Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | July 6, 2014

Deer Watching

young deer

Our neighborhood has a resident lone deer this summer, most likely one of little guys I watched with his mother two years ago many mornings as they made their way toward the retention pond over by the ball fields.

Last week after a rain storm, he walked right out into the cul-de-sac and moseyed through my neighbors’ back yards toward the creek beyond.

A few days ago, he ended up very near to me as I took a walk down the path that runs across town on a greenbelt under the high-tension wires.  This poem emerged — a simple one from a mother’s perspective.  Who knows if mother deer feel the same way?

Young Buck


You burst out of the hedge

into the open greenway—

fur of nutmeg velveteen

and mossy stubs of antlers

hinting at their coming hulk.



Out of one dark eye

you see me—stopped

on the path to watch you—

and your head snaps up,

more curious than alarmed.


Tail twitching, you stare

at me momentarily,

then sensing no threat,

lean your long neck down

for a taste of dewy meadow.


From ten yards away

I watch you, sense in your

stance part bravado,

part wariness—not unlike

your human counterparts.



What young boy can resist

a high slide at first recess,

the apple picked by climbing?

And that first jaunt at the wheel—

the asphalt-stripe horizon?


All sinew and strength,

you skip ahead toward

the thicket, eyeing clover to

claim for yourself, I fading

in your background tableau.

Photo credits:  deer close-up by Camden Hackworth (Flickr); skateboarder by Daily Herald

Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | June 22, 2014

Finding the Weave

earth spinningI often hear people remark that they don’t believe in coincidences. I don’t either, but I don’t attribute uncanny timing to fate or God. I think it’s a matter of mindfulness.  Amidst all the whirling of the universe, there are patterns of causality that we can notice (sometimes long afterward), and that we can influence (sometimes subconsciously). The older we get, the more attuned we can become to the weave of our lives – those threads and patterns that make up all we experience. When we are paying attention, it seems that more unusual and meaningful things occur.


zero pointMy week among memoir writers at the Writers-By-the-Lake retreat at U-W Madison helped me to gain clarity on this idea. Our instructor, Julie Tallard Johnson, a gifted therapist and writer, had us focus on “pivotal moments” in our lives. I quickly recognized that if we connect the dots of these moments, we see our life’s narrative arc – the rise and fall of big events that have made us who we are. To explore these events is to become, using Julie’s term, a “meaning maker.” We construct the meaning of our lives and of the world as we see it. No one can do this for us, since no one has experienced life exactly as we have. If you agree with the old saying that “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it,” then you’ll agree with this point about unique construction of meaning.


3 - John waiting (2)Our pivotal moments are often related to trauma and triumph, but they may also involve powerful things we witness around us. They may be any experiences that teach us about what it means to be human or how the world works. Significant illnesses and losses in our lives or big milestones and accomplishments are obvious examples, but pivotal moments might also include a time we witnessed one classmate bullying another, or saw lightning strike a tree, or heard a haunting ballad on the radio at just the right time, or watched the sun rise at the Grand Canyon, or read a story (or saw a film) about someone who was persecuted for simply being who he or she was. (That’s my nephew John to the right, at the Canyon’s north rim in 2008.)


Looking back on our lives, we all can recognize pivotal moments that we have internalized – moments that have clarified for us who we are, what is important to us, and where we stand in relation to the world around us. Collectively, this set of key moments makes us unique.


The-Tigre-river-in-the-Am-001Who we are determines which experiences become pivotal in our lives and how they do this. Nature and nurture are involved into this process. We may be wired to be more or less sensitive than the next person, or more optimistic, or more of a risk-taker. Our parents and role models, along with the media, play a huge role in guiding our outside interests and passions. But might there be a third factor at work? Might it have to do with our ability to recognize and reflect upon our lives in order to consciously make meaning from our experiences? And can this ability be learned? I suppose the entire field of psychology hinges upon it.


