Elena Karina Byrne

beneath barbwire                             like bedsprings during night-climbs      wet crop dirt undermy shirt      saving babies in the dark slide of building’s vents into canvasflap backs of trucks       a chaos of fleeing.      Tell me, isn’t that art? An in-crisis or crime-pull toward & away from. Color block       linesmoving toward & away:       painting is a leavetaking.        Death isa leavetaking.      Fleeing, great grandfather       out of fear       changed hisname with his family’s country      confounded something that is stillmissing there where I see a truck that fell from the eroded cliff beforeI was born       an indivisible ocean &      hill       bitten by cactus needlesfennel weed like language in an unbroken string-cruelty of color      too faraway to see      yet look at all disquiet-pictures that fall into our laps       Threetimes the head of the dead      daily coming blur-back out of history’s chaoslike hairpins falling from pine trees       or dried blood hemming the flooredge of your bedroom’s closed door      the same child’s tongue-color of                                                                                                                                               final rust.

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Elena Karina Byrne is a private editor, freelance lecturer, 26-year Programming Consultant & Poetry Stage Manager for The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, and Literary Programs Director for the historic Ruskin Art Club. Former 12-year Regional Director of the Poetry Society of America, Elena also worked as a Contributing Editor for the Los Angeles Review of Books, a final judge for PEN’s “Best of the West” award, one of the final judges for the Kate and Kingsley Tufts Poetry Awards in Poetry from 2016-2018, one of three 2018-2019 Georgia Circuit visiting poets, and a 2022 co-judge for the international Laurel Prize, an annual award for the best collection of nature or environmental poetry.

Elena curated programs for the GRI at the J. Paul Getty Center, MOCA, the Craft Contemporary Museum, Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center, The Clark Library, and USC’s Doheny Memorial Library, among others. Her recent lecture and teaching artist positions include Poetry School, The Gingko Prize, Sidney Sussex College at Cambridge University, University of Southern California, Poetry Barn, Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center, Claremont Graduate University, Todos Santos Writing Workshops, and The Los Angeles Film School.

A Pushcart Prize and Best American Poetry recipient, Elena’s poems, reviews, essays, and interviews can be found in Poetry, The Kenyon Review, The Paris Review, Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day, Poetry International, Poetry Daily, New American Writing, APR, Plume & Plume Anthologies, Oxford Review of Books, Los Angeles Review of Books, Denver Quarterly, TriQuarterly, Beloit Poetry Journal, Kyoto Journal, Interlitq, Narrative Magazine,, diode, The San Francisco Chronicle, Reel Verse: Poems About the Movies, Republic of Apples Democracy of Oranges: New Eco-Poetry from China and the United States, The Eloquent Poem: 128 Contemporary Poems and Their Making, BOMB, and elsewhere.

Her books include If This Makes You Nervous (Omnidawn 2021), No Don’t (What Books Press, 2020), Squander (Omnidawn, 2016), MASQUE (Tupelo Press, 2008), and The Flammable Bird, (Zoo Press/ Tupelo Press 2002). Currently, she’s writing screenplays while completing her collection of “interrupted” essays entitled Voyeur Hour.

Cover of If This Makes You Nervous

Richmond, California

“Drawn into a heady swirl of images riding sinuous syntax, I was curved swiftly, slippery, but unblurred in Byrne’s If This Makes You Nervous. The poet strokes a verbal impasto with lines that spun me through kunst-struck odes to artists here and gone, sudden un-nostalgic memories, ‘time’s own vertigo,’ and wild eros. Elegiac in mode, not mood, Byrne disinters vision after vision, breakneck and breathless from her ‘terror-hairless skull,’ pounding, enveloping, and cutting the lyric into ekphrastic surrender. This is a stunning book.”
— Douglas Kearney, author of Sho

“In this original and beguiling collection, Byrne offers us her private gallery and guides us through episodes of her life, revealing to us not only how works of art have instructed and nurtured her, but also how her life became imprinted on the art. As she engages with the art of visionaries, iconoclasts, and infidels (from Marcel Duchamp to Nan Goldin) they, in return, challenge her, ‘Can you circus act in color, grief-teach yourself / how to dance out the floorboards away from the house into the fields again?’ The art allows for her own reckoning, and with lush language and alluringly reckless syntax, she voices her urgent and vulnerable responses inseparable from the art itself.”
— Molly Bendall, author of Watchful

“Marcel Duchamp, Tony Oursler, Joseph Beuys, and Caravaggio (among others) supercharge Byrne's new book. Wildly fighting the ekphrastic, Byrne's poems get lapel-pulled-close to the dark overtones of being. ‘Did I mention you are me?’ she asks. ‘I am riddled &/gated, keyed like a car in a future divebar’s parking lot.’ The ‘bled glitter’ and exciting poetics of If This Makes You Nervous boils over with memory and meaning. Gorgeous ‘from the Mona & the Lisa’ on.”
— Terese Svoboda, author of Thatrix: Poetry Plays

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