Review of Katie Byrum’s BURN IT DOWN

Katie Byrum. Forklift Ohio Books, $14.95 paperback (112p) ISBN:

Katie Byrum’s Burn it Down is an emotive collection of poems told from the perspective of a narrator who has been pulled from the bucolic settings of rural Kentucky by the urban lure of Brooklyn, New York. The poems concern themselves with the soul-destroying disappointment experienced through unrequited love, or worse still, retracted love. It is clear right from the prologue that Byrum has a voice that is able to provoke both a visceral as well as an intellectual reaction through a well-balanced mixture of stubborn defiance and insecure vulnerability.

whether I will fret and go so inward only a hard shake
can wake me, or fling myself so far into belligerence
they have to yank me by the hair to bring me back
(From Prologue)

The bulk of the text takes place in New York and the collection could even be described as a New York book; the sense of place is prevalent enough to be considered a character in itself rather than a setting or backdrop. While Kentucky isn't as heavily featured, it is ever present as a symbol of security—a safety net to fall back on as a last resort. And it proves to be a necessary safety net when everything in New York finally burns to the ground.

The 112 pages of this book are split into three sections, the first part being a more-or-less chronological account of settling into a new life that fails to live up to the narrator's intrepid expectations, but confirms suspicions which stem from an attenuating cynicism.

Life in Suburbia quickly became lukewarm.
It was Easter, and as is the custom
we put Peeps in the microwave, watched them swell and spin
like junior prom, seeing stars until they almost burst—
(From Paradise P4)

The second part of the book, "Year in Review," is exactly as its title suggests. All the established qualities within the first section are maintained throughout the second part - which is shorter in volume and sharper in tone. There isn't much new ground covered in terms of subject matter, but there are conclusions drawn. It would be misleading to call it a happy ending as the narrator finds herself back in the place she so desperately wanted to leave. There is, however, a level of closure and acceptance achieved. The third and final part is a single poem which retells the same story from yet another angle.

We negotiate: we tear down walls
paint over old colors
he gets stronger
his calluses come back
but even when he comes home
he doesn’t come home
(From Page 57)

There is a glint of mischief throughout the collection which keeps it from becoming too heavy or depressing. These poems contain a consistently vibrant aesthetic which Byrum uses as a romantic backdrop for what are essentially sad poems driven by a consuming nervous energy and an anxious introspection. Moreover, the underlying sense of tension is soothed by the use of evocative imagery. In fact, it is Byrum’s ability to provoke, or conjure up mental images in the reader’s imagination that makes this collection such a relatable set of poems. The subtle descriptions of place and strong depictions of emotional reaction, result in a wholly participatory experience. The author exposes her own insecurities, as well as the inner workings of both personal and societal failings throughout the narrative which constructs the relationship between people, place and time, deconstructs it and then rebuilds something entirely different from the various bits and pieces left behind.

Burn it Down has an overwhelming sense of yearning at its core. A yearning for family, which is often sabotaged by fear and unhealthy habits, a yearning for wholeness within an incomplete relationship, and above all a yearning for something meaningful and honest. Of course, the problem with honesty is its ruthless commitment to the truth, which, in Byrum’s case, only adds to the ubiquitous sadness. (February 2015)

Purchase Burn it Down HERE.

Reviewer bio: Matthew J. Hall is an avid reader, writer and reviewer of fiction and poetry. His latest chapbook, Pigeons and Peace Doves, is due out June 2015 (Blood Pudding Press). Find out more about Matthew, his writing and writing he appreciates at