denver butson | what she was wearing

23 02 2009

Poetry Dispatch No.271 | February 23, 2009

This poem appeared on Garrison’s, “The Writer’s Almanac” today, for those of you who haven’t seen it, or heard it read on National Public Radio. My apologies for further dispatching it. But I couldn’t help myself. It’s too good not to share with as many readers and writers as possible.

Buy the book. Subscribe to the Writer’s Almanac and/or tune in to it daily on Public Radio.

Thank you, Garrison for featuring it. . Thank you Denver Buston for writing it. . Thank you Luiquer Street Press for publishing it. –Norbert Blei


What She Was Wearing

by Denver Butson

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” by Denver Butson from Illegible Address. © Luquer Street Press, 2004

U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins says that DENVER BUTSON’s “imagination unlocks for us the cells of reason and sets us loose in a world of dizzying possibilities.” Collins recently selected Butson’s poem “Tuesday 9:00 AM” to be included in Poetry 180, a grouping of 180 poems that will be read in U.S. high schools and published as an anthology, Poetry 180: A Turning Back to Poetry by Random House in 2003.

Butson has published two books of poetry: triptych (The Commoner Press, 1999) and Mechanical Birds (St. Andrews College Press, 2000). His poems have also appeared in The Yale Review, Ontario Review, Quarterly West, Caliban, The Mid-American Review, tight, and Exquisite Corpse, among other journals. Late in 2000, three of his “drowning ghazals” were in Agha Shahid Ali’s anthology, Ravishing Disunities: Real Ghazals in English on Wesleyan University Press. Butson has work forthcoming in numerous journals, including FIELD, Contemporary Ghazals, SOLO, Crux, la petite zine, and Ontario Review, and in The Brink: Contemporary American Poetry, 1965-present.

During the fall of 2000, Butson served as Ezra Pound Visiting Writer at Brunnenburg Castle (Pound’s daughter’s home in the Italian Alps). In 1999, he was the first Ronald H. Bayes Resident in Creative Writing at St. Andrews College and the first featured poet on FOX News Online’s “Book Page.” Also in 1999, Joyce Carol Oates nominated his poem “Beauty or Flight” for a Pushcart Prize.

A frequent collaborator with artists in other media, Butson has worked with filmmaker Rhonda Keyser on her film an unpredictable thing (Solange Productions, premiere screening at The Williamsburg Brooklyn International Film Festival in 2001), with visual artist Maria Mercedes on The Cigar Box Project, with painter/sculptor Pietro Costa on Blood Works, which premiered in New York in 2001, and with Costa and photographer Cedric Chatterley on grace: for all the children, to be published in a bilingual edition in Italy in 2003. Recently, several of his poems were adapted for the stage by Keyser and performed at The Little Theater in New York, and film director Kevin Doyle transformed Butson’s poem “The Effigy Café” into a short film, which first screened in Manhattan in the No Idea film series. The interactive CD, Denver Butson: Solo Works and Collaborations (Digitram Productions, 2000) has won awards throughout the South, including a “Merit Distinction” at the 2001 Richmond Show and the “Silver Award” in Atlanta’s 2001ShowSouth.

Butson has read at St. Mark’s Poetry Project, Cornelia Street Café, the National Arts Club and KGB Bar (all in New York City), as an annually returning featured artist in St. Andrews College’s Writers’ Forum, and at other venues throughout the U.S. and Europe. In addition to Billy Collins, noted writers Jim Harrison, Edmund White, Agha Shahid Ali, W.S. Merwin, Thom Gunn, Ned Rorem, Forrest Gander, and Theodore Enslin have praised his work.

Butson earned a Bachelor of Arts in English from James Madison University and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Bowling Green State University, where he held the Richard M. Devine Memorial Fellowship.


Denver Butson – vita


MFA IN CREATIVE WRITING. Bowling Green State University. (Major Areas of Study: European Modernism, The Thirties’ Avant-garde, Poetry techniques and forms; thesis: The Air Might Burst With Broken Bells, poetry collection; thesis committee chaired by Michael Mott; extensive study of music in poetry with Distinguished Visiting Writer, Theodore Enslin.) Degree Received, 1990.

