LAURENCE HUTCHMAN, of Oakville, is a recently retired English professor, having taught for 22 years at the University of Moncton. Earlier, Hutchman applied himself for years in London, earning a degree in English at UWO. In the 1970s he also organized a poetry reading series in London, and had his first book of poetry published here. So far, Hutchman has seven books of poetry to his credit.
Laurence Hutchman was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1948. He finished his BA in English in The University of Western Ontario in 1972, received his MA at Concordia University in 1979; and his Ph.D at the Université de Montréal in 1988. He has taught at a number of universities including Concordia University, the University of Alberta, The University of Western Ontario, and The Université de Moncton where he is currently a Full Professor. He was President of the Writers' Federation of New Brunswick from 2000-2002. He has given many readings and workshops in Canada, the United States, China, Ireland and Bulgaria. His awards include: the Alden Nowlan Award for Excellence in English-language Literary Arts, 2007; and First Prize, Poetry Category in the Writers' Federation of New Brunswick Literary Competition, as well as others. He currently lives with his partner Eva Kolacz in Oakville.
Laurence Hutchman: Interview
Interviewer is Stan Burfield, Organizer of LOndon Open Mic Poetry Night
SB: When did you start writing poetry?
LH: I remember going to the library in the Albion Plaza and taking out Sartre’s Nausea, Camus’ The Rebel and James Joyce’s Portrait. It was Joyce’s extraordinary use of language that convinced me that I wanted to be a writer. After I fractured my tibia during a track meet and spent most of the summer in a cast, I had time to read and write. One of my first poems “The Voyage” won the poetry prize and was published in the yearbook of my high school.
With the help of my father, who brought home an antique Royal typewriter, circa 1928, I was able to gather my poems together to produce a twenty-two-page booklet, Pearls. At this time, I started to keep a journal and sometimes poems emerged from it. In the summer before I attended Western, I wrote a novel.
SB: Your childhood in Northern Ireland, then briefly Holland, before coming to Canada must have had a big effect on your early life. Did the different cultures that you lived in and your immigration to Canada, also influence the course of the rest of your life, especially your poetry?
LH: Ireland and Holland. With Ireland it was poetry. There is so much poetry in the natural everyday idiom of Ireland and it was all around me. I sensed it in the language and the land. My father was an entertainer by nature; he loved to tell stories and to recite poems. My mother too is a storyteller and told us many stories about growing up in war occupied Holland. But it was painting that was in my Dutch family. When I was seven and saw my Uncle Herman painting windmills, I wanted to be a painter. A few years ago, I took painting courses at the Université de Moncton where I taught literature.
Canada represented untold possibilities for me, not to be bound by the past, but to be able to experience the potential of ever changing life with the people who came from different parts of the world, bringing new ideas and creating a dynamic society. I was a part of it and still I am. It was like opening of the door to the super market which offered something magical to the young six year old immigrant boy.
SB: You completed your BA in English here in London at the University of Western Ontario before going on to Concordia for your MA and at L’Université de Montréal in 1988 for your PhD. Was your initial experience studying poetry in London fulfilling? How did you like living here?
LH: Western was very active in late sixties and early seventies. Michael Ondaatje, James Reaney, and Don McKay were all on faculty and producing exciting original books. Michael Ondaatje was at the beginning of his career and had just won the Governor General’s award for his brilliantly innovative work, Billy the Kid. When his contract wasn’t renewed, I wrote a poem called “Epilogue to Billy the Kid” published on Page 5 in Western’s The Gazette.
Western was a great place to study—I recall Professor Arthur Barker who gave the magisterial lectures which left us spellbound with his erudition and his quotation of passages Milton’s Paradise Lost. Larry Garber gave witty, knowledgeable, passionate lectures about Yeats, Joyce Falkner, etc. I also took rewarding literature classes with Tom Collins, Jim Good, Don Hair, Dick Shoyer, and Don Hensley.
We were trying to get things happening in London at that time, as you are doing today in your London Open Mic series. Earlier I was appointed as a new editor of Folio, which was a lot of responsibility for a first year student. Jamie Hamilton, a poet and publisher and I organized a series of lunchtime readings at Talbot College and at Victoria Tavern that were well attended and a little rowdy at times. I remember Don McKay giving a brilliant linguistic imitation of a motorcycle in his “Yamaha” poem. We sometimes forget how much these writers in their almost anonymous way were beginning to create an awareness of literature and its importance in the local, regional and national culture.
