I’m happy to bring you fellow Gemini Glenn Buttkus this month. He’s just celebrated a birthday (June 14), which he spent with family and friends, that evening a visit to the Tacoma Film Club. Happy Birthday, Glenn!
In this interview, you will read about Glenn’s love for theater as well as writing novels, poetry, and photography.
Let’s start with a poem I selected from Glenn’s blog, Feel Free to Read.
by Glenn Buttkus
“One should lie empty, open, choice-less as a beach–
waiting for a gift from the sea.” –Anne Morrow Lindbergh
His most cherished
moment, after banishment from fog,
bathed in golden
afternoon sunshine was
watching her strolling along the
neck of that
black beach, still
slick with the wondrous wetness
of outgoing tide;
silhouetted tiny against
the girth of the nearest
largest sea stack,
at the base
of a tall rock, where
a lone fisherman
stood like a
cardboard cut-out, grasping his
big saltwater pole,
with the sunlight
dancing around him on waves,
rippled by wind.
She stood poised,
as she considered dashing between
the receding waters,
and then decided
against it, quicksilver frozen in
a blue tableau,
perched like a
white heron stilted on driftwood logs,
before taking flight,
as he finally
understood her love for the
sea, the forces
that pulled her
from the city regularly, letting
her run free
on ocean beaches,
wandering, meditating, wading, waiting to
salute the sunset.
Tell us about yourself, Glenn.
Like many folks out there, I have been married several times. In the 60’s I had a pretend wife, and we lived together for 7 years; many halcyon hippy days. I had just got out of the Navy in ’68. I returned to college, planning on becoming a teacher, English & Drama. But then I got accepted into the Professional Actor’s Training Program at the U of W. They had national auditions, and I was one of the few local actors they accepted. Three years later I emerged a classically-trained professional; and 7 years after that, upon returning from Australia where I had done a play, I could see that I needed a change. When we make a supreme effort to make a living out of Art, be it as a writer, a dancer, an actor–we discover that paying the rent requires a secondary back-up vocation.
I took a year off in 1978, and got a job working with the blind in Los Angeles, at the Braille Institute of America, near Hollywood. I discovered that teaching in special education was much more rewarding than entertaining people, so I got an honorary withdrawal from SAG, AFTRA, and Actor’s Equity, and never looked back. A couple of years later I returned to graduate school to get my MA in Spec Ed. I met my first wife, whom I refer to as my “practice wife”, while working at BIA. I was 35, and she was 22. The marriage lasted 5 years, and it was not a match made in heaven.
I was lucky enough to get hired by the Veteran’s Administration, and returned to my home state of Washington to work at the Blind Rehab Clinic at the VA in Tacoma. I worked there for 26 years, until I retired in 2010. I looked forward to going to work, realizing that somehow I was making an impact in people’s lives, that I was making a real difference in the world. One could not “buy” a job like that.
I met my second wife, whom I dubbed my “real wife” at the office. She was an intern, up from Texas. She was in the middle of a second divorce, and was raising three young daughters by herself. I never had children with my first two wives, so I decided to plunge into a new marriage, and see what parenting was all about. I had to overcome the stepfather syndrome. My new daughters were in 2nd, 3rd, & 6th grade. They are all grown up now, married, and we enjoy a 20 year relationship that has turned to love & acceptance. My four grandchildren are a wonderful addition to my retirement.
Wait. I’m a little confused with the wives.
Yeah, my amours were a bit convoluted. In the late 60’s, I lived with a lady for 7 years; we never married. In the early 80’s, I had my first marriage, lasting 5 years. In the early 90’s I married for the second time, and we are still married. So my live in was for pretend, my first wife was for practice, and my second wife, who is from TX, my match made in heaven is in the 21st year.
How long have you been writing, Glenn?
For over 50 years. Even in high school, and later in college, my writing sustained me, stimulated me to record the world through my filters. I have put my pen to poetry, essays, movie reviews, short stories, and two unpublished novels.
Two novels? Tell us about them.
The first novel, and existential Western called BLACKTHORN, was too far out there for the English professors who taught and advised me: “The Western Writers of America could never condone this manuscript, graphic sex & violence, hints of metaphysics, free verse poetic passages, and you killed off your protagonist–it’s like Vonnegut wrote it.” I have considered this high praise.
The second novel, a Detective thriller called BAERBAK, took place in Seattle, my hometown. The protagonist & antagonist were yin & yang, who share the same girlfriend. They were both movie buffs, and many of the clues and situations came out of classic films. I finished this manuscript while living in Los Angeles, being an actor. It generated some interest here & there, but no one really helped to publish it.
It’s never too late to get those books published! You haven’t said much about growing up. Has the past motivated any of your writing?
Each of us has our own family circus & soap opera to color our writing. My mother passed away at 39 from cancer. I was 22 at the time. I discovered that her first husband was not my real father. I have spent a lifetime in search of the father I never found, and never knew.
