2014 Featured Festival Poet: Ishion Hutchinson

Posted on by Michele Russo, Poetry Coordinator
Photo courtesy of IshionHutchinson.com

“Once you are a part of a landscape, it enters your body and you gain a precision of language that is almost geological.”

(Ishion Hutchinson, in an interview with Ashlie Kauffman on jmwwblog)

Ishion Hutchinson’s incantatory poems create steady mesmerizing rhythms which draw narratives in lush detail.  It is totally inadequate to say that his poems are “about” his homeland of Jamaica, though many poems do portray individuals and events from his childhood.  The word “about” creates a distance that simply isn’t there in the poems, as if the poet, the poem and the environment are somehow separate entities.

Taken in poem by poem, we experience an intimacy with inner workings of a young boy and the cultural context for his questions, curiosities and observations.   When we read several poems, we begin to picture ourselves there.   We sense that not every line is factual, but that the poems hold truth about the community, the labor and inequity of the sugar trade and the phases of maturation a child goes through.  In fact, the speaker of the poems is often multidimensional—both the land and the innocence of a child tell the story.

For example, listen to him read Two Trees. We see the scurry of the young boys and their fear of this intimidating woman; we see the mangos falling and the child holding one up as a trophy; and we see the child’s understanding and compassion mature as the poem continues to share this woman’s story and her grief.

This sense of the interwoven landscapes and narratives is also found in poems in which elements of mythology and folklore act as a framework.

Icarus After

When grief strikes in the house,

open the sea Ariel protects,

stitch glowworms in book spines,

give an ear to Thelonius, a sparrow

in your lap.  Among the city’s

mannequins, someone touches your coat,

and a leaf falls on a park bench,

ending autumn early.  In your house

with the horse’s exposed anatomy,

a chestnut-flamed glass on the table,

the East River is here, lending her

veil to your ship in the fog.

What the twilight does not say

you have said with surgical ease:

the spangled scars we wear

are scratches on the landing.

There is so much rich language and startling imagery to be explored in this poem that it bears rereading.  In fact, poems that we grow to love are often irresistibly re-readable. We want to know them better—not to memorize like facts—but to enter them more fully. The story of Icarus brings us into the poem which mourns a loss, but the nature of the loss is not an obvious one.  I found myself rereading “spangled scars” and thinking of “star spangled.”  The lines “the East River is here, lending her/ veil to your ship in the fog” and couldn’t help thinking of the Statue of Liberty and Emma Lazaurs’ the New Colossus. Again, there is the sense that this poem is not simply “about” something but rather an incantation and embodiment of a human experience.

We are so pleased that Ishion Hutchinson will be at the 2014 Festival to share his poems, his gorgeous readings and his thoughts about creativity and writing.    The full interview on JMWW blog can be found here. Recent poems can be found on the Poetry Foundation’s website.


We encourage you to use the “Comments” box below to share other resources you may have found for this poet. In this way, we can build together a mini-wiki-encyclopedia on the 2014 Festival Poets.

For more information on the 2014 Dodge Poetry Festival and Program,
visit our website dodgepoetry.org

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