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.



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

Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | July 4, 2016

A New Kind of Care for the Mentally Ill


My son, who is developmentally disabled, turned 25 this spring.  The future looms.  This is why a recent podcast aired on NPR caught my interest.

This episode of “Invisibilia,” by journalist Lulu Miller, explores a model of care for people with mental illness which, until now, has been virtually unknown in the U.S.  Miller takes us to Geel, Belgium, a small town near Antwerp, where for centuries the citizens have practiced a very inclusive form of foster care for the mentally ill.  In many cases, adoptees stay with families for decades, their peculiarities managed, sometimes modified for safety purposes, but often simply accepted.  While walking the streets of Geel, Miller sees several citizens talking to themselves, making gestures, and wandering into homes and shops.  No one seems to notice.  No one confronts them, re-directs them, or avoids them.  People simply go about their day, greeting, meeting, and completing their business as usual.

Whether or not the legend is true that Geel’s longstanding practice of foster care stems from the Medieval-era martyrdom of a young woman, Dymphna, who became the patron saint of the mentally ill, the town honors her in its practice, which is supported by a small amount of government funding.  The families Lulu Miller interviews see their place as care-givers to the mentally ill as a natural calling – something that is not questioned or resented.  It’s the way the town has always been, and with very few problems over the years.

Caucasian couple hugging on sofa

What Miller discusses midway through the podcast is astonishing.  In the Geelian philosophy, mental illness is not viewed as something that needs to be “cured” at all, nor even necessarily treated with medication.  Indeed, most of the people in Geel do not need to be medicated as they are allowed to be who they are, and they therefore are not filled with anxiety, shame, or rage over their condition.  Miller hears one man singing happily as he passes her on the street.  Another man’s need to hug everyone became a bit overwhelming for his foster mother, so the town helped to find him a girlfriend who would enjoy his constant hugging.

The final point Miller makes in the broadcast pierced me straight through – as it did Miller herself and her own father when they recalled the troubles long ago when her mentally ill sister lived with them.  Her sister struggled horribly and was miserable, and in a poignant moment on tape, her father breaks down when he confesses he treated his little girl with anger rather than compassion for her outbursts.  The sister, though, has now lived many years on her own in an apartment and is quite happy.  She explains that she wasn’t comfortable until she could be in a place where she wouldn’t be constantly criticized, yelled at, and made to feel deficient.  The podcast includes interviews with psychologists who have begun to find, in studies, that sometimes the best caregivers for the mentally ill are those who are not family members.  (I held my breath listening to this part.)  In many cases, the emotional bonds between parents and children can be so fraught with stress and expectations that it can make the illness worse.  Non-related caregivers can often be more relaxed and accepting about the person’s special needs or unusual behaviors, not seeing these things as a reflection of themselves or their parenting.

Pain-MedsUnlike Miller’s sister, my son does not have a mental illness.  He has autism, which is a cognitive and social disability that cannot be cured or changed.  He is medicated to reduce his anxiety, which can be crippling for him as he tries to navigate a life among two families with their complicated schedules and expectations as well as his various programs.  But it has made me wonder:  If his life had not been so complicated or people’s expectations of him so exacting, would he even have severe anxiety?

In America, parents are socialized to keep their children in line at all costs in public places so as not to disturb others or make them uncomfortable.  Sometimes this is important to do – yes – as we take on the responsibility of teaching our kids how to get along in the world and fit in.  Instances of parental neglect and subsequent shaming have been captured and spread on YouTube in recent years with self-righteous abandon.  When Ramon was small, I heard critical remarks regularly from strangers in grocery stores and restaurants, as well as from my own family members, about my inability to control him.  I felt constant shame because of this, and I doubled down on my efforts to change his behavior.

lets-playWhen Ray was first diagnosed in the mid-1990s, we sought out various types of therapy to help him with his speech, socialization, self-help skills, and school.  One program that was very highly recommended was the Lovaas Method, an intensive system of Applied Behavioral Analysis that involved 16-hour days of constant “floor time” with the child, forcing rote repetition of “correct” speech, answers to questions, eye contact, and normative physical behaviors.  Until just a few years ago, Lovaas therapists also used physical punishments to deter “wrong” behavior, including slaps and electric shocks.  Many families sold their homes and moved to New England to immerse their children in this costly program.  I remember feeling torn:  Was I a bad mother for not choosing this for my child?  Something about it seemed so very disturbing and wrong to me – the idea that adult humans could work so hard to “break” a child of his autism, like breaking a wild horse in order to ride it.  To me, Ramon’s quirks were a part of who he was.  His obsessions and peculiarities seemed to make him joyful;  to “break” him of them would kill his spirit. (In fact, over the years the Lovaas Method has been largely discredited, as the majority of children who initially showed great strides in behavior quickly reverted to their natural selves within months after finishing the program.)

