Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | March 10, 2018

A Teacher’s Angst

During my 33 years of teaching high school English in the suburbs of Chicago, I’ve certainly seen trends come and go — in teaching, in parenting, in the national and global mindset about what schools should be and do. But since I first wrote “Welcome to Ms. Hutchinson’s class” on a chalkboard back in the fall of 1985, I have never felt the kinds of stresses and heartaches that I feel right now, in my final year.

A year ago, we were reeling from our White House occupant’s brazen and lawless attempts to close our borders to certain people he deemed “undesirable.” Some of my students belong to families that come from these countries or have friends that do. How could I comfort them?

Next, he broke promises made to many of our country’s young people who — through no decision of their own — are here without legal status but who have made America their home. Many don’t remember living anywhere else.  When I look at my students right now, knowing several are likely caught up in this nightmare, how can I comfort them?

And now, in the last 3 weeks, many have claimed that guns are not only benign but actually belong in the hands of people like me — teachers charged with keeping children safe. Only in a nation that has devolved into total madness would anyone believe that more guns in schools will bring safety.

Much of me is sad to be retiring from a long, fulfilling career of teaching. But an equal part is relieved to be walking away from the political quagmire my classroom has become. It makes me weep to think of the students I have not been able to help over the years, especially those in my classes right now whose new kinds of turmoil I will never know. For them, I’ve written this Villanelle.

 

The Weight of Their Backpacks

 

Their backpacks are heavy and weighing them down
as they file off the bus in the dim morning light
with problems too large for the shoulders they own.

How can they possibly sit to focus or learn
when their parents may be missing by bedtime tonight?
Such huge, heavy burdens keep weighing them down.

The chance of a bloodline, of a face deemed too brown
now threatens the home that came by a hard-earned fight.
Such betrayal will not fit on the shoulders they own.

As children they claimed their own voice, found their ground,
and bloomed into youth who reach and dream and strive.
But those backpacks, so heavy, now weigh them back down.

These days they don’t speak, since to make any sound
risks the arrival of uniformed men in the night.
But how should they shoulder such fear on their own?

Their eyes reveal an anxiety deeply profound.
They are starlets whose futures hang on “maybe” or “might.”
We must strip off the huge backpacks weighing them down
and place them firmly upon new shoulders – our own.

 

Illustration of woman and flag:  James Noellert, Detroit Metro Times, 2/2/17

Photo of backpack:  Thinkstock

Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | January 30, 2018

Half Angry, Half Exhausted

Most days I believe this polarization is beyond repair.  The divide between blue and red has become an unbridgeable chasm, and our nation may very well be in its death throes.  It’s easy to get caught up in the despair and the rhetoric, the dire predictions for the planet and our species.  Much of the time, that’s where I find myself.

But every so often, I’m reminded of the fact that the great majority of people just want to live their lives in peace.  Most of us are good, decent people — flawed but compassionate, opinionated but full of love — more often concerned about our own small circles of family, friends and jobs and enjoying the day than about the larger problems looming ahead when we bother to look toward the horizon.

And this leads me to believe that perhaps we will all soon reach a point where we are tired of all the screaming and accusations, tired of the whole chaotic mess.  Can we envision a time in the near future when we’re ready to find our way back to having open, honest communication?  If we can envision it, maybe it’s possible.

I used a trusted old technique recently — the abecedarian — to explore what it might take to unwind the tightly-wound top we’ve spun ourselves into.  The alphabet is just as recognizable backward as forward, after all.  Zippers go down as well as up.

If we can envision it, if enough of us want to see it, I have to believe we can make it so.  If we’re going to turn things around in time to secure a future for this world, it’s going to take a collective effort.

Time to turn the alphabet around and see what happens.

 

Rx

 

Awareness of those sneaky

Bogeymen hiding in your

Closets and computers.

Deliberate confrontation when

Evil disguises itself as good.

Fearless speaking of truth –

Girls and gays and all

Human beings marginalized

In the name of security or God.

Justice, justice, justice.

Kingmakers brought to their knees.

Lights beamed behind closed doors:

Menaces and bigots exposed, all their

Nefarious abuses of power with

Obsessing oily hands and mouths.

Print their names in bolded caps.

Quell any pathetic outcry with

Ramrods of legalese.

