Complete Poems 1965-2020 by Michael Butterworth
Space Cowboy Books, February 2023
Across Michael Butterworth’s work, elements are reiterated but endlessly transfigured – hitchhiking girlfriends, elm trees, the moon, astronauts, the space race, collage artists, misophonia, marriage, divorce, beached whales, clifftops, the sea, the seasons, mental block, ale houses, the chemical laboratory, ambition, madness, pain, death and impermanence, silver birch trees, suicide, Zazen, riots, train seating indicators, camping, the Welfare State, crows and seagulls, the racist English and Canada geese… are some of his subjects. The subjects of destruction – war, the consumer society, ‘progress’, humanity’s inhumanity, the doings of men (and the necessity of a new woman), galactic war, drug wars, hunting – are never far away, hopefully countered by the tone of optimism found in his later poems inspired by Buddhist philosophy. The effect is at once familiar and yet profound, in language that has the confessional qualities and simplicity of early influences such as Sylvia Plath and the Beats, and the later influence of Zen poets such as Ryōkan. Occasionally the writing is startlingly radical – a reminder of the poet’s beginnings in the New Wave. A collection such as this one from Space Cowboy Books is overdue, and Complete Poems: 1965-2020 brings to more deserving attention a less-heard voice in modern poetry.