AbilityAllieswithBackground2Now, at last, there seems to be a major shift underway in our attitudes toward “otherness,” as humans have come to accept a broader range of ways of thinking and being.  The final walls to come down are those that have ostracized people who do not fit the traditional gender binary and those who are other-abled in body and/or mind.  So, the question is:  As tens of thousands of children with autism spectrum disorders grow up, joining so many others who are born with disabilities or who develop illnesses like schizophrenia or severe phobias, will we finally realize that we simply should not be bothered by an individual’s unique traits or mannerisms?  Can we love and accept all the human beings who walk and work and live among us – no longer judging or teasing them, no longer shaming parents for letting them be who they are?  (Anti-bullying campaigns have made great progress among our school children, but we still need a similar program for adults.  Witness a certain presidential candidate.)

onion-river-crossroadsMy son’s best friend Jessica has just moved into a group home in a suburban neighborhood, and so far she’s loving it.  At 28, she’s excited to be in a house with four other women near her age who share her interests in movies, music, and foods.  Paid caregivers, provided by the Clearbrook organization, attend the women at all times.  Jessica’s care-taking grandmother (who is 91) is understandably relieved to have seen this move come while she is still alive to help with the transition.  And now Ramon’s curiosity has been piqued – making me, too, feel relieved.  Imagining him living safely and contentedly in a home without me or his father is a vision I’ve dreamed about for years.  The story about Geel and new studies in caring for the disabled has helped reduce my fears about my son’s potential for being well cared for — perhaps even loved — by those who may not be family members at all.

I’m inspired to know about the paradigm of care in Geel, and I’m thrilled that Lulu Miller and the Invisibilia team have brought the story to us with the help of NPR.  But what would make me happiest of all would be to believe that it is a concept whose time has truly come here in America, one to be embraced by communities across the land – and eventually the whole world.


Links to the Invisibilia podcast and to info about Geel:

Photo credits:  Wikipedia, Huffington Post,


Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | June 24, 2016

Hawks in the Neighborhood

Red-tailed-Hawk_MV203[New poem below — “Cooper’s Hawk”]

In the bird world, red-tailed hawks rule the Midwest.  You can see them dotted against the sky every time you take a drive – on utility poles, high tension wires, and limbs of dead trees.  Big and stocky, red-tails perch for long spells, then suddenly swoop down to snatch up the unsuspecting mouse, rabbit, toad, or baby bird.  Any time a red-tail is near, all the other birds in the vicinity chirp noisy alerts and send brave warriors to try and drive it away.



hawk_coopers_adult_winter_california_3aLately, however, there’s a new hawk in town.  Until recently, all I knew about the Cooper’s Hawk was that it was the name of a trendy restaurant chain where you can get a flight of good wine during happy hour.  Then an actual one moved into my neighborhood.  This is one crafty hawk!  Sleeker and smaller than the red-tail, the Cooper’s hawk hangs out in trees of any size, often right in our back yards.  It will dart across lawns at window level into a hedge or fir tree to grab a bird off a branch.  The other day, I saw a Cooper fly past my windshield in pursuit of a robin just as I pulled out of my subdivision.  I’ll never know if that poor robin went on to find dinner or become one.



owlRed-tails and Coopers seem to co-exist nicely in a given area so long as there’s an abundance of critters – and what suburban area lacks them?  Add the owls and coyotes prowling at night, and it’s a wonder there’s a chipmunk left around here.  (But of course there is – right under my front porch.)


Despite hawks’ brutal, predatory nature, it’s hard not to find them awesome and beautiful.



Cooper’s Hawk


It darted with sureness

into the evergreen.  Glad

coopinitI wasn’t near enough to hear

the death screech when talons

punctured nape, I shuddered

to see the limp blackbird

soon draped on a wide branch

of my neighbor’s oak tree.

The victor wasted no time

tearing in.  Feathers flew

as the sharp beak ripped,

bit by bit, at the flesh of itsCOHA_adMale3

cousin, its steely head

like the knobbed handle

of a cane, its striped tail, ruler-

straight, pointing down.