BA IN ENGLISH. James Madison University. (Concentration in creative writing and general humanities; elected, Sigma Tau Delta, National English Honor Society, 1986.) Graduated, December 1987.

SEMESTER IN PARIS. James Madison University Studies Abroad. (Intensive study of contemporary Parisian artistic and literary culture; focus on American expatriates in Paris, primarily in the nineteen thirties.) Spring 1987.


  • Mechanical Birds. St. Andrews College Press, February 2001. (Introduction by Edmund White; blurbs from Agha Shahid Ali and Jim Harrison.)
  • triptych. Commoner Press, September 1999 (blurbs from Billy Collins, WS Merwin, Thom Gunn, Forrest Gander, Theodore Enslin, Michael Mott, Ned Rorem, and others.)


  • POEMS published or forthcoming from the following journals: FIELD, Crux, tight, Contemporary Ghazals, SOLO, Cairn, The Ontario Review, LUNGFULL!, WordImage, Onthebus, Giants Play Well in the Drizzle, New Virginia Review, The Yale Review, ZuZu’s Petals Online, Mid-American Review, Lingo, Lost and Found Times, Feedback, Rolling Stock, The Chattahoochee Review, Nexus, Caliban lift, Exquisite Corpse, and Quarterly West.
  • NONFICTION (including an interview with John Yau; an article on Delta Bluesman, David “Honeyboy” Edwards; and reviews) published in tight, Countermeasures, Lingo, Feedback, The Adjunct, and LiveWire.


  • Over twenty poems published in the following anthologies Poetry 180: A Return to Poetry (edited by U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins for Random House, Spring 2003), The Brink: Post-Modern Poetry 1965 – the Present (Fall 2002); Ravishing Disunities: Real Ghazals in English (edited by Agha Shahid Ali for Wesleyan University Press, Fall 2000, major reviews in national and international sources, including an extensive positive mention in The Harvard Review, Spring 2001); and Ikons (a collection of poetry by “young Virginia writers” on St. Andrews College Press).


  • Denver Butson: Solo Works and Collaborations: interactive CD-ROM featuring video footage, recorded readings, and collaborative text/image projects, produced by Eddie Williams for Digitram, winner of a “Merit Distinction” at the 2001 Richmond Show and “The Silver Award” at Atlanta’s 2001 Show South.


  • Numerous collaborations include Blood Works (a book project with visual artist Pietro Costa, to be published in a limited edition artist book by Raphael Fodde Editions, 2003); grace: for all the children (a collaboration with photographer Cedric Chatterley and Pietro Costa, to be published in a bilingual edition in Italy in 2003), The Cigar Box Project (a series of poems and drawings in collaboration with visual artist Maria Mercedes); Metal Words (collaborative works with sculptor and furniture maker Greg Hershey); The Effigy Café (a short film based on poem of the same name directed by Kevin Doyle); and an unpredictable thing (a short film written by Tom Noonan and directed by Rhonda Keyser).


  • Over one hundred readings in the U.S and abroad, including readings at the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church in New York City, The National Arts Club, Brunnenburg Castle in Italy, and Foyer Centre International Quartier Latin in Paris.

film and stage

  • SCREENWRITER: The Effigy Café, a short film by Kevin Doyle (Premier Screening, No Idea Bar Film Series, New York). 2001.
  • CREATIVE CONSULTANT: an unpredictable thing, a short film by Rhonda Keyser (Premier Screening, 2001 Williamsburg/Brooklyn Film Festival). 2001.
  • WRITER/DIRECTOR: Three Short PoemPlays (The Little Theater at Tonic. New York). April 2000.
  • PRINCIPAL ACTOR: Beyond Expectations, a feature film by Mark Ching (Dearborne Productions). 1996


