Remembering Walter Butts: Everyday Magic, Day 690

NH Poets Laureate from left Dave Parson (TX), JoAnn Balingit (DE), Bruce Dethlefsen (WI), Lisa Starr (RI), Walter Butts (NH) Dick Allen (CT), Julie Kane (LA), Caryn MIrriam-Goldberg (KS), Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda (VA)
NH Poets Laureate from left Dave Parson (TX), JoAnn Balingit (DE), Bruce Dethlefsen (WI), Lisa Starr (RI), Walter Butts (NH) Dick Allen (CT), Julie Kane (LA), Caryn MIrriam-Goldberg (KS), Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda (VA)

I met Walter in the dark outside Lawrence’s Eldridge Hotel one cold March night. He had just flown in for Poet Laureati, the national convergence of 20 state poets laureate I organized in 2011. Standing outside in spitting snow and ice, his trademark cigarette in one hand and a drink from the bar in the other, we joked about how he couldn’t outrun winter by coming to Kansas. His warmth made him feel like someone I had known for years.

Walter Butts, the poet laureate of New Hampshire, died on Easter Sunday at home after a harsh diagnosis in the last year or so of advanced lung cancer. He had a heart of gold, a gravelly voice, a tolerant temperament and a friendly soul. Coming from a working class background, he had a genius for making anyone — and their poetry — feel welcome, accepted, befriended.wblibrary

I saw him next over a 10-day residence at Goddard, when I guest-taught in the BA and BFA in Creative Writing programs one snowy stretch in April. At Goddard we can be an especially fussy bunch at complaining about each other, but when it came to Walter, everyone simply loved him, unabashedly. Students sparkled at the thought of their work with him. Faculty in our dorm, which was mostly women, called him all sorts of endearments in between sharing beer with him indoors or company outside while he smoked another cigarette. He made it his business to sit down with each of us at some point, and share his awe at something we wrote or taught or said or did.

When I saw Walter some months later at a New Hamsphire poets laureate conference he helped organized, we shared long meals over overflowing tables of poets. There was ample chocolate cake, whiskey, stories about the great and the dead, and outrageous silliness. Walter and his wife, the poet S. Stephanie, made us welcome as rai0406111452n in their home state.

Speaking of percipitation, I realize that all the times I saw Walter it was raining, snowing or sleeting, always on the prevernal edge between winter and spring. He’s crossed over to wherever he’s gone in this same edge, the many feet of snow behind us, the many blossoms ahead. It’s a time of a particular music that sings of absence as well as presence. I share this poem of Walter’s, one that Betsy Sholl (poet laureate of Maine) has been sending around, to remind us of what Walter saw and helped us to see.

THRUSH & SQUIRREL

Suddenly a squirrel scampers along the edge
of the tall wooden fence, a hermit thrush,
high pitched, in pursuit, and you laugh
because it seems like such play,
but at stake are the eggs in their cup
of moss, leaves, and rootlets, the four flutes
you might never hear silent now inside
the thin walls of their shells.  And you
understand why this must be your life,
the melodious song you wait for certain
to flicker, after all, through the absence
your body will one day become.
~ Walter Butts, poet laureate of New Hampshire, 2009-2014

8 thoughts on “Remembering Walter Butts: Everyday Magic, Day 690

  1. Caryn, I loved reading this. So beautiful, capturing the spirit of Walter so perfectly. You say it so well, “…but when it came to Walter, everyone simply loved him, unabashedly.”

  2. Caryn, I loved reading this. It is so beautiful, and captures Walters spirit so perfectly. Especially this, “…but when it came to Walter, everyone simply loved him, unabashedly.”

  3. Caryn, what a beautiful rememberance. Walter had such respect for the Poets Laureate posts, gatherings, and poets themselves. He felt all of you were contributing so much to educating the public about poetry, and in so many creative ways! He was so proud to host all of you here, and so pleased with that event. He loved hearing about the projects you were all creating across the country, and loved reading your work. He was so proud to be part of what I call the Laureate Movement, originated by Marie Harris. I think he saw it as a political movement he could embrace, Poetry being above and beyond what most call politics, Art embracing the human experience, not just the social one. Today we have the 2nd day of his wake/rememberance. Last night many from all walks of Walter’s life came to Portsmouth to say their final goodbye. I am expecting more today. I am overwhelmed with how many lives Walter touched. Today we will bury him in Portsmouth at Calvary Cemetary, a fitting resting place as this was the town he called “home”. May 19th we plan to celebrate his life and work there as well. We will do so with his beloved Rolling Rock, poetry, and the music he loved. All are welcome to share their stories and memories of him. Please have people contact me if they want further information on this. Again, very nice words Caryn. I will share them on face-book. S Stephanie

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