Precise, focused, functional:

eyes, claws, talons, tail.

Gnawing hunger.  An absence

of shame.



Cooper’s hawk photos by Bill Schmoker



Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | March 27, 2016

Poetry Reading April 7 in Barrington

Please join me at Grassroots in downtown Barrington on Thursday evening, April 7, for “Transcendence,” a collective reading from 7 local poets.  I was very happy to be invited to join these talented writers, including organizer Terry Loncaric, Tamara Tabel, Michelle Brinckerhoff, Judith K. Tepfer, Joanna Kurowska, Carmen Severino, and Tracie Pradal.

We’ll each read 2 sets of 3 poems each.  Start time:  7 p.m. 

Come on out for a night of poetry, and wear your tie-dye! 

Grassroots is at 211 Park Avenue, Barrington.


Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | March 14, 2016

Next Reading: Madame Zuzu’s in Highland Park

zuzu logoI’m really looking forward to the next reading from my book.  It’s slated for Saturday night, March 26, at 8:00 at a trendy new spot in Ravinia-land, Madame Zuzu’s Tea Shop and Art Studio.  Billy Corgan — he of Smashing Pumpkins fame — owns this space, though I hear he rarely makes appearances.  Regardless, it has an interesting vibe and attracts a small core of poetry diehards to its Saturday open mic sessions, which are sponsored by Highland Park Poetry.

Margie Skelly and I will again be sharing the stage as the opening readers.  After that, anyone can share their work, so writers — bring something to read!

Madame Zuzu’s is located at 582 Roger Williams Ave. in Highland Park.  Here is the link to their website:




Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | February 9, 2016

Poetry Reading on Feb. 28 in Westmont

111250685My next reading, shared with fellow poet and good friend Marjorie Skelly of Chicago, will be at the Brewed Awakenings Coffeehouse in Westmont, Sunday, Feb. 28 at 12:30.  A $10 cover will get you a beverage, a snack, and our reading, followed by 2 hours of entertainment with an open mic hosted by the Illinois State Poetry Society.

More information at the Brewed Awakenings website!  Come join us for some warmth and inspiration.



Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | January 5, 2016

Poetry Reading and Art Show, Jan. 16

It was a cold day in Chicago’s suburbs, but the sun shone through the windows of the atrium at the Arlington Green Executive Center as 7 of us from the Northwest Cultural Council read from our 2015 publications.


023014Poems I shared:


Aerial Photograph

Dog Memory

Modern Minotaurs

Only the Hills Remember

Ground Feeding Ban






As usual, we poets made sure to feed the guests.





Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | November 17, 2015

Map Making now available at Amazon

Here is the link:cover

You may still purchase through THEAQ Press as well, or contact me and I can send you a signed copy!

Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | September 22, 2015

New poetry book coming soon!

coverIt’s gone to press!  My new book — Map Making: Poems of Land and Identity should be available at Amazon by early November, just in time to help you kick off your holiday shopping.  I owe many thanks to the publishers at THEAQ Press in Rosemount, MN, for taking a chance on my work.  The poems use a conversational, free-verse style and cover subjects that will interest audiences of any age and background.

The collection includes a few poems from my 2 previous chapbooks; a few that have been published in literary magazines or on websites; and a whole bunch of new, unpublished pieces.  Subjects include the more light-hearted — like family (past and present), parenting, fictional character sketches, and ruminations on aging — as well as the more serious, touching on nature and animals, the planet’s shaky future, and thought-provoking stories I’ve read about in the news.

010Here’s the official book summary from the publisher’s website:

Our souls contain landscapes, and not just the metaphoric kind. What we see daily as we look out upon the world leaves an indelible imprint on us and shapes our relationships – to each other and to the planet. We’re forever fused with the regions where we come of age, sometimes becoming hybrids of multiple landscapes as we shift and move to new places.

In the 50 poems and prose-poems of Map Making: Poems of Land and Identity, poet Kate Hutchinson explores the daily rituals and negotiations many of us make as we move through Midwestern landscapes. Her life as a suburbanite, raised in outskirts of O’Hare Airport, has prompted Kate to ask some key questions about the suburban identity. What is it that pulls some of us into the city and others toward open space? How is it that many of us feel the tug toward both places over the years? What happens to our sense of community and of self as we pass time inside our walls and fences, perhaps commuting alone to places far away? And what of the creatures whose habitats are razed to make way for our concrete roads and foundations – the birds and fowl, the squirrels and mice, the coyotes and deer?

