Using poetry to tell story of his life

Terry Roberts
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Herman Butt puts it in writing

Herman Butt, who turned 84 on Feb. 16, in his room in the Harbour Lodge Nursing Home in Carbonear. — Photo by Terry Roberts/The Compass

Herman Butt admits his health is failing — he has emphysema and his body is weakening — but the 84-year-old’s mind is as sharp as a horseshoe tack.

You only need to read some of his poetry to see that the creative juices are still flowing freely.

After a lifetime of work, raising a family and selling horses and other livestock, Butt turned to poetry in a serious way several years ago as a way of expressing his thoughts and feelings, and reflecting on a very eventful life.

The loss of his wife, Alfreda, in 2008 was the trigger, and Butt began his literary journey.

He always had an interest in writing, and was well-known for penning short ditties as a younger man in Flatrock, near Freshwater. And whenever plans got underway to put off a concert in Flatrock, he was usually the one who wrote the script and did most of the acting.

Alfreda didn’t always appreciate his writing.

“She used to say I was only making fun of people,” Butt said with a laugh during a recent interview in his room at the Harbour Lodge Nursing Home in Carbonear.

But a browse through a binder of poetry he’s written in recent years reveals a mixture of humour, wistfulness, sadness and tragedy.

“I feel good about poetry. I love it. I dream about it at night,” he said.

Butt writes mostly about his life and the history of the region, but there’s also plenty about his experience at the nursing home.

Here’s a passage from a poem called “To the Staff of the Harbour Lodge”:

The nurses are so friendly

and wear a smile on their face

Some come from New Chelsea

And some from Harbour Grace.

There’s Pat and Tom, and Lynette too

They let you stand in line

They make sure you get

Your medicine on time

He’s written about the Cape Shore, Carbonear Island, NHLer Danny Cleary, Perry’s Cove, the crash of Cougar Helicopter Flight 491, the sinking of the Ocean Ranger and his time as a miner on Bell Island.

Here’s another excerpt:

You will load 20 cars for a day’s pay

The last day of the week is scravel day

You will call out your number to get your pay

Then head for the wharf to catch the boat in the bay.

To visit your family and I’m glad to be able

To pay up the bills and put food on the table

Clothes on their backs and shoes on their feet

So they can feel proud when they walk down the street.

There are some 20 poems in the binder, and they reveal plenty about this man in his twilight years. Alfreda is a central character in several poems.

He also writes about the loss of his son and grandson in a tragic accident in Alberta in 2000.

Here’s an extract from a poem called “Carbonear in 1949”:

Jimmy Rourke ran the coal shed

Hauled coal all over Carbonear

In winter’s cold or summer’s sun

He’d deliver to our door for $21.50 a         ton.

Dolly and Mary Udell

Had a dry-goods store

They sold the clothing real cheap

To help the working poor

Raylene McDonald, a recreational therapy worker at Harbour Lodge, said those who read Butt’s poems are often overwhelm­ed.

“He’s such a good man,” she said. “He’s so creative. His life is just unreal.”

Getting ideas

Butt hasn’t written much lately, but there are ideas flowing through his mind.

Asked what he misses most about his younger years, he said family meals and little parties often come to mind.

He’s pragmatic when it comes to aging and dying.

“It’s something you can’t help. I’m glad to have lived a long spell. I hope to live a few more years,” he said, adding that his late father lived to be 102.

“I feel good about my life. I have no regrets,” he said.

The Compass

Organizations: Harbour Lodge Nursing Home, The Compass

Geographic location: Flatrock, Freshwater, Carbonear.But New ChelseaAnd Bell Island Alberta

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