Shout their names into a million

TV sets and living rooms.

Untie blinders from every eye.

Vanquish the deniers – hypocrites

Who prevaricate & victim-blame.

Expose all excuses as excrement.

You have the power to upend it all – you

Zealous disciples of self-righteousness.

.           .           .           .

Zero sum game, this

Yawning gap between us –

X in the middle, a deep abyss.

Who will extend the first hand,

Vault across with an olive branch,

Utter – plainly and calmly –

Truce?

Speak in the language of humans:

Respectfully.

Quietly.

Palms up, pentitent.

Only then can we begin to

Name truth as truth,

Make a reality from the haze,

Leave lies and myths behind, their un-

Kindest cuts still bleeding,

Join in what we know

In our deepest selves to be the most

Human act:  forgiveness.

Get down on our collective knees,

Fall together in one

Earnest plea for

Deliverance from the dark

Corners we’ve painted ourselves into.

Behold our imperfections. Yet each of us

Altogether capable of humility.  Of love.

 

———-

 

Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | December 27, 2017

Van Gogh and My Son Meet Up on the Spectrum

So, did Vincent van Gogh really slice off his own ear?

 

That’s been the story for over 100 years – that the brilliant but undiscovered, tortured artist went mad that fateful Christmas Eve of 1888 in Arles, arguing with his sometime friend, Paul Gaugin.  After Gaugin stormed out, van Gogh supposedly hacked at himself with a knife and then sent the ear to a woman he loved – who promptly fainted.

 

But now, some have begun to question the story.  Adam Gopnik, in last week’s New Yorker, writes a thoroughly researched and fascinating essay arguing that more likely it was Gaugin – the reluctant, surly friend – who had finally had enough of the constant, obsessive chatter from the “madman,” and with one quick flick of his rapier, sliced his ear cleanly off.  Apparently Gaugin was an expert swordsman and carried a rapier with him as one might a walking stick.

 

Gaugin fled to Paris and never saw Van Gogh again, much to brother Theo van Gogh’s dismay.  According to Gopnik, Theo took such pity on Vincent that he had paid Gaugin to go to Arles to help Vincent realize his dream of an artists’ colony.  Gaugin’s heart wasn’t in the effort, and the result is history. After the ear incident, van Gogh went to live in an institution, and just a few months later shot himself (or was shot by hooligans– yet another mystery).

 

When I read this revised account of the story, I found myself feeling strangely empathetic toward Paul Gaugin, who in a moment of total exasperation (though no doubt fueled also by alcohol), had finally had enough of his friend’s constant raving.  This is because I, too, have had moments when I thought I would lose my mind for exactly the same reason.

 

My son, since he first learned how to string words intelligibly into sentences at age 4, has quite literally never stopped talking.  One night when he was around 6 or 7, he announced it was time for bed because “my mouth is tired.”  And I replied, “Yes, and so are my ears!”  I’ve come to understand that it is very difficult for him to process language without hearing it.  He reads books only by reading them aloud or listening to audio versions.  And he thinks best when he can hear his own voice speaking all of his thoughts aloud.

 

Now 26, my son’s dawn-to-dusk litanies continue.  Just yesterday, on a 20-minute drive with him, I was subjected to a constant monologue in which he listed all the pizza restaurants in the area, naming which have recently closed, which new ones have opened or expanded, what their hours of operation are, and whether they offer dine-in or delivery options.  Since this happened on a sunny morning when I happened to be in a good mood, I was able to focus on the song playing on the radio, mindlessly offering an “Oh,” or “Okay,” every so often to let him believe I was listening to him. Other times I am not so patient. Often I just want to cry.

 

Reading about van Gogh, I began to wonder:  might he, too, have been an auditory thinker?  Might he have been on the autism spectrum, unable to stop his mind from racing, obsessing, cataloguing, repeating?

 

We’ve made such progress in our understanding of autism – from the mid-90’s when I carried little “Autism is….” cards to hand to strangers who gawked or scowled in the grocery store when my son threw a tantrum, to today where the attitude of “We’re all a little bit on the spectrum” prevails.  And yet….without a miracle that can re-wire my son’s brain, he will forever struggle with a nearly-crippling anxiety and uncertainty about other people’s feelings, fretting about whether or not they like him.