London was alive with a certain electricity. Poetry was in the air. The first poetry reading that I ever attended was at Talbot College staring Irving Layton and Earl Birney. Layton was at his height then and gave a brilliant performance of his classic poems. Afterwards I engaged him in conversation as we talked about the qualities that make a poet.
Jamie Reaney was a central figure. He edited Alphabet, organized the Children’s Workshop, as well as poetry readings. In his series Ray Souster, Phyllis Gotlieb, Francis Sparshot and others read. It was also a time of a lot of social unrest on campuses across Canada and the United States with war demonstrations. After a screening of Jack Chambers film about the War in Viet Nam, we gathered at Michael Ondaatje’s home to talk about art, film, and politics. I was beginning to regularly publish at this time. Five of my poems appeared in Stuffed Crocodile. Moreover, I published my first book, The Twilight Kingdom in the Killaly Press Chapbook series which was run by Steven Osterlund and Clark Leverette, a librarian at W.B. Weldon Library at Western.
SB: How did growing up in Emery effect you?
LH: When we moved up to Emery, in 1957 it was the place on the border of the country and the city—the place in transition from the world of the old to the new. It was an exciting time because we had the freedom to roam through the fields, along the hills, through the orchards, and follow Humber River. It was much later that I discovered the history of this place. I searched for and interviewed the farmers from that area and many poems came out of this research. They were published in my poetry book Emery by Black Moss Press in 1998.
SB: Your PhD thesis was entitled “Style into Vision in Three Canadian Poets: Margaret Avison, Al Purdy and John Newlove.” Did these poets have a significant influence on your own poetry?
LH: Al Purdy and Margaret Avison yes, Newlove less so. I met MargaretAvison the year before she came to Western as a writer-in-residence in 1972-73. She read my poems and was enthusiastic about them. I remember she wrote a recommendation for a Canada Council grant for me, which I received. Purdy was one of the adjudicators. I had read Purdy’s Caribou Horses in high school and thought his was one of the most distinctive Canadian voices, so distinctive that I learned to imitate it—you can hear my imitation on Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EE8QgbRZ0Vs&feature=share). He wrote about his experience of the land in a real and convincing way.
Purdy has a natural style and a tremendous command of tonal change and in his lines he leaps from image to image in a unpredictable ways, yet his language is structured and textured. This is especially true with Avison who has one of the richest senses of interplay of sounds in her poems. She is an exciting, complicated poet. I love how she is able to develop the idea of her poems so naturally in the sounds, syntax, rhythm and how she can make it appear to be unexpected. It is a poetry of intense and rare beauty like that of Hopkins.
Newlove is a master of precision as his images are so powerful and compressed that they capture in the microcosm of his poems the intensity and paradoxes of the prairie life that surrounded him. I love a poem that is complex so that you can reread it, continually making discoveries.
SB: For your recent book, IN THE WRITERS’ WORDS Conversations with Eight Canadian Poets, published by Guernica Press, Toronto-Buffalo-Lancaster (UK), 2011, (link to review: http://montrealserai.com/2011/12/28/in-the-writers-words/) you interviewed eight of the major Canadian poets of the 1950s era who were then on a mission to establish a national poetry. Did they succeed? Can you tell us something of your feeling of what now constitutes Canadian poetry?
LH: The modernist poets such as P. K. Page, Al Purdy, Louis Dudek and James Reaney—were both pioneering and modern. They had to create in a Canadian context a living poetry, speak a rich idiomatic contemporary voice, and develop forms that were capable of reflecting the changing world around them. Therefore Page wrote in a rich formalism that balanced experience with a form. Dudek expressed the rich paradoxical nature of the modern and traditional worlds in a poetic contemporary voice that was able to capture so much of the complexity of modern experience in his longer poems, Atlantis, and Europe. Al Purdy, suddenly at the beginning of the 1960’s, found his place in Prince Edward County and the world at large in his evocative travel poems. James Reaney discovered his poetry in Stratford, London and Lucan and applied universal myth, history and literature in his poems. So, we can see that these modernist writers laid important foundations for future poets.
SB: Would you say there is a substantial community of Canadian poets which young poets can live amongst and learn from?
LH: Yes. With the rapid rise of social media, the poet has an immediate connection to the substantial community of writers in a local, regional, national and international context.