?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????What I’ve begun to explore is the possibility that our internal growth might cause a shift in what we consider to be pivotal moments. As I mature and become more “awake” to life, might I begin to re-interpret moments as being more or less pivotal than I once believed? Or might I begin to see certain events yet to come as pivotal that I might not have had I stayed asleep? If I develop a broader notion of beauty, might my recognition of kindness or joy change? If I develop a deeper sense of empathy and forgiveness, might my understanding of pain or trauma change? Might I notice small acts or moments that I never would have seen at all just a few years ago?  Understanding how these shifts within us color the way we see the world – this is what is most important in developing a true sense of our ever-emerging self.


Those of us who want our lives to have richness and meaning come to the search in a variety of ways. And those of us who love words enjoy nothing more than sharing those most important stories.



Photo of the earth from “Sound of the Earth Whirling”

Photo of the Tigris River from the Guardian

Last photo from Weavolution

Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | May 25, 2014

The Rocky Transition to Summer

????????????????????????????????????????The final weeks of each school year are an emotional roller coaster for all of us, full of projects, tests, grades, and sometimes shenanigans and meltdowns.  Summer, no doubt, is a respite from stress, a retreat to calm after the storm.  But for teachers it’s also a letting go of another year — and a sudden departure from groups of students we’ve nurtured for many months.  We will never see many of these students again; we can only hope we’ve contributed in some way to their growth, but we’ll never know for sure.  Few ever come back to visit or drop us a note, even if they’ve simply moved up to the next grade in the building.

paper-pileSo for some teachers, the door slam of transition can be unnerving.  Two of my closest colleagues, both near my age, shared with me last week that they also struggle with it.  Navigating the whirlwind of duties, obligations, and emotions is exhausting; we’ve each experienced some tears and sleepless nights in the last few weeks.  In fact, it was 15 years ago this month that I suffered a mild breakdown that required several months of healing and re-calibration.  That year, layered on top of everything else, I’d faced a divorce and a move, the death of my grandmother, and a scary bout of pneumonia in my son.  It was simply too much to bear.

For those of us who feel things more deeply or who struggle with insecurities, anxieties, or depression, all transitions — whether welcome or unwelcome — create instability that can keep us from feeling fully grounded.  And now here is where my son’s insistence upon routine has been a huge help:  Ramon’s Summer Schedule to the rescue!  All winter, he plans short trips for us to take throughout the summer, to new grocery stores (his lifelong obsession), parks, or malls . . . or to simply follow some road to its end.

mapThese little jaunts are just what we both need to give our otherwise untethered summer a little structure.  Not that teachers’ summers are wide-open expanses of free time — far from it.  We spend many days in workshops, working on curriculum on our own time, or teaching or taking classes.  But the pace is slower, and hopefully we have a couple of weeks to get away, physically or mentally.

???????????????????????????????Memorial Day weekend begins our “Summer Trips” calendar.  So, yesterday, with our favorite Vonda Shepherd CD playing and car windows open to the sunshine, we were off to our first destination — a new Mariano’s — and then a garden shop to buy flowers.  Because, as we all know, an equally great way to calm the nerves and welcome summer is to dig around in the dirt.  This year I opted for marigolds in order to thwart the ground squirrels.

Here is my poem about Ramon’s summer trips.  It placed 2nd in the Northwest Cultural Council’s annual contest this year, which made me very happy.


Map Making


He wants to know where every road ends,

needs to fill with a crayon’s candor

the white limbo all around him.


So in June when long light beckons,

we follow one blue line a day, his eyes

hungry beside me as he catalogs each


new world, its carpet of storefronts,

billboard clusters and train-car bungalows,Chicago Style Bungalow

coloring in the map lines in his mind.


What trick of a synapse can spark such desire?

A curiosity as eager as any, driven outward

in one dimension – the mastery of the earth


he walks upon – when it cannot turn inward

or beyond itself to wonder why or mall

Like a tiny figure trapped in a snow globe,


he stretches his arms wide to trace patterns

along the glass, those blue lines bound by

the atlas edge, each journey bound by a day.


One spring we’ll choose a road that carves

the continent in two, and he’ll see everything—228788-M

how mountains rise from wheat fields


and bridges leap great ravines, how

small towns and cities alike may teem

with easy kindness. We’ll lose count


of redi-marts, be dizzied by a million fleeting

milepost signs, let infinite sky and whirring

wheels fill and fill his maps like daffodilsdaffodils-scot


blooming across a glen. And when at last we

reach the sea and turn to come back home, may he

understand that this brimming road belongs to him.

Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | May 17, 2014

A Fan of The Sun (magazine)

the sunAnyone who has a little of the hippie inside should know about The Sun, a progressive lit. mag. founded in the ’70′s by a guy in his tiny apartment in Chapel Hill.  It’s still going strong and still ad-free . . . and it’s now also online (   Only a few pieces are included in the online version, though, so to get it in all its black-and-white glory, full of photos, stories, essays, poems, and interviews, you must subscribe.  I’ve pared down my subscriptions to print magazines lately, but I’ll not give up The Sun.  I pass them along to my dad when I’m finished and have asked him to pass them on to someone else.  As a matter of fact, I first learned about The Sun years ago when my aunt passed a bunch of hers on to me.


family on beach


A favorite section in each themed issue is “Readers Write.”  People submit short essays related to the theme, and the Sun editors choose several, filling 5-6 pages in thin columns — pieces widely varying in tone, perspective, and levels of revelation.  Many are printed without names, being so confessional that they may cause problems for the writer should he or she be identified.  Many are submitted by prisoners or others who have had very hard lives.  Some are hilarious, some tragic.  Topics also vary widely, with upcoming issues including Family Vacations, Clothes, First Love, Holding On, and Doors.  Some of these have been repeated over the years because they invite such fascinating responses.

I’ve submitted several pieces over the last few years, and the new June issue contains my second accepted one.  The topic for this issue is Security.  Because today is my son’s birthday, I’ll post the story here in his honor — though I won’t let him read it.  Be warned:  it’s not hilarious.

This issue includes a long interview with Noam Chomsky and poetry by Wendell Berry.  Go grab a June issue of The Sun and read the rest!  Barnes & Noble carries it, as well as most independent bookstores.



man-dark-windowVisions of my son at middle age haunt me. I see him at fifty, paunchy and balding, alone in a little room in some last-chance Medicaid facility after his trust fund has run out. He is alone and confused and sad, both parents gone to a place he can’t grasp. His step-siblings and cousins rarely visit. His life consists of the same movies, TV shows and songs he’s loved since he was a boy. He struggles with numerous physical ailments and pain but can’t express his needs to his over-worked caregivers.





???????????????????????????????Today my son is 22, chatty, and charming, but his autism prevents him from driving, maintaining an active social life, or fully understanding how the world works.  No matter how much I love him and care for him while I am alive, and no matter how much money I save for the future, I will never rest easy with the thought that he will be safe or comfortable after I am gone, let alone happy. I can only work to build a network of support for him and hope it holds together. There is currently little to no help for adults with special needs in my state, and many neighborhoods still hold a “not in my back yard” attitude toward housing for the disabled, despite evidence that this special population poses no increased risk of harm to others than does the general citizenry.


house in fieldNo parent faces death with the certainty that their children’s lives will go on smoothly after they’ve gone, it’s true. But for those of us whose adult children are incapable of problem-solving or advocating for themselves, the anxiety can be overwhelming.




Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | May 4, 2014

The Mystery of the Flow

sun in handsWhen was the last time words took your breath away? Stumbling upon a particularly moving poem, or a passage in an essay or story, can feel like being suddenly bathed in a warm light of truth. Yes, you think, this is what life is. This is what it means to be human.

Words spoken in speeches or films can move an entire nation. But when we read quietly, the power of words to move us is much more personal and unique. What moves one person may leave another cold. And perhaps it even depends upon the frame of mind of the reader, or where she is when she is reading, or how alert or open she is to discovery at that moment.

winter nightFor me, the power of words to move and enlighten is one of life’s greatest joys and mysteries. A few of my favorite passages – which can still take my breath away or make me weep – include some that are poignant or thoughtful, like the final passage of James Joyce’s “The Dead,” with the softly-falling snow in the night, or Mary Oliver’s question about our “one wild and precious life” in her poem, “The Summer Day.” Others are tragic and horrifying, like the final scene in Louise Erdrich’s “The Red Convertible,” where the brothers share a final moment by the river, or the gut-wrenching scene at the Idaho crater’s edge in Ben Percy’s powerful story, “Refresh, Refresh.” (Go find these pieces and read them if you haven’t yet!)