 

Apparently, van Gogh’s torment, too, was insecurity about being liked and accepted.  His vision when he moved to Arles was, his letters say, to find beautiful women who would love him, and to be surrounded by other artists who would all paint together and thrive as a collective.  This vision of a merry commune never materialized, largely due to van Gogh’s own tendency to drive others away with his intensity and his obsessive, stream-of-consciousness chatter.

 

Gopnik says of van Gogh, “When his mind went wrong, he became all heart.”  He loved and needed others’ love too much, and in all the wrong ways.  In this, I see my son, the collector of people, the empath who channels people’s warmth or coldness in equal measure and who is either totally validated or rejected by each. For weeks and months after an encounter, my son worries about it.

 

Using Gopnik’s quote, I’ve created a golden shovel poem, where the words of the quote are used as the final words in each line:

 

 

Empath

 

 

Who can understand the turmoil – when

suddenly nothing makes sense, when his

eyes and hands freeze in panic, when his mind

loops again and again over where he went

astray, the scrambled words wrong, all wrong.

Please no, do not reject me, he

silently pleads.  Love me.  When he became

a man it got so much harder.  All

he knows is the constant bruise of his heart.

—–

 

Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | July 26, 2017

Memoirs That Change Us

I’m drawn to the heartbreak of memoirs – the beautiful stories writers tell of their own messy lives and regrets. Lots of famous people write memoirs (or have them written), but I love the memoirs written by excellent writers, a.k.a. literary memoirs. Reading of their quests for joy and meaning, we’re fortified to work harder at the same quest. Reading of their attempts at atonement, we find the need to face our own checkered narratives more honestly. In fact, one common thread noted by several memoirists interviewed for Meredith Maran’s 2016 book, Why We Write About Ourselves – is that a successful memoir must pay heed to the old adage of a fiction writer: “Be twice as hard on the narrator as you are on everyone else.” In your memoir, the narrator is yourself.

Some favorites of mine in the literary memoir category include the following – all very highly recommended by many other writers and in no particular order:

The Boys of My Youth, by Jo Ann Beard (1998)
Dear Mr. You, by Mary-Louise Parker (2015)
Wild, by Cheryl Strayed (2012)
The Tender Bar, by J. R. Moehringer (2006)
Stop-Time, by Frank Conroy (1965) – (often cited as the model for the contemporary memoir)
Just Kids, by Patti Smith (2010)
Another Bullshit Night in Suck City, by Nick Flynn (2004)
An American Childhood, by Annie Dillard (1987)

One I’ll add to the top of the list is the new book by Sherman Alexie, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. In this gut-wrenching memoir, Alexie lays bare his many wounds and doubts as he reflects on his mother’s recent death and on his life as a “rez” kid – poor, ugly, often neglected and taunted. He struggles to accept his own choice to leave the reservation as a teenager, and he agonizes over the possibility that his mother didn’t love him . . . or that he didn’t love her. Half written in prose and half in poetry, Alexie artfully weaves memories with mature reflection as he moves – we hope – toward reconciliation.

Alexie recently announced he was cutting short his book tour due to a deepening despair and depression. Adding to his decision were signs from his mother that he should stop discussing the book with others and just go home, suggesting she was offended by his words and actions. As an indigenous man, Alexie believes in the power of the spirit world and dreams; a visitation from his mother one night in a dream – with her holding up a stop sign – was the final straw. He explained in a Facebook post, “As I write in the memoir, I don’t believe in ghosts, but I see them all the time. As I also write in the memoir, I don’t believe in magic, but I believe in interpreting coincidence exactly the way you want to.”

Reading about Sherman Alexie’s dream experience called to mind a dream I had about my own mother just 2-3 years ago. It was one of those brief but powerfully vivid dreams – giving me a memory that seems now as real and powerful as any memory of reality. I’ve tried in vain to write a poem about the dream, but after reading Alexie’s book, I’ve decided that the Japanese hybrid form of haibun is what it calls for. Haibun uses a descriptive paragraph followed by haiku to capture the sum of an experience.