SB: Can you say something about how your own poetic style has evolved, and what you generally try to accomplish in your poetry?
LH: I can’t really comment on my style and prefer to leave it to readers and critics, but I can say I like the longer expansive poem which has its roots in the British romanticism—a kind of organic poem which almost grows out of itself, which seems so natural and spontaneous, but at the same time has hidden powerful structure in it. I think because of the vastness of our land, the openness of space and form this is a kind of poem that we can appreciate and nourish. If we shift our perspective to world poetry, we find this openness, freedom, abandonment, unpredictability in poetry that you get in Rilke, Bly, Neruda, and in a different Irish way, in Heaney.
SB: I understand you are working on your next collection of poems, to be called "Personal Encounters," to be published by Black Moss this fall. Can you tell us something about it? Also, you are looking to get your poetry published in French?
LH: “Personal Encounters” is a poetry collection in which I write about writers such Purdy, Layton, Dudek and Cohen who I personally met or artists Van Gogh and Mondrian who I encountered in their art. In some poems, I write about particular objects such as a pencil or ammonite in order to engage reader by giving them a sense of its history taking them on a journey to discover what this object meant to me. There are also personal poems about my family members and my partner, artist Eva Kolacz.
I have already had a number of my poems translated into French by Emile Martel. I’m talking to a publisher in Quebec about having these translations of my poems published in French.
Laurence Hutchman Poems
Waiting for Spring
What is it about it about waiting for spring
as you look at disbelief at the white pages of the calendar
long past the vernal equinox.
You’ve been waiting for a long time
looking out into the backyard
as if it were the frozen form of Pangaea
trying to reshape itself in time-lapse photography.
Yes, you’ve been waiting for the signs for some time now:
that subtle bright change in the afternoon sky in late January,
that moment when you sit in the Escort and feel that momentary
warmth (the first you sensed since late October).
You feel the belief in a minor meteorological prophecy
the assurance of the wavering rays of the sunlight;
there is the thin hope of the slow lengthening evenings,
count them –two minutes per day,
but you’re a long way from day light saving’s time
in the deep freeze of February.
And then, suddenly in spite of the frozen air,
you see water on the street
the first since God knows when
but you’re grateful….and then you have the pavement
becoming a tabula rasa, white and so dry-
surely spring must come now or soon,
despite the days of blizzards and shovels and sweat…
Then the change, the thermometer surprisingly climbs
above zero and those glacial snow banks start to slowly melt
and you watch for patterns, the unexpected emergence of
grass, and the slow widening,
(ever slow diminishing of the snow)
Why don’t you live on the sunny side of the street?
The snow begins to undergo alterations as it moves into old age;
you see the crystals begin to form,
and little prisms appear.
Every object now has an identity.
The trees have no snow,
and the roofs are finally bare.
Nature becomes lyrical--
the water runs gurgling under little snow glaciers
which have begun to turn brown like tawny animals
(remember on the way home from school when you used to
break them off—sometimes ten feet at a time).
You were an icebreaker,
(remember when the coming of spring used to be fun.)
But you can see the discontent of winter still in the air
as neighbours go outside and can’t believe that CNN is wrong again,
and they are still scraping of the morning frost.
You see them out there with the pick axes and choppers
hacking away at their personal glaciers
as if they were a private affront.
They stand like desperate Shakespearian actors
looking at the enigmatic spring skies
giving their soliloquies
Where art thou now, O Spring?
And you wait and listen for the birds.
first posted on Facebook
To practice poems
hold the spoon,
feel the weight of the metal
on your fingertips,
the way the bubble
shows the carpenter
the level of the line.
To practice poems
try to ignore the noises of children
(you cannot ignore the children's noises),
but hold the spoon
(your son is also looking for a spoon).
Look at its lines,
how well they are shaped
to its tapered form,
the long neck opening out into the elliptical head.
Observe how the lines
circle the metal like natural striations
formed not of the earth
but the movement of the mouth
and fingers upon it.
Observe the peculiar colour
of rust and silver.
Ignore the crests and words
(although you cannot fail to see
this is an Irish hotel with a Royal Crown crest
on opposite sides).
To practice poems
you must hold the spoon
more consciously than you would a pen;
feel its form and its smooth function.
Observe, too, how the form is not of the earth
but transformed from the metal out of the earth
deep fires, millions of years before.
If you want to practice poems,
put the spoon into your mouth.
