Broken Hallelujah: New and Selected Poems

Broken Hallelujah: New and Selected Poems

Broken Hallelujah: New and Selected Poems

Broken Hallelujah: New and Selected Poems


Jack Butler's Broken Hallelujah: New and Selected Poems is a celebration that refuses to explain away pain and trouble, or to oversell the very transcendence it seeks. Its poems are always musical, whether formal, improvisational, or written according to the music of speech itself.

Butler understands poetry more nearly as the essence of that speech than as one of its products, the heart of the ways we know each other. Some of these forms are as old as English, but the voice stays immediate; and whether dark or hopeful, comic or sober, passionate or calm and knowing, these poems speak with the urgency of praise itself.


I first discovered Jack Butler in Leon Stokesbury’s the Made
Thing: a Contemporary Anthology of Southern Poetry, the text that forced
me into the realization that I wanted to write poetry. I stole the book
from the S.C. Governor’s School for the Arts in 1996, not out of malice
or mischief or even absentmindedness. I took it out of simple necessity,
and I felt entitled to it. in retrospect, I’m somewhat ashamed of my lack
of shame, but I think of what might have been had I not succumbed to
thievery, for the poems in this book became invitations into the writing
life, a literary summons, a justification for literary pursuit. They were
works of art that validated my experience as a thinking and loving human
being, my living-in-the-world—though childish and untutored—out in rural
South Carolina, where I walked nights through peach orchards and tried
to come to terms with poetic notions, feelings, needs, and cravings, even
though I knew my ground untenable, unremarkable. I didn’t yet have
the words.

Jack Butler’s “Preserves” and “One Reason for Stars,” included
in this volume, were also in The Made Thing, and I read these pieces so
many times that the pages literally unlatched from the book spine so that
I had to fold them in half and lodge them in sideways. Thus, Jack Butler
remained with me for years in the form of these few poems until finally I
wrote to him one day, asking him to submit work for an anthology I was
editing. This solicitation catalyzed one of the most fruitful conversations
I’ve had with a writer, a dialogue that continues to this day. Butler has
proven to be one of the kindest, most giving, most intelligent people I’ve
had the pleasure of knowing, and I’ve never met him: It’s through his
writing that this man continues to brighten my life.

Jack Butler’s Broken Hattelujah: New and Selected Poems is long
overdue. These poems reflect a keen intelligence, formal grace, verbal play,
and a musicality lacking in most contemporary poetry. Poem after poem
reflects a curious mind brimming with giftedness, an artist capable of
deep humor and stark seriousness. Though these hallelujahs are fractured,
they are no less beautiful, no less praise: They are the doxologies of a man
dedicated to knowing the world in all its darkness and all its joy.

—William Wright . . .

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