Joseph Hutchison’s BED OF COALS is a poetic sequence that tells a story of emotional crisis and recovery at the unsparing hand of Eros. Rooted in transgression, the poems honor the powerful psychic energies at work in the book’s tragicomical hero, whose name is Vander Meer. They trace his journey toward balance and wholeness in ways that reflect his struggle: shifting points of view, mercurial mood-swings, now layered and allusive, now plain as a single plucked guitar string. It is a highly crafted but deeply human book, a book for readers who appreciate the strange richness of our inner lives.
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.
We are the publisher, so all of our authors get five stars from us. Excerpts:
JULY 22: “BUYING THE DIVORCE-MOBILE”
from the Blue Notebook
The smashed headlamp makes the whole front look wall-eyed, and the dented left door winces like a pockmarked cheek. I can’t believe I’m thinking this, anthropomorphically I mean, but the car’s as pitiful as certain girls in hand-me-down prom dresses (horn-rims thick as depression glass) and the vague, half hopeful, off-the-other-way looks they all listen to dance music with. It’s listening too, this beat-up blue car for sale so cheap I’ve already figured I might need to wire the muffler up with a bent coat hanger— an idea I don’t announce. The pretty owner (whose tattooed boyfriend just roared off for “beer and smokes” on the long throb of his Harley) clearly still cares, aches to sell and not sell. But here on the ridge above the snarling freeway, money’s tight; she needs to shake some loose from me. “It drives good,” she says. “And y’know how great Bugs are in snow. It’s been real nice, ’cause believe me this hill’s the last road on earth they bother to plow.” I touch the torn fender, the cracked side mirror, amazed that this is what I’m worth—me, my first good job and one broken marriage into a life that will end. I look at her hard, counting the costs, and she looks off the other way. With a darkness dancing in my veins, I shrug. “All right. I’ll take it,” I say.
VANDER MEER’S DUPLICITY
Vander Meer at the mirror, mouth propped wide with a gun barrel index finger, thinking: “easeful death”...playing homo ludens to the hilt. Who was it said, a good poem always takes the top of one’s head off?
Gruesome Vander Meer! Not a little tired of getting so weird. Peers to find the tooth that stabs his sleep—but as ever the ache’s general in his jaw, as if he’d chewed his tongue’s bloody rag all night. Look, mirror-man whispers, such morbidity’s a sign of decay: mental...scolding with a dogtail wag of his finger. No no no no, like Beethoven said....
Bitter Vander Meer. Half in love with this new life alone with his art (a cracked memoir he calls Bed of Coals), half with a dream of being gathered into artless eternity—from which sleep what holds him back? One truth: his heart’s not in it.
Most people won’t spend as much time as I did on this book. Most people don’t spend nearly as much time as they ought to do on poetry. We treat it like prose but let’s be honest most of us don’t spend nearly as much time on prose as it deserves. The reason in both cases is lack of time or not so much lack of time but the insistence on trying to read more books than we can manage in the time we have available to us to do the job properly. On my first cursory read-through this collection I didn’t like it at all but I know Brad in that Internetty way you get to know people these days and I’d said I’d review the book and so I persevered where normally I would’ve given up. Of course in taking/making the time to read the book properly an entire new universe appeared before me. It’s not a perfect universe but it is an interesting one and I certainly don’t feel that my time was wasted. But if your time is limited/precious but you think you might want to risk a few bucks on some guy from the Great Plains then check out the article on my blog where I detail my reading experience. You can call it a review if you like but it really is simply a record of what I got out of it which was a helluva lot. You won’t remember it all—hell, I don’t remember it all—so buy the book while it’s fresh in your mind, stick on on a shelf for a few months and hopefully when you discover it you’ll go: Hey, that’s that book Jim Murdoch went on about; I should really read that and see what the fuss was about. And maybe you'll be disappointed because you're not me and the baggage you brought with you's a bad fit or maybe because you don't live in Scotland you see stuff I completely missed. Every book's a gamble.
Going through Denver recently, my wife and I stopped to go to the Tattered Cover bookstore. What a wonderful place. Not seeing any reason to buy a book there that I could get anywhere else in the country, I picked up two books by local poet Joseph Hutchison, this one and The Rain at Midnight. Hutchison is very skillful and has a talent for imagery and detail, but this collection of poems did not reach the boiling point for me. I wanted to like it more than I did. Of course, this could be due to any number of things, including what I had for breakfast just before I began reading. So it's a worthy effort and one I can recommend, but I have to be truthful and say that it did not work for me. I will read the other one soon and report back on that.
I read quite a bit of poetry but not familiar with this type/style at all. Seemed there was a lot on broken romance or divorce, kind of depressing. I’ll go with the writer’s credentials, since I’m a graduate student.
A very awesome book cover, great font & writing style. A very well written set of poems (prose) (book). They were all very easy to read/follow from start/finish & never a dull moment. No grammar errors, repetitive or out of line sequence sentences. Lots of exciting scenarios, with several twists/turns & a great set of unique characters to keep track of. A very easy rating of 5 stars for all of them.
Thank you for the free book Tony Parsons MSW (Washburn)
I wrote this one. It is an attempt to simultaneously control and honestly address emotionally charged material by using contemporary fiction and film techniques: multiple voices/points of view and not strictly linear story development.