A well-presented 22 poem booklet, with an impressive range of subject matter and
emotive stances. Butler explores unbridgeable voids that divide us both internally
and from others, and exposes imagination as a two-edged weapon apt to complicate
and play tricks.
Most poems draw me back and seem to grow in stature, some feel engineered and
don’t combine surprise with a sense of inevitable unfolding, at which Butler is usually
adept. They’re like exercises asking for elaborations on an unlikely likeness or
occasion. Though there’s verbal wit as in the ‘naked’ exposure of lecturing in ‘Resignation(i)’
…the men-of-letters with their jewel-laden wives
are so stunned at your wit and originality
you inhale their envy.
Disturbing moments, too. In a self-constructed igloo of isolation (‘Resignation(ii)’)
singing to stay awake builds up obstructive crystals across the deliberately narrow
entrance, impressing the need, after all, for sociable contact.
While coming over as a voluble conversationalist you’d like to meet and listen
to, Butler wastes few words, lets you breathe and take stock of contradictory responses.
And I like the way she undermines a seemingly impassioned or unassailable standpoint.
‘Baby’ amuses as an irritated encounter with a preoccupied mother, but what is the
She says she wants two more before she runs out of time.
I look at my watch but the hint is lost.
Now the children get fractious. I help her with her coat,
slip a note in her pocket: Dear friend
never call gain. It’s like showing a starving woman thick soup
and expecting her not to get dangerous.
In ‘Emergency’, tightly laconic like its repressed frustration, she longs to adopt
an obese, autistic boy. Demonstrating his objection her partner is more childishly
disruptive than any child could be. ‘Hunger’ is another divisive scenario where Butler
gives small items a barbed rôle. A partner collects his property, and as he loads
the car in wind and sleet
Two shirts escape, ghosts
in a fight. One flies down the lane.
Butler’s understated dramatisation of the courage and privations of her Russian
forbears is memorable. ‘Germination’ shows how those who are locked away need to
grow something. Doing so cost her grandfather three extra years in the Gulag. When
he dies digging turnips, the poet comforts her distraught grandmother beside a half-frozen
leaking tap. Movingly the need for creative growth persists: