From a Benediction, Peterloo Poets, 1997
Poetry Review, Summer 1998:
On the back of From a Benediction, Alastair Fowler says of Olivia Byard’s work: “…her poetry is superior to much that is currently published”. This is fighting talk, even in blurb-land. But Byard stands up to such praise. Like Ferguson, she as her own voice, with what I suspect are Shakespearean overtones, but she handles that influence lightly. Indeed, it suits her: “blossoms hung like heavy udders / or drifting thick down-stream… / unfurling aquilegia worlds / with moons and milky morning mists”. Byard’s unafraid of lyricism, and rightly so, because her overall tone remains uncluttered in spite of this descriptive onslaught.
She has a comprehensive understanding of structure, as opposed to “form”, not simply hearing how a poem should sound and placing the line-break appropriately, but crafting individual lines as if they were miniature poems in themselves. Byard also employs the alliterative tradition, overtly in the above example, but more often subtly integrated into the whole: “While cold, I saw in memory’s stern eye, / the black stubble burning, the fiery sky”. Add the off-beat, Hopkins-style, to this bag of tricks, skilfully produced to close many a poem in mid-bar (“She had blended into autumn, / begun to belong. And blown leaves, / bird song, befriend”), and it amounts to a superbly handled and highly readable first collection.