From this year’s Grand Slam winner, a look at Butte


From the book “Lost Butte, Montana.”

Editor’s note: The seventh annual High Plains Grand Slam, a poetry competition held in conjunction with the High Plains BookFest, played out Thursday night before a standing-room-only crowd at the MoAv Coffee House.

With 14 competitors entered in the verbal throwdown, it was the largest and without a doubt the best slam we’ve seen here in Billings. The winner—and now the first person to have won the title twice—was Pete Tolton, of Billings.

In second place was Molly Ouellette, of Billings, and in third was Jawney Love, of Bozeman. Among the poems we heard Thursday night, our favorite was Tolton’s take on Butte, which we are publishing here with his permission:



I’m walkin’ uptown
Got shin splints and an empty cup
Chin up, chin up
Drink up, drink up

Fare thee gentlemens
My reflection
Tarnished and fractured
In shop windows shattered
Rain’s comin’ in

Past hotels that didn’t last
Bars that did
Churches kept up, but barely, kid
Art deco high rises shame the hasty new builds
Once, there was opportunity in these hills

Who’s that wrenchin’ on the hurdy-gurdy
Echoin’ down the alleys of O’Malleys
Evel Knievels, Awful Knofels
Pummelin’ in the tunnels
Fillin’ the coffers
Bastards, bawlers, and brawlers
The arsonist’s daughter
Sold water buckets just down the way

Talkin’ out of school
Tellin’ tales from the crypt
Strip by strip by strip

Walkin’ Walkerville,
Only saw dogs and kids
Front doors
swingin’ in the wind,
Creaking that strange wail,
And every goddamn thing’s for sale

Fixed incomes with all the fixins,
Cracked linoleum, leaning kitchen
Toppling chimney, pile of bricks ‘n
An old Crown Vic, plates from ’06 ‘n
Heard some folks got rich ‘n
Everybody else left stitchin’
Hand-me downs patches on britches
Now village of the listless

Retired dynamite,
Restless elevator shafts
Looming headframes,
Prosperity long passed

Who got steel in their toes
Who kept their calluses
Who’s hangin’ around
This trickle-down town
Still-life, this is still life, stuck in paralysis

If that canary croaked a death knell
long before prices fell
What song would it sing?
Rather than drifting
Into cadmium dream
Catching manganese zees
In the copper light of the morning

Open wounds are hard to ignore
I kept one eye on the pit,
It’s an easy fix
Just put a catheter on it
Peel off that bandaid real slow
Strip by strip by strip

But hell, we could wind
This earth in wire
Line by line
Give these poor people some light to see by
Strip by strip by strip
Chin up, chin up
Drink up, drink up
Strip by strip by strip

Leave a Reply