 

My Mother Speaks to Me in a Dream

In my car one night, you’re on the phone with Dad, just hanging up. Hurry home, you tell me. He’ll be there by eight o’clock. As if our being there depended on it. It’s dark in the car, and you’re wearing your brown coat and a scarf on your head, like you always did in the winter. Your urgency tugs at me – yes, I’ll get going, get home quickly. But you’ve been gone more than thirty years now, and you’ve never seen a cell phone let alone used one, so I become aware that I am dreaming. In this dream I have become the mother, now older than you ever were. Tell me, where is this home you speak of, where my father will be waiting? You hold the phone in your two hands and stare out at the road ahead, face softly lit by the dashboard lights, your mission clear. And then you are gone.

 

your voice in the dark
return, return, you implore
the urgent speed of years

 

Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | July 2, 2017

Chockablock in Words

I’ve been awash in words this summer, even more than what’s usual for an English teacher and avowed word geek.  I’ve learned that English contains by far more words than any other language – which makes sense since it’s such a mash-up of other languages (due to all that continual conquering by folks from other regions).  According to The Story of English (McCrum, Cran, & MacNeil, 1992), the complete Oxford English Dictionary lists over 500,000 words, not including another half million technical and scientific words that they haven’t yet squeezed in.  That’s a million in all!  Astounding.  The next largest, German, has a measly 185,000, and French, a mere 100,000.

Even though thousands of the words in the OED are no longer used, we still have dozens of synonyms for many words at our disposal and countless adjectives to describe feelings, movements, or elements of nature.  Sadly, though, most native English speakers only use 20,000 to 35,000 words in their daily lives.  While most of us know nearly 10,000 words by age 8, we apparently  stop accumulating new words somewhere around middle age, unless we make a concerted effort not to.

 

If you’re a word geek like me, you won’t want to miss the new book, Word By Word: The Secret Life of Dictionaries, by Kory Stamper, a lexicographer and editor at Merriam-Webster.  Fascinating, hilarious, and sometimes shocking, Stamper educates us about everything from the history of words to the difficulty of updating each edition of the dictionary in a culture that coins new words and phrases daily.  She devotes pages to explaining how the internet has radically changed the job of the lexicographer, and she carefully explains just what dictionaries are supposed to do – then also reveals all the misconceptions people have about that.  She chooses to ground much of these discussions in chapters centered on key words:  but, irregardless, surfboard, take, bitch, nuclear, nude, marriage.  (You can likely guess the issues with some of these words without reading the book!)

I’m not kidding when I confess that this book was more of a page-turner for me than any sizzling mystery story.  Stamper’s writing style is highly conversational and readable, making a potentially deathly-boring topic come alive with very contemporary anecdotes and humor.  Some of her passages verge on the poetic.  She clearly loves her job and loves the English language.

 

So, just as I’d finished reading Word By Word, I headed up to Madison for another

Pyle_Center

glorious week among fellow poets at U-W’s annual Write-by-the-Lake conference.  And on the first day, what did I discover our focus for the week was going to be?  The power of strong WORDS.  Our instructor, Marilyn Taylor, challenged us to write four poems, one each day, that explored not only a different topic but that used unusual words – which she had compiled for us in advance by scouring other well-written poems.  This created a marvelous constraint for us and shoved us – hard – out of our lexical complacency!

indexFor example, a poem about death or loss was NOT to use any of these tired old death-poem words:  death, loss, grieve, sadness, mourn, sunset, heart, or heaven.  Instead, we needed to find a way to incorporate some of these:  blossom, brittle, dappled, Matisse, pink, polka, smudge.  Most of us agreed it took over an hour just to hit on an idea and get started!  But it was a delight each morning to share our 15 wildly different poems with each other.

A good poet friend of mine has shared that she’s been using this technique – gathering interesting words in advance – for several months now, and creating poems she never would have written otherwise.  They are remarkably fresh and powerful.  Clearly, this is a process I need to start using with my own poetry.

 

The first poem I composed in Madison is the strangest of the four, and maybe also the strongest, simply because of its weirdness.  The topic was food/cooking.  I owe the entire poem to the word list, primarily “unmoored,” which sparked an eerie scene in my mind.  I call it “Fever.”

 

Unmoored, marooned, the ship lurched and we

clutched the railing, momentarily forestalled in our

desperate quest to find the source of the smell –

glimmering onions and mushrooms, voluptuous

vegetables – sautéed by some magician below.

