Slow Strokes: A Conversation with Ishion Hutchinson
What I’m Reading
A continuous influence is the Jamaican landscape, especially where I am from, Portland, in the east of the island. The influence of the land (and the porous land, the sea) comes with a sense of fear, which is of the unknown—meaning the much I will never know, and no one knows—about the nature of the land’s beauty, and I am tempted to add terror—but why not, given its contemporary history?—thus, the nature of its beauty and terror.
So land is the main influence, but of recent I have been studying Winslow Homer’s “The Turtle Pond,” (I read Hemingway’s Islands in the Stream this summer) and it triggered a few lines but, more importantly, triggered a memory of a childhood friend, a fisherman who died at sea, whose resemblance I see in the features of one of the men in Homer’s painting.
It is hard to answer this question without cheating, for there are many books I go back to often, or rather, many poems, again and again. So I will cheat and say two of the poems (in lieu of a book) I read to shreds: George Seferis’ “Mythistorima,” particularly the part that opens “I woke with this marble head in my hands,” and Geoffrey Hill’s “Funeral Music.” I go there for the frightening end: “Not as we are but as we must appear.”
Favorite line of poetry—ever.
This can only be answered from the grave. Allow me to say, though, the single line that never leaves me. It is from Derek Walcott’s Another Life. The speaker, an apprentice painter, has been painting from a promontory all day. An apparitional figure comes in and this happens:
“Then, with slow strokes, the master changed the sketch.”
The line is powerful because it is casual in light of a moment of epiphany, of the master awakening something both on canvas and inside the apprentice. There is alliterative tension in it, but it is not dramatic; it is very patient, hence deliberate, patterned, truly commemorating one instance in a young artist’s life that will be everlasting.
On Contemporary Poets
I find great pleasure in the works of Dante Micheaux and Valzhyna Mort. Dante (what an apt first name!) strikes me as empyrean without being lofty; he puts nothing down without passion. Valzhyna is teeming with a mix of Eastern and Western European poetry and music, but in reading her new book, Collected Body, written in English, it seems Ted Hughes handed her her syntax: very forceful and elemental. Amidst these two, two other near contemporaries that I enjoy very much and would like to mention are Emma Jones, from Australia, and a terrific Briton, James Bryne. Jones’s book is Striped World and Bryne’s book is Blood/Sugar.