I hope you find him one day, Glenn. It seems that with today’s technology, more and more people are having luck with searching for their birth parents. Computers are amazing.
Yes. My writing began to blossom, to intensify, with my computer skills. I used to go to the office hours early, and stay hours after work, in order to deepen my skills & knowledge. Our home computers kept improving too, so like 10 years ago I became a blogger, and had a showcase for my writing.
Wow. You’ve been blogging for 10 years. What has been the best thing that has come from that?
The greatest joy for me was discovering the huge faction of other poets, from every corner of the globe–which led to those blog sites that offered poetry prompts, fellowship, sharing and writing, writing, and more writing. A 100 poem cache became a 1000. I met Brian Miller on another poetry web site several years ago. When he and Claudia Schoenfeld started dVerse Poets, I really found a home; as have hundreds of other wonderful poets. After I retired in 2010, I became active first on Facebook, and then Twitter; both of which now keep me busy daily.
Speaking of social media, I get a kick out of all your movie-related photos.
I was always a movie buff, having young parents in the 50’s, we went to movies several times a week. By the time I was a teenager, I carried on the tradition, seeing a movie a week; a tradition that is still extant in my life. For many years I collected old magazines & newspapers, cutting out movie ads & ephemera. 25 years ago I started collecting movies, first VHS, then DVD. I have a 1400 square foot basement, filled up floor to ceiling with movies; over 30,000 at last count. 10 years ago I became a member of the Tacoma Film Club, and I have been the director for 5 years; lots of fellowship & movie viewing/discussions. For the Club blog site I have written 300 movie reviews, some of them up to 50 pages in length.
In your eyes, what constitutes a good film?
For me a “good” film is the embodiment of all the Arts, literature, music, dance, imagery/photography/cinematography; a great book and great theater synthesized into one mysterious magical personal adventure, that is carefully constructed, lucky in its final edited composition, strongly directed & acted, imaginative, emotionally vulnerable, touching, probing, & inspiring–something that immediately sends me off to make notes for more poetry.
I wish I could take the tens of thousands of movies I have seen, and now own in my collection, and pick just three as faves; but that is an impossible endeavor–could pick top 3 of each genre perhaps.
Drama— CITIZEN KANE, ZORBA THE GREEK, & WHOSE AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF?
Westerns— THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, THE LONG RIDERS, & SHANE.
Historical— SPARTACUS, MAN FOR ALL SEASONS, & BECKET.
Science Fiction– SILENT RUNNING, MATRIX TRILOGY, & CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.
Comedy— WHERE’S PAPA, PLANES, TRAINS, & AUTOMOBILES, & NIGHT AT THE OPERA.
Crime— FAREWELL, MY LOVELY–LA CONFIDENTIAL–CHINATOWN.
What about poetry?
Well, for decades the poems appeared sporadically. In the 60’s there was a lot of protest poetry, railing against the man, the war in Viet Nam, and then it seemed that verse only appeared as compliments to my falling in & out of love. I wrote dozens of poems about my grandfather, an artist & liberal.
I notice that your poems begin with quotes. Tell us about that.
I have always liked quotes at the top of poems, but only in the last year or so have I included one on each of my poems. I kind of save quotes I like, used to put them on FB like some other folks do. Then I realized that I did not have enough variety. So now I write my poem, usually after some research of some kind, and then look at the theme of the piece– then I look for quotes that pertain to that theme; just some quote that grabs me.
How do you come up with your titles?
I have always enjoyed that process, and of course the choosing is done after the poem is written. I marvel at the esoteric and long titles that Brian & Claudia write, which are almost small poems in themselves. I fuss with the titles sometimes for long periods, changing them several times until there is some form of alignment between the poem, my mind, and the title.
Which poets would you say you emulate?
As to my inspirations, they are legion. I like to think that like Kerouac, I have emerged poetically to be an “outlaw of the sensorium”. Other poets inspire all of us, and thinking about it, a partial list might include–Ginsberg & Burroughs for audacity, Bukowski for grit, Neruda for romance, Whitman for liberty, Silverstein for glee, Plath for chaos, Raymond Carver for raw emotions,
Sherman Alexie for honesty & heritage, Dylan Thomas for inspirational goals, Robert Bly for manhood, Brautigan for madness, Poe for darkness, Leonard Cohen for guidance, Billy Collins for marketing, Gary Snyder for karma, Khalil Gibran for substantiation, Joy Harjo for heart, James Joyce for humility, and Kerouac for alienation. Of course I continue to be inspired daily by the many incredible poets that gather at the dVerse Pub.
Here’s a poem Glenn wanted to share.
by Glenn Buttkus
“Every kind of peaceful cooperation among men
is primarily based on mutual trust.”
It is early morning,
and a light fog lies
like a holy shawl over
San Francisco bay.
The sun peeks its fiery brow
up over the jagged lip
of the Sierra Nevada to the east;
most of the skyscrapers downtown
find some of their glass catching
searing rays of fire–
orange, yellow, & violet.
