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ARCHIVE -- CHARGEUSSE

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Solidus Online



Walter Butts

Some Small Blessing
for Otto Muller

April in Vermont, after a day of teaching,
my friend and I walk across campus,
to the edge of an open field. We wonder
what our students, or we, might have learned.
He’s younger than I, a composer. He speaks of his family,
the life they’re making, his music, a first child,
and his joy at this pleases me. When my own daughter,
so many year ago, was lifted into the new air,
her mother and I called out together the name
we had given her, as if, by doing so, we joined in harmony
to comfort her through what would be, what is,
for each of us, such a troubling, mystical passage.

Suddenly, a white-tailed deer, seduced
by the wind-stirred grass, insect and forb,
emerges from the trees and a different music
is playing now, a choreography of afternoon light
and shadow, the deer’s brief leaps, and I understand
what my friend means when he says he wants
music to be a composition of activity,
an alchemy, an arrangement of the unfamiliar,
anything there is we’re able to feel, a living
organism then. And so I watch and listen,
until we leave the clearing, our awkward, earthbound bodies
having, at least for now, been blessed.

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Story

The news today is unexpected,
not the story of someone else’s life
gone wrong, report of a fire raging in a town
you’ve never been to, the first infant born
in the New Year, political sound bites
and the promise of another war,
nor even the account of that luckless man
dressed as a tree, branches duct taped
to his shoulders, who robbed the bank
that keeps your money. Instead, neon
flickers a message you’ve already learned:
there’s not much time. There, in a small screen
behind the emotionless announcer, you see an image
of the Italian restaurant in the coastal town
you lived in all those years ago, where you
and your wife went for special occasions
and simple celebration. The economy’s bad,
the newscaster reminds you, the tourists aren’t coming
like they used to, the building’s being sold, the place closing.
You look at the photograph hanging on your wall,
the one your friend took after a snow storm
of you and your wife, alone on the street, remote, dark figures
that could be anyone, and above your heads
the Rosa’s sign in red script glowing against a colorless sky.

Your granddaughter calls to thank you
for the birthday gift you sent. She’s eighteen,
and wants to talk about tattoos and college.
Your role, of course, is to listen without judgment,
a luxury you didn’t have with her mother.
You remember you and your daughter arguing,
when she was eighteen, over some decision she’d made
you were certain was mistaken, the terrible poverty
of words, how you were left suddenly silent,
the phone in your hand a hard instrument of time and chance.
What can you speak of now about that day, or even that place
of dark wood and wine, redemption and hope?
You think of those dinners and quiet conversations,
how the only change you wanted then was the lifting of fog
over the river. And later, when you stepped out to the sea air,
a ship’s horn might have sounded, reminding you somehow
of both loneliness and grace, a sort of mediation, a letting go and taking in.

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Watching the Sky


“Being loved is a wonderful thing, but if everyone loves you, it means that no one watches the sky” -- Aaron Howland

My wife loves each hawk
that crosses the many skies
we travel under,
as if the trajectory beyond
its circling grace was pointing us
to some new location we hadn’t been before,
a valley of farm houses, say,
quiet cows lying in their open fields,
or a city of towering granite and glass,
streets of mystery and music.
But it’s early afternoon.
Our hawk rides a sudden thermal north,
so we follow.
A few miles and we’re driving
into a village of shops,
a stone church and fire station.
We find a park, and rest
a while on one of its benches,
Horse-drawn carriages ride by.
The wind begins to gust,
we look up, see clouds darkening.
We watch the sky, wait for the hawk.

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Interview with Cory Schofield

CS. Poet Laureate is generally known to be an honorable title, but its full meaning is not widely understood. How do you define the title, and what is expected of a Poet Laureate during his or her term?

W.B. I was appointed New Hampshire Poet Laureate in March, 2009 to a five-year-term. I was selected through a nomination process facilitated by the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts and the New Hampshire Department of Cultural Resources that culminated in a recommendation from the Poetry Society of New Hampshire to Governor John Lynch. There are no specified duties or compensation associated with the position, so I’m allowed a great deal of flexibility in how I’m able to serve as an advocate for poetry and poetry communities throughout the State. Through hosting writer’s conferences, giving poetry readings, visiting classrooms, and working with independent bookstores and arts organizations across the State, I seek to create opportunities for the public here in New Hampshire to connect with poets and poetry.


CS. One’s art is often said to encroach upon and influence all aspects of one’s life. How has poetry influenced your life and ideologies (and vice versa) if at all?

W.B. I’m not sure if “encroach” is the right word choice here, but I would agree poetry has been a dominating and positive force in my life. For me, every poem I write places me in the world in some new way. Engaging in the language of poetry – its metaphor, symbolism, imagery – is a potential discovery about the human condition and spirit. Ultimately, I think, poetry is at once a secular and spiritual endeavor. It expresses felt emotion, while at the same time encourages the poet to be acutely aware of the world around them. So to some extent, I see poetry as an assimilation of the interior self and the external world and its circumstances.


CS. What was one of the first poems you ever wrote, and what compelled you to write it?

W.B. I was fortunate to be raised by parents who encouraged reading, and as a child was exposed to many of the classics. That, of course, generated an interest in writing throughout my childhood. We were a working class family, so early on I was drawn to writing about labor, friendships, and the small town I group up in. My father passed away when I was 19, and a few years after his death I wrote “The Inheritance,” a lyric/narrative poem that sought to explore the significance of those circumstances.


CS. Story is compelling in its balance between the simplicity and the overwhelming nature of life. Was this story a first-person observation of your own experiences, or the experiences of the everyman (and woman)?

W.B. That’s an interesting question. We do navigate our lives through startling simplicities and unsettling complexities. Or perhaps simplicity frequently reveals itself as complex, at least in the context of “Story.” The poem recounts, through association and juxtaposition, personal experiences with the collective that culminate in the tone of the final lines. It’s written in the 2nd Person as a way to locate the communal within the personal.


CS. Some Small Blessing has a fascinating leap between reminiscence and active observation. Is your poetry often inspired by the natural, candid world? If so, do you often write your poetry during or immediately after you witness the inspiring event, or do you wait and let it soak in?

W.B. Poems seldom come to us in the same manner. Some Small Blessing could never have been written without the specific details of the occasion and the presence of my colleague at that field. Although I didn’t write the poem in immediate response, the circumstances of the event seemed to insist on being addressed, and shortly after, I did so. Indeed, much of my poetry is inspired by the natural world, which eventually finds its place in the poem.

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Walter E. Butts, New Hampshire Poet Laureate, was the author of Cathedral of Nervous Horses: New and Selected Poems (Hobblebush Books, 2012), Radio Time (Cherry Grove Collections, 2011), named poetry winner at the 2011 New England Book Festival, Sunday Evening at the Stardust Café (1st World, 2006), chosen as a finalist for the 2005 Philip Levine Prize in Poetry from the University of California/Fresno and selected winner of the 2006 Iowa Source Poetry Book Prize, and other books and chapbooks. The recipient of two Pushcart Prize nominations and a Massachusetts Artists’ Foundation Award, he taught in the low-residency BFA in Creative Writing Program at Goddard College. He passed away on March 31st, 2013.