    Bowling Green State University, Virginia Commonwealth University, Gotham Writers’ Workshop, St. Andrews Presbyterian College, WritersWriting (private writing studio in New York), and Brunnenburg Castle in Italy.
    CREATIVE WRITING courses include 20th Century World Poets; Beginning and Advanced Poetry Workshops; Beginning and Advanced Fiction Workshops; Nonfiction and Memoir Workshops, Creative Writing Project Management and Discipline, online fiction and nonfiction workshops; intensive one-day workshops; Craft of Poetry; Writing for Young Writers. Have also worked extensively with individual writers in the capacity of consultant, editor, coach, and project manager.
  • LITERATURE courses include Contemporary World Poets; World Poetry of the Twentieth Century; Writers and Collaboration; 20th Century European Poets; Western World Literature (from the Ancient World to the Enlightenment and from the Enlightenment to the Present); and American Literature from Realism to the Present. Have also worked extensively with individual students and reading groups on directed readings of poetry and prose collections.
  • COMPOSITION AND RHETORIC courses include Advanced Composition; Composition and Rhetoric; Varieties of Writing; Honors Composition and Rhetoric; General Writing Problems; Rhetorical Skills; and Special Topics in Composition (with concentrations on issues of obedience and authority, gender and language, race and language, and film study and writing). Have also worked extensively with individual writers on a variety of writing projects.
  • SPECIAL TEACHING PROJECTS include “Minority Participation in Graduate Education” (1993 Virginia Humanities Grant).


  • THE EZRA POUND VISITING WRITER. Brunnenburg Castle, Dorf Tirol, BZ, Italy. Fall 2000.
  • THE RONALD H. BAYES RESIDENT IN CREATIVE WRITING. St. Andrews College. Laurinburg, North Carolina. October 1999.
  • RESIDENT WRITER. Raven Studio. Maytown, Pennsylvania. Summer 1997.


  • FREELANCE EDITOR AND WRITING CONSULTANT. Richmond, Virginia, 1995-97 and in New York,
    1997- present.
  • EDITORIAL CONSULTANT. VCU Editorial Associates. Richmond, Virginia. 1995-95.
  • EDITOR/WRITER. The Ellerman Report on Luxurious Living. 1995.
  • POETRY EDITOR. Feedback. 1993-94.
  • ASSISTANT EDITOR. The Mid-American Review. 1988-1990.
  • LITERARY EDITOR. Chrysalis. 1985-86.
  • READER AND EDITOR. Empty Shelves. 1984-86.
  • administration
  • ARTISTIC DIRECTOR, vendôme arts association, Inc. New York. April 2001 – present.
  • ARTS COMMITTEE WORK includes various planning and publicity committees for vendôme arts. New York. 2001-02.
  • FOUNDER AND DIRECTOR, WritersWriting. New York. January 1999 – present.
  • DIRECTOR, The New Language and Music Festival. Bowling Green State University. April 1990.
  • ACADEMIC COMMITTEE WORK includes “The Adjunct Issues Committee” (English Department. Virginia Commonwealth University. Served as “Chair” from January 1994 – September 1996) and “The Faculty Committee” (English Department. Virginia Commonwealth University. 1992 – 93, elected “Adjunct Representative”).

Awards and honors

  • POETRY 180 PROJECT. Library of Congress. Poem chosen by U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins. 2002.
  • THE W.B. YEATS CHAIR IN POETRY. Brunnenburg Castle. Dorf Tirol, Italy. Fall 2000.
  • MERIT DISTINCTION. Richmond Show. 2001.
  • SILVER AWARD. ShowSouth. Atlanta. 2001.
  • PUSHCART PRIZE (nominee). Poem nominated by Joyce Carol Oates. 1999.
  • FIRST FEATURED POET. FOX News Online’s BOOK PAGE. November/December 1999.
  • MULBERRY PRESS POETRY PRIZE. Honorable Mention. 1994.
  • MASTER TEACHING AWARD. Bowling Green State University. Nominated 1990 and 1989.
  • AWP INTRO AWARDS. Poem chosen to represent Bowling Green State University. 1990.
  • THE RICHARD M. DEVINE MEMORIAL FELLOWSHIP. Bowling Green State University. 1989.


Please click here… to read an interview with Denver Butson and Lily…if you like…



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