A series of poems dealing with the author's seven year prison sentence for armed robbery.The poetry is simple in its raw honesty and beautiful in its mature-yet-accesible language and intensely personal insights.
STONE HOTEL is a collection of poems by a man who was sentenced to eight years in prison.
The first poem details the crime. Nowhere in the book did I find any attempt to excuse, minimize, or deny the crime. The poems simply tell us what happened, how he was apprehended--by dogs, "their nostrils full of my fear"--and what followed as he served his time:
I am surrounded
by men who live
and blink in the sun
like psychotic moles
disguised as racial pride
the tattooed husbands
of battered wives
love is a clenched fist
In STONE HOTEL, the poetry is understated. The scream lies beneath the words as the author finds himself "strangled by the hands of a clock" in a cage where "privacy is a thing of the past," and "even fear has gone stale with time."
STONE HOTEL is not for the faint of heart. Raegan Butcher's writing is brilliant, raw and powerful. And as he writes, Butcher does my favorite thing for an artist to do--he never looks away. He confronts his subject with hard, cold objectivity and conveys it to us in the simplest way imaginable. This isn't poetry to make you smile or warm your soul. It isn't meant to entertain you--but then, neither is a plane crash or Edvard Munch's picture of a scream.
I can't remember the last time I read a poetry book so quickly. I mean, sure, it's short, but that's not the point I'm making. I've just flown through Stone Hotel in half an hour of frenzied, captivated reading. Why had nobody told me about Raegan Butcher before? I feel like I've been let in on a great secret of a work (despite the author's well known presence to many others).
Stone Hotel: Poems From Prison simply tells it how it is. The short almost-beat like stanzas and simplicity of words are highly laboured in skill and precision. Make no mistake, this isn't a book trying to make a buck on telling the gaol routine through poetry- this is simply the work of a poet in prison- a great one at that, and he's tellin' in true.
Funny, wincing, self reflecting, society reflecting- and with it prison's mirror, humanity reflecting, sad, and with the gritty reality of fights, deaths, piss, the inhumanity of arse cheek spreading, stories- almost haikus- of fellow cell mates (the short ones which begin with a name are truly great), and tales of the heart. Butcher punches a beautiful beast of post-modern prose (which occasionally brought Billy Childish's writing to mind) like he's sliced open a cow to expose every stench and entrail of the interior. This is Johnny Cash's San Quentin album for the literary market, and a whole lot more.
After finishing Raegan Butcher's poetry collection Rusty String Quartet, I was eager to read his other book, a gift at Christmas, Stone Hotel: Poems from Prison. The only comparison I'll make is it took me a long time to read RSQ because there was so…much. So much depth. I read Stone Hotel in one sitting because there was so much…well, depth. But in a totally different way.
Stone Hotel is much more of a story to me. It took me not only to a foreign place, that place being the other side of the law, but to a place I don't want to visit. But to peek inside that place? Fascinating, rich, surprising, funny, predictable at times (but not in a bad way), disheartening, cold, frightening and despairing. The style of poetry is the same: stark and honest. He hits you between the eyes with lines like:
tattooed husbands/ of battered wives/ who think/ love is a clenched fist.
Some of my favorite poems are when he pulls back a little from the realism and gives us something that is universal, open-ended and almost lyrical even, like in "dimestore Dillinger" and "a walk among the tombstones"—
i look out of my window and see / burning flowers and starving armies / but when i look up into the night sky / i see the souls of dead heroes.
A lot of the poems are very funny, in the 'tears of a clown' sort of way, my favorite kind of humor, poems like "the devil's dandruff" (the funniest indictment of cocaine I've ever read) and "jeremiah," simple, understated and deadpan funny.
Other favorites are poems about specific inmates, and usually the title of the poem is the guy's name. Those were all fascinating and chilling, with the exception of "smoky," which was a poignant piece about the prison barber with a poet's soul who died of cancer behind bars.
This is another collection that you must have if you enjoy the post-modern poetry style dipped in starkness and bold truth. Butcher is skilled at taking you there and bringing you back, and making you crave another ride. I hope someday he takes up his poet's pen and gives us more.