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Larry Butler’s poetry is about the rare joys of life – munching stolen chanterelles over an open fire in the rain, working at a desk and hearing your lover finally return home from a journey – joys brought to their absolute peak by a backdrop of death from old age and cancer, the beating of a child and an old man weeping at a funeral. Butler sentimentalises neither the good times nor the bad. His poetry spans many forms and techniques acquired through a life of writing, all of them handled with assurance and energy.
Praise for Butterfly Bones
‘Here we find echoes of Frank O’Hara, as well as unabashed candour in poems about childhood traumas. Butler, perhaps through the poems themselves, transcends blame and moves on to celebrate the richness of ordinariness in the place-names, people-names and landscapes of his beloved Scotland.’ Linda Chase Broda
‘Butler is a unique voice in Scottish literature, demonstrating clearly a readiness to experiment with form as well as content, demonstrating an open eye, heart and mind which comprise the attributes of real and moving poetry.’ Gerry Loose
About Larry Butler
Black Sheep in the Family
Me or Uncle CC? Everyone called him CC; his real name was Clarence Cecil Short. I’m blacker because I left America and never came back. CC is less black. After touring the world in the Merchant Navy, he came back. Inherited Grandma Short’s house – did it up and sold it, then bought two more houses. Eventually he bought the whole town of South Pekin, Illinois. He was a real estate man, a slum landlord during the Depression. He owned two whore-houses and a herd of rent boys. During his time in the Merchant Navy he collected tattoos all over his body – even his penis – but you could only see the design when it was erect. I won’t go into detail. He was buried fifteen years ago with a Swiss bank account number tattooed somewhere on his body – so the rumour goes. My mother employed a detective to try to access the account and get the money. He was probably worth millions.
I started turning black when I failed everything at school. But maybe I’m blacker than CC because I fought for the voting rights of Afro-Americans, civil liberties for Chicanos, better pay for Mexican migrant workers in California, and crosses were burned on my lawn in Bakersfield after I infiltrated the John Birch Society (the western equivalent of the Klu Klux Klan); and because I was convicted of treason and given a five-year prison sentence and a $10,000 fine for helping people desert from the army and finding them safe homes in Europe. I was living in Paris at the time – 1967 – at the height of the Vietnam war. The peace group was based at Shakespeare & Son on the Left Bank, where we printed anti-war flyers and posters. And because I never went to prison and never paid up. Instead, an English woman agreed to marry me which prevented the US government from extraditing me. Because I burned my passport. Because I burned the American flag.
Over a twelve-year period I became really black – or maybe red – in the eyes of the FBI, who visited my parents every six months. And because I’ve never had a proper job. Because I’ve been divorced twice. And blacker now because I’m living with a German woman with a Sanskrit name (or is it Pali?) and have a British passport.
But when we visited Uncle CC in South Pekin in 1949, he took me and my sister (she’s the white sheep, a certified public accountant) to a big department store like Macy’s, and he said “Ya can have anything ya want.” He was my hero then, and my horse when I was geared up in my Roy Rogers cowboy suit, hat and spurs – the very suit I wore when I started thieving at Dick’s Supermarket on the corner of 4th and Orchard in San Jose. I never got caught, but I slowly turned black from inside out.
An extract from Butterfly Bones
When You’ve Been Away
When you’ve been away
for a weekend, a week or longer
and I hear the keys in the lock
and I know that you are home
I pretend not to notice
or it could be me coming home
and you pretend not to notice
but this time it’s you. I sit
quietly in the front room
facing the bay window overlooking
the Kelvin – the setting sun glows
across the carpet. I quietly read
aloud a poem by Ian or Tom
or Mary or Elizabeth or Bill.
I hear your rucksack clunk to the floor,
the hall cupboard door opens and closes.
Not long now I’m thinking
and there’s a tingling in my spine.
I feel you looking at me, your eyes
on the back of my neck. I don’t move
and I continue reading silently. You step
into the room, sit at the piano and begin
to play Mozart. I stop reading. Stand.
Turn and look at the back of your neck
admire your perfect posture. I part the air
with my arms and roll along the carpet
until I am looking up into your face. You
concentrate on the music until the end. I roll away
and you follow me, I follow you, you follow me
mirroring and mocking with shocks of recognition
we re-fashion our segregated lives.