Radio, Rhythm & Rhyme

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A Sad Way to Begin National Poetry Month

Sunday Eve coverIn 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.”

Butts Cathedral coverCathedral 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. Prog poem 2013 graphic(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!

Amy Ludwig VanDerwater
Joy Acey
Matt Forrest Esenwine
Jone MacCulloch
Doraine Bennett
Gayle Krause
Janet Fagal
Julie Larios
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

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6 thoughts on “A Sad Way to Begin National Poetry Month

  1. Sorry for your state’s loss. I’m looking forward to reading your line tomorrow!

  2. Sorry to hear of the loss of New Hampshire’s poet laureate.

  3. Sorry to hear that sad news, Matt. I will definitely check out that book and I look forward to your line tomorrow.

  4. Thank you all for your comments. I’m surprised I haven’t seen anything about this in any of the newspapers or anywhere online. The only way one would know he passed away is that his Wikipedia page makes note of the date of his death…that’s the only reference I’ve seen!

  5. Heidi Mordhorst on said:

    Matt, that was fascinating, as though you were tapped to write the official obituary. (Were you?) It’s amazing to me how many poets there are that I’ve never heard of, whose work I could be enjoying if only I had eight or nine days in the week. I’m sorry for your collective loss, and ours.

    • Thanks, Heidi. No, I wasn’t asked to write an obit…but I felt like someone should write SOMETHING…because I hadn’t seen it published anywhere. He wasn’t just a New Hampshire poet, he was an American poet – and I wanted to do some small thing to let folks know about him.

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