Three days after escaping brutal pirates,

we few survivors, slowly starving, awakened

dreaming about home and sun and the great

periwinkle sky barely visible through

louvered windows in the stifling cabin

where we had found meager refuge.  Then

that savory incense pinched us, reeled us in –

hypnotized, unbearded and naked with hope.

Whispering prayers, we made the descent,

deep into the marrow of the iron beast,

where at last we discovered great fires

popping with the brilliantine slick of olive oil.

Outlined by the blaze in the blackness

was a taut, tattooed chef, preening like some

La Scala diva and brandishing machetes

like ginsu knives, his wry smile daring us

to step forward and eat . . . or be eaten.

 

 

One more great tool I learned about this week was a new online dictionary/thesaurus called Onelook.com.  The extensive lists of synonyms and antonyms they’ve compiled teem with choices you’d never come up with on your own.  (Like “chockablock”!)  Now, how to write a poem about swimming using the words mathematics, shinbone, and wysteria…..

 

Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | April 2, 2017

The Periphery

Sitting in the audience of “Mamma Mia!” the other day, I found myself watching the members of the ensemble rather than the leading players.  Even when it was only Mamma on stage, my eyes wandered to the orchestra, the audience, or the set pieces.  Not that the actor playing Rosie wasn’t wonderful, but I guess I felt like I’ve seen leads belting out soulful tunes enough times to know how it looks.  I was more curious about all the other stuff going on in the room – how the lights were fading or changing colors, or how that big bunch of flowers had been hung from the rafters.

10207298-growing-plant-with-underground-root-visible

Lately I’ve found myself less and less interested in the “main attraction” of the day and more captivated by the background, the periphery.  I’ve seen enough glitz, been distracted too many times by the new, bright, red or shiny thing, the loudest voice, the fastest car.  I’m bored by it.  Let me see the people behind the scenes putting it all together.  The roots under the roses.  Rather than reading about any First Lady, I’d like to read about one of her assistants, or better yet, someone as far away from the  White House as possible.

At first I thought this was just an anger response to the news cycles, where certain people now throw out constant distractions via Twitter storms – while the much more interesting stuff is buried at the bottom of page 8 or 20 minutes into the newscast.   That’s probably part of it.  But it’s also probably just due to aging – slowing down, recognizing I’m past the halfway mark, wanting to savor more of what’s happening in real time.

I read differently now, listen to music differently.  It’s possible I’m a better driver, too, since it doesn’t take so much effort to force myself to be in the present and pay attention.  I’m grateful to be growing more patient with my son, whose disability keeps him ever obsessing and vocalizing about his narrow interests.  Relax, I tell myself.  One day, you’ll miss his chatter, when he’s settled into a group home and you don’t spend so much time with him.

45454974

Perhaps this tendency to slow down and be more thoughtful as we age is one reason why most cultures honor their elders.  My father is quite content at 85 to sit by his large picture window and read all day long, alone with his thoughts.   When I think of the collective wisdom of his generation, I’m humbled.  So tell me more about life on the farm, Dad.  Describe for me again how it felt to walk 6 miles to school in the snow, uphill both ways.

Periphery

 

At the periphery, images so often unnoticed

now come into focus:

arctostaphylos-uva-ursi-point-reyes-manzanita

 

Ivy woven like mossy lace fills the ground

around crimson roses.

 

Rows of dancers dressed in white line the stage,

their paralleled legs a perfect arch

around the prima ballerina in pink.

 

Air waves mingle as I listen to the news,

the faint wailing of Mariachi

echoing at the edge of the dial.

$_86

 

I have begun to pay attention to the bass line

instead of the bleeding lead guitar,

to sing along with bluer harmonies;

 

To see the shades of light in those billowing clouds

daubed above Monet’s purpled haystacks

in the center of the golden frame;

northern-cardinal-and-house-sparrow-15-1-_1168

 

To find each sparrow on the patio as distinct—

each stripe and patch of sienna or tan

made that much richer when set against

the gaudy scarlet of the cardinal in their midst.

———-

Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | December 24, 2016

Thoughts on Longest Night

I’m not one to write metaphoric poems.  They can be overly dramatic and seem old-fashioned, reminiscent of the great Romantics of prior centuries. But on the Solstice this year, I couldn’t avoid feeling as if we were all trapped in a metaphor of serious consequence.  The events of the last several weeks have left millions of us stunned and rudderless.  Reality is not offering much that is poetic at this year’s end, which is supposed to be a time when we feel the anticipation of the return of the light.   So, metaphor it is — with a nod to the often cheerless William Blake.

