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'He is known as the people's poet'

He is known as a “the people’s poet” because he wrote about everyday life and real people.

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And while many know of poet Barry Butson in literary circles, often residents in his own city weren’t aware of his extraordinary achievements.


“His poetry is about real people and real places,” said Robyn Butt, who went before Woodstock city council in June requesting the special posthumous designation of poet laureate emeritus. “His poems are very accessible and rooted in southwestern Ontario geography and people.

“They are working class stories and his characters come from real life.”

Butson, who was awarded the national Milton Acorn Medal prize for his first book East End Poems in 1998, died in January of this year of cancer at the age of 77.

After East End he has published five more books of poetry and a memoir of his first year of teaching.

A former journalist and long-time English teacher at WCI and Huron Park, Butson created his own publishing company called Altadore Press.

It was named after the residential street he lived on for many years in Woodstock.

“Post-retirement, my father wrote voraciously,” said his daughter Katherine Butson.  “During one of his chemotherapy treatments, my father told me that his really loved career was not that of journalist or teacher but that of writer.”

Since 1988 he was also published in numerous literary journals in Canada, US, UK, France, Ireland and Australia and was invited to read his work on the CBC and BBC radio.

Butt, also a published poet, said she discovered Butson’s work, including several of his books, in the Woodstock Library around 2009 and began reading his work.

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“I thought my goodness why haven’t I heard of this poet,” she said. “I highly recommend that people try to get their hands on his books. I think there is a real place for special reading or study groups around his poetry.”

Butson was posthumously declared poet laureate emeritus at the June 7 council meeting.

A special recognition of that honour will take place during Art in Victoria Park on Saturday, July 21 between the second and third acts at approximately 4:30 p.m.

His poetry is about real people and real places

Robyn Butt

Mayor Trevor Birtch described Butson as a “local author, highly accomplished poet and publisher.”

“As mayor I look forward to the pleasure of reading the official proclamation prior to having a selected poem of Barry’s being read by a family member,” he said. “Our community is made up of many extraordinary talented people, quietly pursuing their passion and inspiring others. It is very fitting to take a moment for past due recognition.”

Butson’s daughter said receiving the honour “would have been an immense moment of pride for our father.”

“Our family wishes the recognition had been granted prior to our father’s passing so we could have experienced his joy,” she said. “However, we accept the honour on his behalf with great pride and are thrilled that our father’s writing will continue to be promoted and shared at future City of Woodstock events.”

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