven (at maireadbyrne.blogspot.com) and stopped in my tracks. There was a poem about that movie, Redeye, in which a hotel manager on a plane has to move someone’s room so they can be assassinated. Mairéad personalized it though and made it about changing a student’s grade, because she’s a teacher. Anyway, I think Redeye is a kind of stupid movie (though I admit I enjoyed it), and I thought distinctly, “WHOA, you can write about stupid movies in poetry?” I stayed on Heaven for the afternoon and let the surprises roll in. Later in the year, when I started isReads, I emailed Mairéad and asked her for a poem.

Was THE BEST OF (WHAT’S LEFT OF) HEAVEN a solicited manuscript or one that came freely as a submission? And in either case, what drew you to it the most?

Solicited. At AWP in Chicago, Mairéad and I ended up at a reading together and I begged a book from her. When I first met her (actually, the year before, at AWP NYC), I was a shaking leaf. I figure people generally get nervous meeting Brad Pitt or the Boss or something, but who cares about them. She’d written books! I bought them from Amazon! I loved them! So she was, to me, a celebrity who mattered. It was no easy thing for me to propose a book and for her to, holy cow, say sure thing! She pitched a couple ideas, one of which was a collection from her blog. I figured that since I first met her that way, it was the book to do.

What struck me most about this book was how it shifts so liberally between profoundly complex poems and then these very unassuming and conversational pieces – is this something that you knew readers could hold on to or did you have any reservations about releasing a book with such internal juxtaposition?

It is a liberal book, isn’t it? The variety of flavors, I think, really makes it work. You can dig in to the lushness of the Weather poems, with their considerate depictions of the sky, and come out on the other side to a poem that is only a ditty about a car backing out of a driveway. Then confront a bloody war poem before celebrating a toe as it turns off the faucet in the tub. I love the range and just figured everyone would.

While THE BEST OF (WHAT’S LEFT OF) HEAVEN is a tremendous book, did you have any pre-release worries about how this particular title would be received by the general public? Or is that something that PGP is mostly unconcerned with at this point?

The only thing that worried me was the length. 208 pages is at least twice as long as what a book of poems is meant to be, right? How was I going to pay for it? Would I have to charge $25? But I didn’t even think about how it would be received. I guess I thought, “This book is going to set up PG as a serious player in the poetry publishing,” because Mairéad is an intensely serious poet, but I’m not sure that people actually think of it that way. But with this book, and every book in general, I’m just doing what is interesting to me.

For you, what is the most important aspect of THE BEST OF (WHAT’S LEFT OF) HEAVEN?

I only get to pick one? It’s such a multi-faceted book. I guess that’s it. The most important thing about the book, to me, is how much it does. I want to call Mairéad a funny poet, because she is exceptionally funny, but sometimes she breaks my heart with terrible ease. Check out “Open House,” which just says, “Come into my house./I do not want it anymore.”

Sell this book to readers in 50 words or less:

There are only two books I like better than this one.

Buy Mairéad Byrne’s THE BEST OF (WHAT’S LEFT OF) HEAVEN at PGP.

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