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Denver Butson

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Alison Smyth

on 5 December 2012

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Transcript of Denver Butson

Denver Butson:
Dreaming in Real Life Denver Butson frequently uses a dreamlike tone throughout his often free-verse poetry. The nature of Butson's obvious symbolism and surreal images could easily be seen as childlike. However, in "Tuesday 9:00 A.M.," "What She Was Wearing," and "Beauty or Flight," his style lends itself greatly to communicating a larger message through his usage of otherworldly details. A man standing at the bus stop
reading the newspaper is on fire
Flames are peeking out
from beneath his collar and cuffs
His shoes have begun to melt From merely the title of the poem and the first stanza, a strange scene is set. "Tuesday 9:00 A.M." seems to reference an average day, as does the gentleman's leisurely reading of the daily paper. Yet, as is the case with several poems by Butson, a few vivid details give this verse an entirely different spin. The flames sprouting from the man's shirt as he casually goes about his business crushes the notion that this poem will simply be about a completely normal day. The woman next to him
wants to mention it to him
that he is burning
but she is drowning
These first few lines of the second stanza are particularly important because they begin to bring to light the true meaning of the poem. The drowning woman is trying to mention and help the burning man with his problem, but unfortunately has her own to contend with. Water is everywhere
in her mouth and ears
in her eyes
A stream of water runs steadily from her blouse Tuesday 9:00 A.M. Another woman stands at the bus stop
freezing to death
She tries to stand near the man
who is on fire
to try to melt the icicles
that have formed on her eyelashes
and on her nostrils
to stop her teeth long enough
from chattering to say something
to the woman who is drowning
but the woman who is freezing to death
has trouble moving
with blocks of ice on her feet This stanza has quite a few notable points. The woman who is freezing seems to be representative of someone who tries to solve their own problems by relying on other people, hence her attempts to move nearer to the man on fire to melt her icicles. However, this also shows how difficult it is to solve your problems using sources outside of yourself when the freezing woman is unable to become close to the man on fire due to her frozen feet. It takes the three some time
to board the bus
what with the flames
and water and ice
But when they finally climb the stairs
and take their seats
the driver doesn't even notice
that none of them has paid
because he is tortured
by visions and is wondering
if the man who got off at the last stop
was really being mauled to death
by wild dogs. The conclusion of this poem does a great job in summarizing its deeper meaning. The bus driver is representative of the faceless strangers that everyone encounters every day but does not think twice about. He is the only character who does not face a tangible, visible struggle; instead, he is tormented by visions that are entirely in his own head. This shows that even the strangers that go mostly unnoticed in one's day to day life have their own problems, whether or not they are immediately obvious. The imagery in this poem, upon first glance, may seem quite like a childish cartoon. And, had the concept been in the hands of someone less skillful than Butson, the poem could have turned out as nothing more than a bizarre caricature. But as one reads further and further into it, new details and meanings become apparent. Butson gives "Tuesday 9:00 A.M." a striking relatability, while conserving the dreamy atmosphere that is his signature. What She Was Wearing this is my suicide dress

she told him

I only wear it on days

when I'm afraid

I might kill myself

if I don't wear it

you've been wearing it

every day since we met

he said and these are my arson gloves

so you don't set fire to something?
he asked


and this is my terrorism lipstick
my assault and battery eyeliner
my armed robbery boots I'd like to undress you he said
but would that make me an accomplice?