015Ultimately, Kate urges us to pay attention to those ever-shrinking, less-touched places around us. In poems that conjure landscapes of farms and cities, suburban back yards, woodlands and prairies, and even the distant surface of the moon, she reminds us to remember that we are each but one being in a huge and complex universe. It is essential for those of us who have the means to take care of ourselves to also assist those who cannot – human and otherwise. Map Making invites readers to wonder about their own internal and external landscapes, and to consider how each informs the other.

Photo credits:  THEAQ Press (cover); author

Posted by: poet kate hutchinson | September 17, 2015

Wait — I’m how old?

women-bodyWe reach a certain age, and all we can do is wonder how we got so old. My friends and I talk often about how we still feel like our 35-year-old selves inside, no matter how many years have passed since. What causes this disconnect in our sense of self?

I’ve read that as children, we often feel older than we are – no doubt because we’d like to be. But at around age 30, we reverse our thinking and begin to feel younger than we are. I’m not sure that’s because we want to re-live our 20’s, however. For me, it was more a disbelief that I could actually be a full-fledged adult.

debra_wilkinson_320I still remember that moment when I realized there was no going back. I was 33 or 34, and I’d recently moved with my husband and toddler into our first single-family home. (Oh, the automatic garage door opener! The basement! The walk-in closet!) We’d both earned tenure at our schools, and he’d moved into administration. We’d even gotten a dog. All the trappings of middle class.

One morning as I stood at the vanity mirror, eyeing my increasing gray hairs and daubing on make-up, the smells of toast and coffee wafted upstairs, and I could hear the sounds of “Sesame Street” from the TV in the living room where I knew my child was curled on the couch with his blanket. All of a sudden, I felt kicked in the gut with the realization that I had become my mother. An adult. I’d finally made it. Somehow, up until that moment, I’d felt like I’d been just play-acting, practicing for the real thing. Then BAM. Here it was.

woman-looking-in-mirror-vintage-e1343019650424The mid-30’s is where I’ve been ever since, though 20 years have passed. Sometimes I even step backward from there, regressing to helplessness: “No, I can’t do this! I’m still a stupid kid!” At those moments, the reality of my 55 years seems an utter absurdity, an impossible time-warp, as if someone had opened a portal and forced me to look at my future self. Then I imagine myself at my little blue desk from grade school, maybe in 1972 or so, on the cusp of teenagerhood, granted the gift of sight and seeing my own hand writing “2015” on the date line of a check made out to a mortgage company. I reel in disbelief. Wow, I’ll have a mortgage in 2015? Wow, there will BE a 2015??

(Funny how now it seems the oddest thing about that scenario is that I actually still do write paper checks – ha ha. Can you blame me for not wanting to give Chase access to my bank account? I recognize that this paranoia makes me seem even older than I am.)

But it’s these time-warping moments that make me think we aren’t as tied to time as our calendars tell us we are. Maybe, inside, we’re just us – age 5, 15, 35, 55 and 75 all at once. Our bodies fool and then betray us, trapping our timeless spirits in shells that eventually crumble away.

paper-pilesNow I’m on the countdown to retirement, and I hate to admit it, but I’m ready. I’m tired of the grind. My eyesight’s going, my knees are bad, and I’m sick of dying my hair in an attempt to remain relevant to the kids in my classes. I’ve been at this teaching gig for 30+ years, and I have other things I’d like to do with my life. By my rough estimate, I’ve worked with nearly 8,000 students and graded about 250,000 – a quarter million – pages of teens’ writing, only some of which has been remarkable. Plus I’ve read The Odyssey well over 100 times — though somehow it never gets old.

And yet. Retirement? Me? Really? Wasn’t I just a newbie at my school, being mentored by those who paved the road? The years are one big blur now. The thought that scares most of us is that time will continue to speed by faster and faster until that inevitable moment when it stops altogether.

old ladies in rainNone of us should complain to have been given the gift of aging, especially those of us who can afford to retire. Still . . . Damn! How did I get so old already? And how is it that most of my friends are old people, too?

We’re growing mouthy and eccentric, my friends and I, like Violet, the old dowager countess on Downton Abbey who mutters non sequiturs and says out loud what everyone else is thinking. Maybe that’s the best part about aging — we finally stop caring about what other people think of us. So we might as well have a little fun as we skip off into the future, knees creaking and saggy arms flapping.

Illustration credits:  menstrupedia; burbed; flashback summer; levkonoe.livejournal

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