Could you flip through your old high school yearbook without cringing? Chris L. Butler gleefully points out to show you every photo and every memory with a poem behind every moment.
Butler uses a seamless combination of 90s pop culture and imagery with slick rhymes and beautiful sonic and tonal qualities. These are poems that demand to be performed on a stage and to be read studiously at your desk. The musicality he brings elevates the feeling of nostalgia into a full soundtrack; you can see the protagonist walking to their perfect theme song.
In BLERD, Butler demonstrates again and again how he is able to summon childhood and transform it into poetry. He captures my attention with titles that feel like poems before the poem even begins. When Butler recounts ‘On That One Time We Went To Universal Studios Because Granny Hit the Lotto’, immediately the reader is teleported to Universal Studios, already understanding this is a once in a lifetime vacation; luck on top of luck because of the lottery win. In ‘Hard Knock Life’, Butler gives us a beautiful ode and homage to Hip-Hop, which he does in every poem. Each piece is imbued and embedded with his heart: his words never skip a beat.
Chris L Butler’s poetry resonates very personally for me; as someone who got his first taste of poetry through Hip-Hop, I can see CL Butler as CL Smooth. Each line is a bar; each bar is measured and thoughtful; every thought is propelled through his own voice: a mixture of rhyme, rhythm, and reason. This, on top of using 90s nostalgia as a vehicle to take the reader to an emotional point makes me an absolute fan of Chris L. Butler and his work. There is a specific kind of magic and consideration when a writer is able to transport his audience to their own individual nostalgia. Butler invites us to chime, “I remember that!” as he brings us into his world. Moments like ‘Wrestlemania 2000’ where he uses this cultural moment as a foil to show growth in the speaker who is now able to be explicit both in language and content. Then, there are poems like ‘St. Denis Fair’ where the speaker brings us into a personal memory which invites the reader to remember their own carnival day and their own childhood crush. Butler wields nostalgia in a multitude of ways. From location and setting, to musicians and television, Butler’s poetry is both reflective in the past and responsive in the present.
The experience of growing up is different for everybody. The way Chris L. Butler uses his own experiences to bring us all back to our own familiar place is like he bottled up time and uncorked it just for us. As if he himself drove us to his favorite Taco Bell, every table full of friends and families, and everybody here wants us to tell them a story about the good times.