Joseph Hutchison is the author of eleven collections of poetry in addition to Thread of the Real, which include The Rain at Midnight, Bed of Coals (winner of the 1994 Colorado Poetry Award), House of Mirrors, The Undersides of Leaves, and the Colorado Governor’s Award volume Shadow-Light. Born and raised in Denver, Colorado, Hutchison teaches graduate level writing courses at the University of Denver’s University College. He lives with his wife Melody Madonna in Indian Hills, a small community in the foothills southwest of Denver.
I was born on the westernmost edge of the Great Plains. My parents made sure there were lots of books in the house for my younger brother and me, but what I read most avidly was Poe, and to this day my work displays some Poe-ish qualities. I graduated from the University of Northern Colorado in 1972, and received an M.F.A. from the University of British Columbia in 1974, where I studied with the very underrated Irish expatriate poet, fiction writer and essayist George McWhirter; the musicality and imaginative openness of his work are qualities I aspire to in my own.
In the "real life" that followed graduate school I worked in a variety of jobs, from clerking in a book store to substitute teaching in and around Denver. I toyed for a long while with the idea of pursuing a Ph.D., but those were the heydays of Barthes and Derrida, who struck me as intellectual con-men (they still do), and I felt there was a good deal of bad faith in the whole process. I remember dipping my toes in those academic waters by auditing a class focused on Deconstruction. The professor in charge remarked that the theories we'd be studying were "mainly crap," but added, "Of course, you'll have to learn them if you hope to get a teaching job." A few months later a friend of mine, at the fag-end of his Ph.D. experience at the same institution, was blocked from writing his thesis on John Fowles, because (according to his advisor) "Fowles isn't a serious writer." The sheer idiocy of that statement soured me on further formal education, but what it boiled down to was the realization that I was too arrogant and pig-headed for such games. Luckily, I stumbled into a position as a staff marketing writer for a large Colorado-based bank network, and ever since I've mostly made my living as a writer for hire, although I occasionally teach both online and face-to-face courses for both undergraduate and graduate level students. I live with my wife, Melody Madonna, a marvelous yoga teacher (see her Harmony Hill Yoga site), in the mountains southwest of Denver.
In the all the years of my writing life, I've responded to and aspired to a quality in poetry that I can only call "clarity." Not that I'm interested in clarity at the expense of honest complexity; I despise those bland accounts of near-death sailing "into the Light." Light is not always benign: it blinds as often as it offers revelation, as anyone who's grown up in my part of the world would know. That contradiction, if it is one (it could be that contradiction exists only in the mind), fascinates me continually. When the writing is going well, it's the feeling of seeing into that alerts me to the fact. I get the same feeling from reading anyone else's good poem. In one entitled "Small Wild Crabs Delighting on Black Sand," James Wright says, "I don't want to know. I want to see." That's what I say.
I may be biased--Joseph Hutchison is a friend and mentor of mine--but this is one hell of a collection of poetry.
Hutchison has a clear voice. His images are crystal and enticing. His subject matter timely and relatable. Every word has been toiled over, skillfully selected and placed. In other words, the poet has skills.
A few of my favorites...
This slug on the path is both slick and slow-witted. They usually stick to the granite coolness in the rock garden, but this fellow's managed to wander into the sun's killing glare. Maybe the morning's overcast made him think dusk, and venture out. Anyway, now he races--there is no other way to say it--"sluggishly" toward the lilac-shadowed grass. Not blindly, though. As we bend down to study him, the creature curls upward, waving his antennas like little drunken fists. Then he goes back to hauling an invisible heaviness across warm flagstone. It must be that his mortality weighs as much as ours, because we're drawn to his ache, his speechless effort...watching him arch and stretch like the tongue in a dying man's mouth....
I love the enjambment in this poem and felt like most of the words left on the end of each line had special significance to the poem as a whole. I also adore the simile in the last line. We identify with the slug, waving our fists at the heavens because we are all going to die, and we know it.
I also loved...
One Clear Moment in August
When I let the long snake of water in the garden hose out into the garden, sun sparkled along its sleek length. How it split, multiplied, flashed down the rows of ripe corn-- like desire that ripples among beautiful women, or some promise that threads the dreams of sleepers, linking scattered towns. So the water snake touched onion greens and pepper stalks, carrot-leaf sprays, thick bursts of broccoli, muttering to the roots: Here I am, as always, to give you strength. There is nothing to fear. This kiss is forever.
Once again, the line endings get me. For example, "When I let the long snake/out into the garden, sun/ sparkled along its sleek length/" The word sun is doing double duty here. The images are beautiful--a long snake of water coming out of the hose! I mean...wow.
To wrap-up, Joseph Hutchison is a master poet. I read quite a bit of poetry, not a ton, but enough. I have learned to love a great many poems and a great many poets, and Hutchison is still in my top 5. Get this book, read it.