old typewriter keysNow I can add another to my list. While perusing this month’s Poets & Writers magazine, I began reading an essay by Canadian writer Maria Mutch called “Ghost in the Machine,” which seemed at first to be another quaint homage to the manual typewriter. She begins the piece by describing her recent hunt for the kind of machine we picture in old noir films – black and bulky, its keys clacking into the smoky air of the detective’s dim office. But on the second page, Mutch begins relating a story about an old friend who once tried to give her a typewriter, a close friend who had just returned from traveling the world. And suddenly, the essay is not about typewriters at all but the haunting ache one feels when a loved one leaves us unexpectedly and we cannot figure out why. Here is the sentence that begins the essay’s transcendence:

She was one of those people who was formed in light, though we were unaware that, like a planet glimpsed from afar, the light we saw was something long past and the core of her was cooling and dying.

This friend took her own life just two weeks after she’d tried to give away her typewriter. It had been too heavy for Mutch to carry home to her apartment several blocks away, so she did not accept the gift. And this is where the “bottom falls out” of the essay – where we are transported to a place where life becomes momentarily and profoundly illuminated.

rose tunnelSuch writing is uncommon, even for the most talented. It requires the perfect ingredients in one moment: a thoughtful mood, a long period of undisturbed time, and an openness – conscious or unconscious – to the universal dimension of being. No writer can conjure this at will. It happens when we are fortunate enough to be in “the flow,” as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls it, or “down the rabbit hole,” other artists like to say.

I’ve not been a serious writer for long and can only devote an hour or two a week to my craft most of the year, so I’ve only experienced this rabbit hole a few times. But I will say that when I look back on those episodes and the writing I was able to produce in those moments, I cannot explain how the words came together. It’s almost as if they were a gift from the Muses, a channeling from the collective unconsciousness of the artistic spirit.

sunlight on green waterIndeed, the poems and essays I have written while in such a state of mind are by far my strongest. They’ve needed the least revision, spilling out onto the page as complete. By comparison, most of my other works take hours and days or even weeks to tweak until I feel they are as good as they will ever be. And in a strange way, I’m kind of glad the mystical experience only happens once in a while. Any beautiful thing becomes more beautiful when we know it is also rare.

Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | March 30, 2014

13 Ways of Grading Essays

sea-sun-outside-window-15244348The last day of Spring Break finally brings sun and warmth, after a week of cold and rain.  Of course!  Isn’t it one of nature’s traditions to tease us this way?

So here I sit, with the stack of papers I’ve put off, looking at the bright sunshine through my patio doors.  I’ll escape for a walk, no doubt.  But in the meantime, I must tackle these paragraphs — drafts from my sophomores’ beginnings of research papers.

During the week when I was traveling and then busy with appointments, errands, and outings with family and friends, I knew this day would come.  In anticipation, I had a little fun with a riff on Wallace Stevens’ “13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.”

This one’s for all the English teachers.  Let’s brace ourselves for 4th quarter!


coffee spoons mug

Thirteen Ways of Grading High School Essays


Drink two cups of coffee –
warrior black –
then wield the purple pen
like a sword.


Eyes to the rubric,rubricwrite2
notice shapes, lines,
blocks of words,
commas, periods, and – hopefully –
question marks.


Eyes off the rubric,
follow sparkling phrases
to astonishing blazes
of clear thought.


Consider all verbs
as messengers of deepest longing,
nouns as sentries
camouflaged by shiftless adjectives.


Withhold judgment.
Picture tender fingers,
white as they grip the pen.paper_airplane


Fold the top corners inward
on the diagonal, creating a point.
Repeat twice.
Lift and toss gently
across the room
toward the corner wastecan.


Read aloud slowly
again and again
while listening to Beethoven’s 7th –
the Pastoral –
and wait for the hidden songs
to emerge.

Three glasses

Everything depends upon
three glasses of red Merlot
lined up within reach
beyond the stack of white papers
on the desk.


