A Sad Way to Begin National Poetry Month
In honour of National Poetry Month, I’m planning on featuring poetry in all of my April blog posts (each Tue. and Fri.). I’ll be spotlighting a different poem of mine each friday for Poetry Friday, as I always do, but each Tuesday I’ll also have some poetry news or information to share.
I had some fun plans for today. I was going to offer some ideas about how you can get kids involved in enjoying and creating poetry, involving books and cookies and magazines and scissors…but all that will have to wait.
New Hampshire has lost its poet laureate.
Walter E. Butts (Sept. 12, 1944 – March 31, 2013)
Butts succumbed to his battle with cancer on Easter Sunday at the age of 68.
He spent most of his life in the northeast, living in New York for years, organizing poetry readings and open mics, before moving to Boston, Mass. and then eventually to NH, where he was most recently professor of English at Hesser College. He also taught a low-residency Creative Writing Program at Goddard College in Vermont.
Butts was a prolific poet, publishing eleven books and chapbooks. The most recent is Cathedral of Nervous Horses, a collection of new and collected poems from previous books, which was published last September by Hobblebush Books of Milford, NH. His poems were also featured in numerous independent literary journals, as well, like The Atlanta Review, The Saranac Review, and The Fourth River.
Of life and death, family and friends
Butts drew inspiration from his memories growing up in the small town of Le Roy, New York: the deaths of his parents, the questionable friends he hung out with, and the gritty yet beautiful scenes of a working-class community all figure prominently in his work. Take, for instance, his recounting of the loss of three family members and the touching honesty with which he tells the story, in “Inheritence,” from The Required Dance (Igneus Press, 1990). After noting that he was only eight years old when his uncle died and nine when the family dog was buried…he jumps ahead ten years and recalls the sight of his father lying on the floor, too weak to get up. It was at this point, he tells us, he was truly afraid:
I watched him at the hospital,
his frail body curled
like a fetus, and realized
he was going back, and I wanted
to take hold of those shrunken hands
and lead him there myself.
(© Walter E. Butts)
But like he so often did, he did not dwell on the negatives of the difficulties associated with these sad moments; instead, he would look for a positive way to continue on. In this case, after describing the emotional pain and turmoil his mother went through dealing with his father’s death, he concludes the poem with the realization that, “I understood, I was now the man she loved.”
Cathedral of Nervous Horses: New & Selected Poems (Hobblebush Books, 2012)
Upon receiving the poet laureate nomination almost exactly 4 years ago, Butts said, “I really believe that poetry, in many, many ways, is the literary form that we
have that is closest to expressing the human condition, the human spirit.” (New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, March, 2009)
I encourage you to pick up a copy of Cathedral. While some of the poems are new, most are from previously-published collections, so it is a great introduction to Butts’ work. His term as our state’s poet laureate was to continue until 2014; there has been no word on whether someone will be chosen to fill the vacancy.
On a happier note, because it is National Poetry Month, I’m pleased to be participating in Irene Latham’s 2013 ‘Progressive Poem’ at Live Your Poem – a poem that started with one blogger April 1 and will travel from blog to blog each day, with each blogger adding a new line to the poem. (By the end of the month, we’ll have a completed poem!)
Today’s tagged poet is Joy Acey – and I’ll be adding the third line to the poem tomorrow, April 3 – so please check back, and follow along with all the bloggers!
1 Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
2 Joy Acey
3 Matt Forrest Esenwine
4 Jone MacCulloch
5 Doraine Bennett
6 Gayle Krause
7 Janet Fagal
8 Julie Larios
9 Carrie Finison
10 Linda Baie
11 Margaret Simon
12 Linda Kulp
13 Catherine Johnson
14 Heidi Mordhorst
15 Mary Lee Hahn
16 Liz Steinglass
17 Renee LaTulippe
18 Penny Klostermann
19 Irene Latham
20 Buffy Silverman
21 Tabatha Yeatts
22 Laura Shovan
23 Joanna Marple
24 Katya Czaja
25 Diane Mayr
26 Robyn Hood Black
27 Ruth Hersey
28 Laura Purdie Salas
29 Denise Mortensen
30 April Halprin Wayland