Survivors' Press, 2006 - £2.00
Larry Butler (no relation) was born in Illinois but has lived in Glasgow since 1981. His pamphlet, Han Shan Everywhere has a bright white cover bearing just his name and the title in scarlet. It’s strikingly effective.
Each poem has nine lines and there are two on each page. As I read, I found myself wanting to draw in the gaps between poems. This is because the poems are very visual:
peach sky above a field of clover
yellow turnip flowers beyond the hedge
blue tits flit for flies
I could almost taste the raspberries and Bengali spiced tea, feel the sun on my face, the scratch of heather against my legs.
Han Shan (Cold Mountain) was an eighth or ninth century Chinese poet and recluse. The mountains he called home inspired many of his poems. Many of Larry Butler’s poems also take inspiration from the natural world; there are few people and their rare appearances are quite startling:
a girl with big silver circle earrings
turns revealing 3 white stripes on her blue
track suit trousers’…
from nowhere 6 motorbikes power the hill
too loud to hear the larks
too fast to see the tormentil & cuckoo spit
Larry Butler seems at home outdoors and his poems have a lyric, meditative quality. The language is simple and there is little punctuation except spaces. But there is a toughness in these poems I almost missed at first. It underpins them.
In poem 71 Han Shan says, “But the road is long and hard/ burdened with regrets and doubt” (trans. Red Pine) and though he doesn’t say it directly, I felt this sentiment in Larry Butler’s poems. This was not trite or sentimental, but the voice of someone who has travelled the long hard road and is still compassionate, still has time to notice dandelions in pavement cracks, can still see beauty in a February moon or enjoy munching on corn chips.
The Common Reader says of Han Shan Everywhere
For no particular reason I read the information on the back cover first. I don’t recall any other writer explaining how the chapbook came to be named. Usually, most of the space on the back cover tells you how wonderful the poet is and how many awards they have won.
In this case, the space on the back of this chapbook is mostly about how it came about and only three lines about the writer.
I know nothing of the Chinese poet Han Shan and I will have missed meanings and connections but I still enjoyed the poems. They appeared to me to me to flow slowly along taking me with them. No dramatics; just gentle observations.
I can’t think of anything more stressful than standing in a long queue at a post office and yet Butler manages to turn it into a peaceful experience:
eyes closed swaying like a tree the queue
goes faster than on other Mondays
If you like satisfying endings and quiet observations of the ordinary life, or if you happen to be a big Han Shan fan this is chapbook for you. It’s also very good value for money at £2.00.