Remember the tree
in its sun-baked splendor.
Let it imbue the page
with dignity.


This paper must be read.
This paper cannot be read.


O startling teens –tree
naiads in the woodlands
with eyes like unfolding buds –
must you be so predictable?

In their words I see
their future images of themselves,
brave and successful,
which means they are – as yet –
gloriously ignorant
of all ignorance.

Save for last
the essay you know will be
brilliant and flawless,
that will restore your dignity.
But even this one –
if read after ten p.m. –
will put you to sleep.

harvest moon


Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | March 21, 2014

Poem posted: Prairie Wolf Press Review

TC BoyleI’m thrilled that the editors at Prairie Wolf Press Review have included one of my poems in their new online edition.

The poem, “T. C. Boyle might have been a biologist,” was inspired by an evening spent listening to Boyle read one of his stories and talk about his work.  The opening line is partly quoted from Boyle himself.  The rest of the poem comes from being familiar with his work — which teems with creatures of all kinds.

garden-spider-crawling-on-web_1200x1800Boyle told us he gets nearly all of his ideas for his stories and novels from items in the news, but that he is drawn to tales that explore humans’ encounters with elements of nature.  My poem imagines writers like Boyle huddled over their laptops, bringing their creations to life.

Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | March 2, 2014

Zombies Await Spring

greekchorus_largeBoy, this winter has just sapped the life out of everyone and everything, hasn’t it?  At school, students and teachers alike are the walking dead – pasty, sniffling, and deflated.  I haven’t worn a skirt since November, and the last few weeks I’ve resorted to jeans, boots, and bulky zip-front cardigans 3 days a week without hearing a peep from the boss.  (Probably because she’s wearing them, too.)  There’s a crust of salt half an inch thick on my garage floor, and this morning, the snow plow buried my Sunday New York Times under the four-foot mound next to the driveway, where it joins 3 others entombed there beginning with the blizzard on New Year’s Day.  (See photo below.)

???????????????????????????????I’m sure I’m not the only writer who suffers from Dry Pen Syndrome each winter.  It’s been a daily struggle to fend off depression, plus the crabbiness and lack of creativity that come with it.  Even my full-spectrum light bulb didn’t help this year.  Only now, with the sun rising before I leave for work and staying up until dinnertime, have I felt the clouds lifting.  With 6 new inches of snow last night and a high of 12 today, though, it’s hard to be hopeful that Spring will find us any time soon.

writers-blockSince the holidays, any spark of creativity I’ve felt has petered out within 48 hours, leaving me with several half-written or barely-started stories and poems – a word graveyard strewn across my dining room table.  It took a writing prompt and a deadline from the Northwest Cultural Council to get myself writing poems again.  Their annual contest, themed “The Fire of Spring,” closes this week.  We can each submit 2 poems, so I wrote one in a literal vein – about the Equinox – and one that is more metaphoric — about my son’s annual springtime quest to find out where all roads end.  [Update:  I found out on April 3 that the latter poem won 2nd place!]

Here is the poem about the sun’s returning. (It’s written in couplets, but Word Press doesn’t allow double spacing of incomplete lines — grrrr — so I’ve had to use the intrusive dashes to separate the stanzas.  When oh when will software become friendly to poets???)

Happy Spring in advance, everyone.  It’s coming one way or another on March 20.


budsShe tiptoes downstairs

for coffee and quiet

just before dawn. Outside,

gray light greets mist

dripping from the maples,

buds mere thoughts

on branches. Frost glistens

as silver melts to blue,

winter’s threadbare coat

mid-shrug. She swirls

her cream, sips, sighs,

each swallow warming her

JTB-K006-003643Nas the sun’s first rays

set rooftops aglow.

She stands at the window,

heart centered below

sleeping children, and

feels the Earth swell

beneath her feet, its

cosmic pendulum

lifting her into Spring.

Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | January 25, 2014

One Vignette at a Time

pen and paper imgPulitzer Prize winning Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich discourages would-be memoir writers from making grandiose plans about what their books will include.  Really, she discourages any planning at all.  Just write, she urges.  Tell the story that calls to you today.