 

The Coming Dark

 

wyo_snow_at_sunset

We wander out into the field,

stars hidden behind clouds,

the snow glowing gently purple

in the day’s remaining light.

 

We’ve forgotten what we seek

but here we are, in winter’s dark,

our deep tracks behind us

to tell us where we’ve been.

 

Blake wrote of Winter raising

his scepter over the world

to “wither all in silence.”

We tunnel into a drift to sleep.

 

dark-snowy-night

We’ll search until we find

the elixir we know we need.

Chill settles into our bones but

we have warmth yet. We breathe.

 

 


Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | December 4, 2016

Avoiding the Sentimental

My seasonal poetry trigger is out of whack.  Last fall, I felt the urge to write about winter.  Now it’s begun to snow, and I’m stuck thinking about summer.  But in both cases, the idea for a poem was sparked by a random memory, and when the Muse comes knocking, you let her in.

lions-park-poolThe other day I heard “Happy Together,” the old pop tune by the Turtles, and was instantly transported to the concrete deck of Lions Park Pool, where I spent a good chunk of my childhood summers.

I realized that this happens several times a year, the jogging of memory to The Pool.  I think this is because of its smorgasbord of sensory images, which have lodged, as an intense unit, in a back corner of my brain.  So it was pretty clear this was a seminal experience that I needed to work out in a poem.

The problem is that trying to craft a childhood memory poem is like walking a taut wire across a yawning gulch of sentimentality. One tiny slip, and the poem is lost to the goo amidst glittering raindrops and over-loved Teddy bears missing an eye. Plus basically every greeting card ever printed.

blue-teddy-bear-flowers-18072850Lions Park Pool is my epitomal growing-up place — that place each of us has in our past where we faced fears and overcame them and where we developed our core sense of self.  But Lions Park Pool was also full of flower-covered towels and bathing suits, splashes and screams, pop tunes, Dreamsicles and Sno-cones, bright sunshine, and a sea of goose-bumpy bodies with raging hormones.  Cliches all.

How can any writer evoke the intensity of such a key experience, yet still manage to keep the poem fresh, surprising, and honest?  Well, it’s just plain hard.  But it’s important to attempt it; these poems and essays are the ones that help us understand who we are and what it means to be human.  (Plus readers tend to really like them.)

Honesty doesn’t have to be depressing.  But happy places don’t have to sparkle, either.  We have to dig down to get at truths — even simple ones.  We need to choose the most significant details for the purpose of the poem, not just settle for the easy image because it’s fun.

This poem about Lions Park Pool took me days to write and probably fails in both regards — in its attempt to avoid sentimentality and to capture the essence of a girl’s first steps into adulthood.  But hopefully it will invite similar memories for a few readers and provide some insights into their earlier versions of themselves. On a more personal level, it might evoke a fun connection for my friends who grew up with me in Elk Grove Village and remember the pool before it was transformed into the Rainbow Falls Water Park.  (Ack.)

 

Lions Park Pool

 

My mind returns again to the pool,

that steadfast slab of aquamarine

filled each year for the village kids

who descended on bikes to bare their limbs

in a frenzy of seasonal freedom.

 

girl-swimming

Sensory overload is what we craved—

(is this why I remember it so well?)

—twinned smells of chlorine and coconut,

the din of splash, shriek and whistle,

that blissful rush of cool on skin

newly crisped by the exulting sun.

 

One best friend was all you needed.

Layered between blue water and sky

afloat on our backs, or eeling through forests

of glowing legs, our eyes open and stinging—

we swam and dived till we pruned,

then scurried over concrete to flimsy towels

laid out along the chain-link fence.

 

Lying on our bellies, chins on arms,

we’d gaze at the bronze Adonises

in the lifeguard chairs with idolatry

pure and unashamed.  Our legs,

diving(so small and unshaven) splayed behind us

like knob-kneed foals’, could jump up

on a whim to climb to the high dive and soar—

then touch bottom and catapult back into air.

 

Our nascent bodies, arms wide to life,

hang burnished in that moment—

where buoy ropes and Top-40 beats

reassure us—yes.  This happiness is all

we’ll ever need to claim or to believe in.

