Book Review: Inmate in the Stone Hotel by Raegan Butcher

I encounter a lot of trite crap posing as poetry. Often I read or hear poems that are so bad I squirm in embarrassment on behalf of the author. Having been subjected to many poorly contrived pieces, I was surprised and exhilerated when I began reading Stone Hotel: Poems From Prison by Reagan Butcher. I was sucked in, immediately hooked by the dramatic pictures painted by Butcher–often in few words, but always in vivid detail.

Butcher uses his words to tell the stories of his life, starting with the armed robbery he was convicted for in 1996. He takes his audience through his arrest, the suicide watch he’s placed on, the mental ward he’s confined to, his conviction, and his transfer to prison. The last line of “Prisonbound” reads, “i had 2,555 days to go.” In addition to details of those 2,555 days, the book’s next 86 pages are filled with Butcher’s hopes, dreams, fears, and desires.

I particularly appreciate Butcher’s straight-up honesty. He manages to write about his love for his young daughter and of romance lost without seeming sappy or fake. Whether writing about strip searches (“designed to humiliate/ dehumanize/ demoralize and intimidate”) or self-gratification (“masturbate/ 3 times/ in 20 minutes/ the last/ orgasm/ just a dry/ spasm/ in a cramped hand”), he doesn’t sugarcoat or pretend.

My favorite pieces are his brief and pointed descriptions of inmates he encounters. These poems are as short as eleven words, but they speak volumes nonetheless. Butcher makes each word count.

This book illuminates a skill and talent that goes beyond sharing the details of life in prison, although (according to my friends behind bars) Butcher does that well. The greatest beauty here is that Butcher puts words together in ways that shock and delight. Consider the final words of the final poem in Stone Hotel: “i’ve walked thru hell/ wearing gasoline shoes.” That’s a whole world of meaning in ten little syllables.

Stone Hotel can be purchased for $10 (including postage) by sending well concealed cash or a money order to CrimethInc. Felonius Monks P. O. Box 1963 Olympia, WA 98507