and today she said I'm wearing
my infidelity underwear
so don't get any ideas

and she put on her nervous breakdown hat
and walked out the door "What She Was Wearing" exhibits several themes that are similar to "Tuesday 9:00 A.M." For example... The two both reference ordinary objects and routines, and hold all the makings of a typical day. Waiting for the bus and reading the newspaper are two actions in "Tuesday 9:00 A.M." that help to create this atmosphere. In "What She Was Wearing," it is the female character getting dressed and even the more subtle act of her walking out the door. "What She Was Wearing" holds quite an eerie tone, just like "Tuesday 9:00 A.M." This is particularly blatant when the male character remarks that the female character had been wearing her "suicide dress" every day since they had met. She had previously made clear that she only wears the dress on days that she is afraid she might kill herself. This is profound and sad, and could also leave a reader wondering if this character had always struggled with depression and suicidal thoughts, or if the male character had something to do with it. Another theme that seems to be mirrored in both poems is the idea of not being able to fully focus on those around you when you are struggling with your own issues. The male and female voices in "What She Was Wearing" seem to be going back and forth in a conversational fashion. However, their responses to each other's comments show that they are barely listening. The excerpt where they are talking about her "arson gloves" is the only portion in which they actually seem to be paying attention to each other. In every other exchange, they are not focusing on one another, and rather their individual thoughts and questions. Perhaps the most arresting part of these two poems is the fact that they both portray inner feelings of depression, anxiety, torment, and angst through the use of physical props. It is a tactic of Butson's that leads the reader to think about everyday things in a different way, and to think about pain and suffering as tangible objects. The techniques utilized in "What She Was Wearing," could again be interpreted as immature. It holds metaphors that do not at all beat around the bush and are instead instantly obvious. Still, the numerous amount of small details and various ways in which those details could be seen are nothing less than sophisticated, and the several deep meanings behind those details are incredibly profound. Beauty or Flight The man who jumped from the highway bridge one afternoon
who drove his car along in rush hour traffic
then carefully pulled it over, fussed with something briefly on the dash,
so casually that another driver passing
thought he was looking for a map, or a cassette tape,
that had slid during the last turn before the bridge — that's all —
and then stepped out of the car, standing, stretching,
and closing the door routinely, a man in need of a break
on a long drive, a man untroubled by his next appointment,
a man who felt himself growing tired and thought
he needed some air, looked up the highway once
and then down at the almost frozen rows of traffic
under the haze that lingered above the bridge
and then broke simply and suddenly into a run, a dead run,
one motorist called it, crossing in front of his car
and not even stopping at the railing between the bridge
and the empty space beside the bridge, entering that space
and opening his mouth in what one driver called a scream,
though she heard no sound above the drone of traffic, and
other drivers saw as a gasp for breath, not unlike a child takes
when diving into a backyard pool, and he executed then
a nearly perfect, if a little rushed, swan dive out across the space
next to the bridge and into the water ninety-five feet below. One fisherman in a boat a little upstream
saw the man who jumped from the highway bridge,the moment he left the bridge and entered his dive, and the fisherman
swore he saw not a man but a large bird, a falcon or an eagle,
shot mid-flight by an angry driver, a large bird
who was trying to regain some sense of beauty, some sense of flight,in its final dying seconds The most thought provoking portion of this poem was when the fisherman is describing the man jumping off of the bridge as a wounded bird. In a sense, "Beauty or Flight" uses some of the same techniques as the first two poems, but in reverse. The first two poems use metaphor to describe the internal struggles of the characters; however, in "Beauty or Flight," the pain that the main character feels is shown in a literal way when he jumps off of the bridge. In this poem, simile is instead used to convey a message that, while still somber, on some level signifies a happy release. While the metaphors in "Tuesday 9:00 A.M." and "What She
Was Wearing" are representative of suffering, the similes in "Beauty or Flight" are representative of the end of suffering. "Beauty or Flight" seems to be an overall very literal poem, but Butson's unique voice is once again much more than it seems. Upon close inspection, the special parts of this poem are apparent. For example, the last four lines of the first verse are incredibly touching. Not only do they hold stunning imagery of the man's graceful dive off of the bridge, but the part in which he is compared to a child holding his breath while diving into a backyard pool gives the character an intriguing innocence. The way that the poem deals with suicide is very distinctive. While suicide is normally portrayed as an intense, frightening and confused action, the language used in the poem is extremely mild and calm. It speaks of the man casually pulling over to get some air and stretching tiredly. The "haze that lingered over the bridge," further adds an air of serenity. Even when the man begins to run and opens his mouth to supposedly scream, no one actually hears the sound over the drone of traffic. While Denver Butson uses fairly simplistic language, metaphors, and imagery, that does nothing to lessen the weight of his concepts and the significance of his words. Many of his poems take place in an environment that seems both ordinary and extraordinary at the same time, but instead of muddling his message, that dreamlike tone is exactly what makes his poetry special.
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