Flashes of tiny green wing their way
from the dozens of parks
and secret nesting places
all over that part of the city.
Larger than sparrows,
but smaller than pigeons,
these strong green-tinted fliers
darting in and out of the palm fronds
and thick grey-green deciduous leaves
are red-crowned Conures–
small but mighty wild parrots.
The reddish feathers on their heads,
and the red slash around their feral eyes
seems to deepen in color
as the sun’s early shards
catch them flying eastward.
Alcatraz winks white across
the narrow waist of the bay,
as the sea breeze picks up–
creating white caps
and swirling wind snakes across
the disturbed surface of the water.
In the near distance,
the Golden Gate bridge
is clearing itself of low clouds
as stiff winds blow the morning mists
off its red steel superstructure & cables.
Riding the thermals & twisting
through the breakfast breezes,
three lone Conures become seven,
then twelve, then fifty–some
invisible instinct guiding them,
letting them congregate into
a noisy squawking flock–
like some living feathered sky design,
one aerial beast with many hearts,
soaring, beating their blurred wings;
moving as one mass, yet barely
held together with its configuration
shifting, while maintaining itself
as one avian articulated body
and thrusting itself through the air–
its leaders making sudden
sharply banked turns, where
the out flyers had to swing wide
and strain to keep up,
just before the formation tightened, flying
as one tremendous throb of viridescence
past the Cafe Trieste, whizzing past
the stark white obelisk of the Coit Tower;
nearly a perfect lesson for
the struggling partisan throngs below.
What about publishing your work?
Somehow this has eluded me. Back in the day, I sought for writing agents, but one never materialized. Cold submissions to grand publishing houses were counter-productive, and without a “good” agent, your work piled up in corners & waste baskets. Recently, I began to look into self-publishing on Amazon, but as a borderline Luddite, the technical skills I need to pull that off are not readily available. I have submitted lots of poems to Poetry Contests, and here and there have been published in obscure volumes of The World’s Best Poets, which I had to purchase in order to see my work in print. The Chapbook competitions that I have submitted to have been unwilling or uninterested in publishing any of my work. Most of my poems run to the long side. I love doing research, and creating tiny masterworks. Then there is the stumbling block of “prior cyber publishing”, which seems to include my blog, or anyone else’s. If one’s work has been seen anywhere on-line, most publishing concerns run lukewarm regarding it. So, I rationalize, and am happy to have 50 friends that constitute my personal “readership”, and I send them all my new poems.
Recently, dVerse member Frank Watson put together a new poetry book that includes only dVerse Poets. I will have two poems included in that.
I’m looking forward to the day of its release, too. What do you prefer, form or free verse?
I really never had the courage or motivation to write poetry in classical forms, before getting involved with the “Form For All” prompts at dVerse. To my surprise, I fare well with the formal parameters, and instead of stifling my creativity, it seems to broaden it.
What else interests you?
My younger wife still has five more years to work before she joins me in retirement. In the last couple of years, I have gotten quite immersed in photography. My children had to teach me how to deal with the digital world, and now photography provides me with great joy & creative outlet.
Last month I appeared in a play of 12 ANGRY MEN, my first performance in front of an audience in over 35 years. Somehow I managed to memorize a lead role, and several of my old friends, actors, teachers, artists, showed up to cheer me on.
That’s awesome, Glenn. What was it like returning to the stage after such a long absence?
Doing the play was definitely on my bucket list, and it was a lot more successful, for me, than I had expected. I was both nervous & excited before it opened, and remained that way for all 9 performances. Our theater only has 35 seats, and my friends & family showed up en masse, like 50 of them, blessing me and keeping me humble. My reviews were off the chart. The theater has a small gallery wall, and presently they are using a dozen of my photographs to illustrate “Pioneer Spirit” for the play QUILTERS.
One last thing before we go, could you share a funny memory with us?
On a vacation with my wife, we took our cooler in the car, and had lunch meats & condiments & bread to make sandwiches. It was difficult to hold the lid up in the back seat, open the condiments, and make the sandwich. My wife was better at it than I was, so of course I wanted her to make my sandwiches for me. But in the Badlands of S. Dakota, we stopped at a trading post, and she decided she wanted to go in and look at Indian jewelry, and told me I needed to make my own sandwich for a change. My lip was stuck out, but I struggled and got one made, which I placed up on the roof of the car while I tried to put everything back in the cooler. The sandwich slipped off the roof and landed on the ground. After a string of epithets, I picked up the sandwich, wiped the dirt and pebbles off, and decided I would eat it regardless. During my first angry bite I crunched into a piece of gravel, and broke a tooth. My wife came out about that time, and I felt that the whole affair was her fault, making me have to do this thing by myself. She laughed herself silly, which diffused my befuddlement, and now we refer to the story as the time I fixed myself a “Gravel Sandwich”.
Wonderful! You’ll have to keep us posted, Glenn. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you a little better. If there is anything I missed, please feel free to leave a question for Glenn in the comments.