Professor expresses herself through poetry

By Curt Yeomans


Brigitte Byrd is usually "obsessed" with something when she sits down to write a poem, or a sonnet.

When Byrd, an assistant professor of English at Clayton State University, wrote her first book of poetry, "Fence Above the Sea," in 2005, she was writing about the death of her father. In her second book, "The Dazzling Land," which came out earlier this month, Byrd addressed the idea of breaking away, from either a country of origin, a culture, a language, or a lover.

The native of Paris, France, already is working on her third book of poetry, which will be released in late 2009. She tries to write at least two poems every week. The catch, however, is she has to work around her duties as a teacher.

"I try to write early in the semester when I don't have to read, and grade, my students work, because things aren't as busy at that time," said Byrd, during a book reading Monday. "I continue to write until mid-semester, because that is when I have to focus more on my students. It is a challenge to write when you are so involved with what you read, and what your students are writing."

Byrd has lived in the United States for 18 years, including stints in Hawaii, Mississippi, and Florida. She has bachelor's and master's degrees in English from the University of West Florida, and a doctorate degree in creative writing from Florida State University. She has lived in Fayetteville for the last three years.

Her French roots still show up in her poetry, however, despite living outside of France for nearly two decades. She occasionally uses French sentences, instead of English, because "sometimes there are things that are not really translatable," she said.

"I would like to create a feeling that, if you don't speak French, you will understand the way I feel sometimes," Byrd said. "I am pretty comfortable with southern accents now, but if I go to another part of the country, I have trouble understanding what people are saying. I want people to know what that feels like. The only way to do that is to have a little bit of French in there [the poetry]."

Byrd said her own life experiences, including her move to the United States from France, the death of her father, and a divorce from her husband, are "essential" to what she writes. In "Life as a Soundtrack," one of the selections in "The Dazzling Land," Byrd used her own experiences from living in the Charentes-Maritime region of France, and her later move to the Unites States, as inspiration.

"Her Americanized breath shortened under the weight of French words like je suis tellement triste de partir. She left her old country to get lost in a car," Byrd wrote in the poem.

"Fence Above the Sea" and "The Dazzling Land" can be purchased on Amazon.com.

Byrd has been the coordinator of Clayton State's literary magazine, The Sygnet, and the university's Visiting Writer Series, since she joined the faculty in 2005. In the classroom, her focus is on creative writing, and poetry.

"She's a very prolific poet," said Dr. Susan Hunter, the head of the language and literature department at Clayton State. "She's also a wonderful professor. She has a lot of energy and enthusiasm ... She's a mentor who is encouraging, but tough with her students. She's very good at bringing out a student's potential, and getting her students to tap into their potential."