25th Trillium Award

Poets in Profile: Alan Butcher

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Alan Butcher

Alan Butcher has recently released his book of poetry, The Silence of the North (Bookland Press), which meditates on Canada's arctic region, a region of Canada least known by most, but also a region of beauty, mystery, myth and passion. Alan taps into Canada's arctic region to investigate our relationship to the landscape and to create an evocative blend of memory and emotion.

In his edition of the Poets in Profile series, Alan talks about his childhood attraction towards poetry, his aversion to free verse and how there is no such thing as an unlikely source of inspiration.

Open Book:

Can you describe an experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a poet?

Alan Butcher:

I?ve always been inclined toward poetry from my earliest days. I think most children are. The rhymes delight them; and they try one of their own, and are vastly impressed by their own genius. They are led farther afield, discover some of the great poets, and they?re hooked forever. That was certainly my experience.


What is the first poem you remember being affected by?


Difficult to say. Perhaps it was one of the entries in a book of quotations, read as a child. I can remember, later on, being hugely moved by Hamlet?s ?The point envenomed, too! Then, venom, to thy work!? In my mind I could see it, see him lunging at the king! And it didn?t even rhyme. There was Dylan Thomas, and I thought Ogden Nash was hilarious, and Alexander Pope?s couplets were beyond anything I could imagine. Free verse, in most instances, said nothing to me, then or now, but it?s another form and all forms should be encouraged, I suppose, though I have to go along with Macbeth: ?? sound and fury, signifying nothing.? And I guess every free verse poet in the country will throw rocks at me for saying that. Throw, shallow scribe, throw!


What one poem — from any time period — do you wish you had been the one to write?


Impossible to say. There are so many, from many time periods. I could list a thousand, and would long to have written every one.


What has been your most unlikely source of inspiration?


I think I have to say there?s no such thing as an ?unlikely? source. I know, that?s not the answer you want, but there it is; any source might inspire, though I?d recommend a poet seek, not wait for, ?inspiration.?


What do you do with a poem that just isn't working?


Rewrite. In all writing, rewriting is the name of the game. In my poetry, where rhymes are invariably involved, the problem is often in the rhyme itself, sometimes it appears forced, as if I were reaching for a rhyme but failed to grasp it. Recasting is frequently the only answer: Find another more fitting rhyme. Recast the whole line. Maybe the preceding or following lines, too. Reassess the whole thought, even. Or (sigh) put it all aside and go for a walk, and try not to kick the neighbour?s dog. Seems like a lot of work, and it is, but who ever said that poetry — any writing—is easy? But the satisfaction is great when the problem is solved, and the new line and rhyme grow naturally in your mind and slip into place as if they were greased.


What was the last book of poetry you read that really knocked your socks off?


Any of Robert Service?s Yukon books. I still read them after all these years. Maybe because I like Kipling.


What is the best thing about being a poet?and what is the worst?


The best thing is the immense satisfaction gained from a work that says exactly what you wanted it to say, exactly the way you wanted to say it. The worst thing about being a poet is ? it doesn?t pay very well.

Alan D. Butcher was born in Vancouver, B.C. and has been writing all his life. He has written advertising materials, worked in the Canadian Arctic and has written and produced The Chase Almanac for 25 years. His previously published books include I Remember Haida (Lancelot Press, 1985), Ale & Beer (McClelland & Stewart, 1989) and Unlikely Paradise: The Life of Francis Gage (Dundurn Press, 2009). Alan has three additional books in progress: a novel, a memoir and an urban social history book. He has won the 2010 Donald Grant Creighton Award for Best Biography from the Ontario Historical Society for Unlikely Paradise: The Life of Francis Gage. Alan lives in Cobourg, Ontario. He is a member of the Writers' Union of Canada.

For more information about The Silence of the North please visit the Bookland Press website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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