 


(Swim drawings: Annette O’Toole, Pinterest)

Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | November 5, 2016

Facing What Comes After

cliff-edgeHere we go again, diving into the unknown.  We anxious types hate that, facing the “What Comes After.”  If you live in Chicagoland as I do, or are a baseball fan, you may be wondering What Comes After the goat curse has been broken.  And for every American, it applies to Wednesday morning, when we wake to the idea of a new — and certainly troubled — presidency that will carry us into 2020.

We set the clocks back again this weekend in our hapless quest to conquer time, but autumn marches on into a winter that has been predicted to be horrific here in the Midwest.  Today, however, it’s 70 degrees outside, and my impatiens are still blooming.  Climate change offers another abyss to stare into.

We can get sucked into the doomsday scenarios and freak out, or we can just dive in and manage whatever comes.  We who have stable lives and food on the table each day can remind ourselves that for many millions of people, the abyss they face is much deeper and darker, and we can shake off our angst and go about living. Plus, poetry helps.

So this poem, a golden shovel (with an extra-line cheat at the end), comes from my perspective as I stand at the edge — the final days of this horrendous political year.  There is relief in closure, even when what comes next may be nothing to celebrate.  Frankly, I will welcome some radio silence.

 

 

Gold in Shadows

 

images

“Autumn — the year’s last, loveliest smile”

(William Cullen Bryant, 19th century poet)

The trees rust and bleed.  Autumn

turns earth inside out, reveals the year’s

accumulated pain, signals one last

chance to glimpse — at dusk — the loveliest

swaths of gold between the shadows, like smiles

of the weary who are welcoming the dark.

 

 

I’ll add one final piece, which is the closing stanza of a poem by Len Anderson in Issue 49 of Rattle called “The Basic Question.”  Anderson’s attitude toward standing at the edge is rosier than mine….so I like it.

bird

 

 

Don’t despair, just listen

as attentively as you can,

and when you can’t help it,

burst into song,

write down what you can

in whatever notation you have,

and pass it on.  You

are part of the song.

 

(Images by Ruby Blossom, Alamy, Mahran Banaei)

Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | October 3, 2016

Autumn sparks the poet in us all

red leaves appear

on the crown of the maple

final revelry

There’s no way to tell, but I’d wager more poetry has been written during and about autumnautumn-trees-13053203313qk than any other season — with spring following closely behind.  Witnessing death and rebirth all around us brings out our inner poets.

John Keats’ “Ode to Autumn” is my favorite fall poem, for its masterful use of stanzas to show the passage of time throughout the autumn season as well as throughout one day.  He also focuses each stanza on one of the senses, adding another layer of complexity.

This poem single-handedly taught me the precision of the poet’s craft.

For me, though, it’s hard not to race ahead to winter the moment I see the first leaf yellow and fall.  The nip of evening brings on a chill we know too well, those of us in the northern regions.  Leafy bonfires quickly give way to logs in the fireplace.

bare-tree-at-sunset-douglas-taylorSo I guess it’s no surprise that when I sat down to write about autumn, I ended up with a poem about facing another winter!  The natural world spends the fall preparing for winter, after all.  Squirrels are already digging up my flower pots, burying nuts.  A flock of sandhill cranes flew overhead this morning, squawking their retreat.  And underneath the bark of every tree, soon to be barren, the sap is slowly thickening in order to allow the tree to survive the lashes of snow and frigid days to come.

Here’s a poem I wrote using the ovillejo form, one I’d not heard of until recently.  It comes from 16th century Spain and is a form Cervantes liked to use.  Its constraints include the 4 stanzas, syllable counts, a rhyme scheme, and some repetition in the final quatrain.  Typically, the ovillejo opens by posing a question.

Facing Winter

 

How can we face the winter again?

That white terrain.

 

A shard of ice, a freeze of breath,

a little death.

 

Infinite gray, the taunting wink of sun –

time’s gaping yawn.

 

Rest now, rest.  How pointless the grief

when every fiber of nature – sedated,

wise, patient – knows the white terrain.

A little death, then chariots unleashed.

 

images

Photo credits:  2livelong.blogspot (apples); flickriver.com (swallows); kathrynwarmstrong.wordpress (sun in trees)

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