Monday, August 24, 2009

Thoughts on poetry--Reagan Butcher

Rereading and putting together thoughts on Reagan Butcher:

Butcher's poetry is so honest its painful to review. Like cutting into a nice steaming hot slice of soul, served up a la mode. If you've never tried it, you should grab yourself a fork and get ready to dig in.

Stone Hotel and Rusty String Quartet, both published by Crimethinc. Letters, fits into the tradition of Buckowski and Celine, a tradition of crotchety outsiders that allow us to see ourselves through different eyes. And Butcher's succinct, crystalized literary kicks to the groin make it apparent that this is a tradition that goes back to "Cold Mountain."

Stone Hotel.

Stone Hotel, Butcher's first Crimethinc book, is like a novel disguised as a prison journal told in short, compelling bursts that get under your skin. The energy, the integration of image with action and the skewed point of view are apparent from the very first line:

showing the

to the korean

behind the counter

my voice smooth as syrup

the money

his blank
screwed into puzzlement

his voice a question

the money?

i got pissed

yeah, the money, motherfucker
or i’ll kill you

but that was a lie

there was
only one person

in that room i wanted
to kill

and he
is sitting right here

telling you

But there's something more here than meets the eye. Something in the whole of Stone Hotel that allows it to transcend its parts. And so Butcher transcends being just another guy imitating Buckowski, the most imitated poet of all time.

In Stone Hotel, we find tools adapted more from the Hempel/Carver/Palahniuk "Minimalism" than from any precious poetic minimalism. Imagistic punches, "burnt tongue" and repeated "choruses" flow throughout the piece, bringing it all together into a complete statement.

Choruses like:

...strip, look up the ass, lift the
balls, stick out the tongue...
And the constant counting of time become the dehumanizing theme music of prison life and give the reader something to hold onto, something to get comfortable with.

And that comfort creates a cohesive whole that gives the work its emergent quality. We get a full novel-like character arch painted in quick rough strokes and kicks to the groin. And we come to feel like we know Butcher better, like he's given us more of himself than any protagonist painted in thick description. Stone Hotel is so punchy it even leaves out the worst cliche of the prison-lit genre, the tough guy act. All the barriers and excuses that other writers call "characterization" have been left off. The result is a great read.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm gonna have to read that. I've been wondering how I can do lists without just listing. Ways to make it colorful and still fluid without just listing and shooting it with adjectives.
Maybe Reagan hit on something there.