Many writers offer similar advice to newcomers, whether at workshops or in guidebooks.  Some suggest we try writing early in the morning when our brains are more uncluttered; others encourage us to find a certain spot in the house just for writing.  But nearly every writer will say the key to being a successful writer is to sit the butt down in a chair and crank out the sentences, one at a time.

schmichI’m sure many people think about writing memoirs, of their own lives or of someone in the family, but few of us ever will – and mainly because we are daunted by the seemingly impossible task of fitting an entire life into 300 pages.  Where to begin?  Where to end?  What points or moments or experiences to include?  Will this story be written for the family only, or might it be interesting to a wider audience?  It’s all too overwhelming.  So most of us write nothing.

Mary Schmich, in her Trib. U. talk the other night, provided a wonderful solution for those of us who had come to her session to figure these things out.  What she suggested is the same process she used in culling the list of columns for her most recent collection. (The intriguing title is a statement her mother made late in life.)

IrcboardSchmich suggests we try writing one story a day for 30 days – whatever stories come to us – without giving a thought to structure, theme, or larger picture.  After we’ve accumulated 30 pieces, we should lay them out on the floor and see what’s there.  Only then should we start thinking about threads of meaning or how our book might take shape.  We might also find a spot to pin up photographs, words, or mementos that will help us visualize key people or places we wish to include in our stories.

Being a full-time teacher and mom with little free time, I know I won’t be able to write a story every day for 30 days running.  But I’m sold on her idea of letting go the need to figure things out in advance and just letting myself drift toward the stories that come to me, letting that inner power direct my thoughts and my pen just as I do when I sit down to write a poem.  It may take me a year or two to gather 30 stories about my family, but eventually I can do it.  How much less daunting a task it all seems from this vantage point!

105 oaktonThanks, Mary Schmich, for your insights and nudging.  I’m going to start writing my family’s stories, one sentence and one vignette at a time.  The possibilities are endless if I just let my mind wander back to the 60s and 70s, in that little house on Oakton Road where my sister and I shared a sky-blue room with matching desks and would fall asleep to the beeps of the dialysis machine in the next room….

Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | January 3, 2014

New chapbook available

???????????????????????????????To kick off the new year, I’ve put together a chapbook of 18 recent pieces — poems and a couple of flash prose pieces — a few of which have appeared on this blog.  I’ve named it Finding Ithaca, which is the title of the final poem, one many of you liked when it was posted here for a few weeks last winter.  It took 2nd prize in the New Hampshire Poet’s Society’s 2012 contest and appeared in their Poet’s Touchstone magazine.  Other published pieces include one I’d posted here several months ago, “Playing Monopoly with My Son on Christmas” (just out in Pentimento last month), and “Survival Skills,” the poem for my stepmother who passed away in 2012 (in Journey to Crone and The Bellingham Review), plus two others.  I’m hopeful some of the other recent poems will be chosen by literary journals or anthologies in 2014.

The overall tone of this collection is a bit more somber than that of my first book, but the poetry continues to explore interesting characters, elements in nature, personal memories, and the ongoing search for meaning in this crazy world.  A very short story in the book’s center grew from an exercise in 2-person dialogue and explores relationship breakdown.  I haven’t written much fiction but intend to try more of these short-short pieces in the future!  One more added feature in this book is a series of small bird and animal drawings, which I collected from online sources.  I hope they serve to enhance the reading experience.

This second book, unlike the first, is not officially published but is merely a photocopied booklet, pared down to its skivvies.  Having gone through the whole publishing experience with my previous chapbook, I’ve decided to keep things much simpler and cheaper this time around.  If you would like a copy, drop me a note and I will send you one for free.  I’ve decided that sharing my writing with those who enjoy it is a far greater reward than any monetary profit.

chapbook coverThe Gray Limbo of Perhaps, my first book published in 2012 by Finishing Line Press, is still available at Finishing Line and Amazon for $12, but I would be happy to sell you one of mine for $8 — which covers the author’s price and shipping.  I have a few copies left.  Just send me a note, and we can work out the details.

My email, for anyone who wishes to contact me about receiving the free chapbook or ordering the other, is:  I only have paper copies, so we’ll have to use the U. S. mail.

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