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NH poet laureate who died on Easter made poetry accessible to all


MANCHESTER - New Hampshire poet laureate Walter Butts, who died on Easter, was remembered Wednesday as a strong advocate in expanding poetry to a wider audience.

"He has such an open heart and immediately touched people wherever he went and whatever he was talking about," former New Hampshire poet laureate Marie Harris said. "Poetry was his life, and he was just very brave in continuing on with it even though he was very ill."

The Manchester poet gave a public reading about a week before his death, according to Harris, a member of the state poet laureate nominating committee. Butts, 68, had been diagnosed with cancer, she said.

"I felt his work is very accessible and speaks to the ordinary lives of ordinary people," said Harris, who lives in Barrington and served as poet laureate from 1999 to 2004.

Catherine O'Brian, coordinator of arts education and arts and health care grants and programs at the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, agreed.

"He was a totally tireless advocate for poetry," O'Brian said. "He had a very democratic approach to poetry. Just encourage the everyday person to read and share their work."

Butts and his wife, S. Stephanie, also a poet, started a "poetry hoot" in Portsmouth.

"They would invite two headliner poets to read and had an open mic after" for others to read their works, she said.

Kyle Potvin, president of the Poetry Society of New Hampshire, said Butts "believed poetry should be accessible.

"He was a teacher and a wonderful poet himself and just a true advocate for poetry in New Hampshire," Potvin said. "He was able to show people just how moving poetry can be and how it applies to your daily life."

In his online obituary, Butts is quoted as saying: "I really believe that poetry in many, many ways is the literary form that we have that is closest to expressing the human condition, the human spirit."

A committee of poetry lovers from the poetry society, the arts council, the New Hampshire Writers' Project and past poet laureates gather to choose a person or two to nominate to the post. The poetry society formally passes the nomination or nominations to the governor. The Executive Council must approve the choice for the unpaid five-year term.

A replacement is expected by January.

Harris sent out a group email about Butts' death to poet laureates around the country Tuesday night and had received 25 responses by the following afternoon.

"Judging by these emails pouring in, he was really beloved by people who knew him well or have glancingly met him, and that says a lot," she said.

Butts, who previously lived in Portsmouth, was an assistant professor of English for 11 years at Manchester's Hesser College, where he developed a film studies program.

His latest published volume of poems was titled "Cathedral of Nervous Horses."

A public wake is planned for 5 to 7 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday at the J. Verne Wood Funeral Home-Buckminster Chapel, 84 Broad St., Portsmouth. A public memorial/life celebration will take place at the Portsmouth Women's City Club, 375 Middle St., Portsmouth, from 1-5 p.m. May 19.

mcousineau@unionleader.com


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