Wednesday, February 29, 2012

39 Poems, One Heart

‘39 Poems, One Heart’ by Charles Butler (No Shirt Press, Brooklyn)

There is an unmistakable presence in the poetry of Charles Butler. His long notebook-entry styled works are at once meditative monologue and the very public display of a persona deeply engaged in examining his relationship with the world around him.

In his new collection ‘39 Poems, One Heart’ (No Shirt Press, Brooklyn),  that presence crosses into many territories.

Frank O’Hara could take a walk on his lunch break and come back with an observationally acute poem. When Charles Butler takes a walk, he does so in 39 directions, we are compelled to take that walk along with him.

Butler has a knack for changing direction -- a poem’s mood and perspective can turn on a dime. This serves less as an evasive move or a theatrical device than it does to keep the reader alert and attentive in the hushed contemplations he offers up.

He’s infrequently overt in his politics, though when he does bear witness, Butler goes for the jugular. 

He possesses a philosophical complexity akin to Kerouac‘s, in Scripture of the Golden Eternity, who urges us to see that ‘the word’ and ‘the thing itself’ are irrevocably intertwined, Similarly, Butler strives to come grips not just with friends, foes, lovers and the challenges of a relentlessly urbanized environment -- and not just with the emptiness at the heart of it all -- but with the words which are meant to represent both the relentless surface of the world and the emptiness within.

But above all this, Butler is a fully embedded human being. The sense of loneliness, limitations, and yet accommodation to the embedded condition of the life experience is palpable -- and his communication of that sense understated and adroit.

I’m in the center/four people/a man and a woman/a woman/and a woman he writes in ‘love tween.’

           a want and a need
          great link ‘tween them
            very much
    in the center
into my own love affair

with these words

An instinctively wise cadence is his among the most important attributes which draw the reader’s attention to his art. That and an effective conveyance of meditative pace, coaxing the reader to move through his poems at a considered pace.

Butler's careful attention to line breaks and frequent use of staggered lines compels the reader to pause along with him. We turn ideas around in the meditative stillness much as the author does in his first utterance of them.

only two rules in his life
he has kept
           trust no one                    
       to be alone
       a new day
                           a new year
change     washes over him

What results is a shared gestation, a mutually achieved pregnant deliberation, which clinches the deal, turns what might have otherwise been an acceptable but unremarkable performance piece into a memorable experience.

Hush. Lull. Negative space.

How a reader takes these devices is in some measure a reflection of the reader’s own disposition. What is attributable as the author’s own achievement is his dedication to working those devices to maximum effect. His willingness to allow his reader to share ‘the moment always…the moment.’

Charles Butler creates aperture. He invites people in -- and there‘s much in that for which a reader might be grateful. It’s a sign of trust, respect, and quiet confidence in the value of his contemplations.

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