Feel your lips around it,
sounds, shapes, textures, flavours.
Feel how it nourishes you
with its meats, vegetables, and fruit,
how it takes them from the earth into you.
From Selected Poems, Guernica, 2007
My favourite hour. How comfortable to sit here listening
to the refrigerator humming, the syncopation of the clock,
the midnight bus braking: the warming up of an orchestra.
After a long day's journey I reach the shore and look out
on sleep's dark breakers. Today we painted a wall, not
much mind you -- but those old green flowers are finally
gone. We can hang pictures there. But to get back to
midnight, not the beach, but the wide red table that spreads
before me like a mesa. In the landscape are walnuts, green
grapes, Spiderman, and wooden Russian dolls. My thought
stops. I step outside myself. I am the stranger walking by the
Midnight, my favourite hour, when the refrigerator is an
Arctic piano. After the hockey game last night, I drove out
into the unrecognizable mauve city. On the mountain's edge
the boy and girl drank, danced, and sang into the wind.
On the edge be near the power, not the guardian of
thought. Be the stranger, the reader. Come, the scherzo is
over. Already the drum of the clock is fading and the piano
plays softly like a cardiogram. Listen, the late night bus
revellers, the voices of sleep. The clock steps draw you closer
to the waves. Fatigue, like a friend, takes you into the weird
night, childhood. Now after travelling all day, relearn the
world. Stranger, the sea is here. Forget and welcome.
From Selected Poems, Guernica, 2007
Have you ever really thought of the word? Lust. A
scrabble of the libido. Let the word roll on your tongue. The
long “l” is a liquid, curving thigh; the “u” has the rich taste
of a sexual vowel, and the ending “st,” a closing of the lips.
Rhyme the word “lust,” with “bust.” Yes it doubles. “Must” is that inevitability of desire—turn it around and there’s a hidden “slut.” Or there is “tusl,” that ultimate tussle with nocturnal fantasies. Lust. It’s more than the word—a desire that is in us, between the goalposts of the “l” and the “t.”
How is it language gives rise to lust? Say the words.
Imagine them through the negligée of language: the amber moonshine, the midnight delta, the hidden harbour, the lighthouse, the peninsula in light—geography of desire.
From Reading the Water, 2008, Black Moss Press
Reading the Water
I recollect weekend trips, my father following
red and yellow lines on maps
to obscure places with aboriginal names,
trips that began on forlorn bridges
rivers that suddenly
disappeared into tangled undergrowth,
narrowed to open fields and high grasses.
He had strategies that I could only imagine
as he followed the curves of the river,
a soldier on a subversive campaign,
recalling something, no doubt mother had said,
that drove him away from his family
to these hedge-lined fields
where the water was black and rushing.
He stood in the water, hip waders against
the current and waited
for the speckled, the brown, the rainbow,
moving slowly, until
he chose the right fly, the appropriate angle,
lassoing the line,
casting it out into an "s" above the current,
tugging at it
playing the waters with his fingers,
reading its bubbles as notes on some aqua score,
reading the sounds, the currents, the silences,
marks on a rippling dark page.
He waited for the change in tension.
Timing was all. The tug.
He could wait there,
wait there almost
all morning—or so it seemed,
and I followed him, continually onward,
to catch that fish.
From Reading the Water, 2008, Black Moss Press
WHERE: Because this special event is sponsored by The League of Canadian Poets, it is being held in the large downstairs room at the Landon Branch Library, 167 Wortley Road in Wortley Village, not our usual venue, which is Mykonos Restaurant.
WHEN: Wed. April 16th, versus our usual 1st-Wednesday-of-the-month schedule. Doors open at 6:00, live music at 6:30, poetry at 7:00.
LIVE MUSIC: Bernie Koenig performs beginning at 6:30. He will also play during the intermission.
THE FEATURED POETS: Penn Kemp will read at 7:00, followed by a Q&A, then intermission. Laurence Hutchman will read after the intermission, followed by a Q&A.
OPEN MIC: There will be some time for a shorter open mic than normal. It will end at 9:10. Instead of first come, first served we will select readers at random. Put your name on a ballot and drop it in the Ballot Bowl. We will pick names from the bowl until the time is up. Each reader will have five minutes, which is enough for two average-length poems.
RAFFLE PRIZES: Anyone who donates to London Open Mic Poetry Night receives a ticket for a raffle prize, three of which will be picked after the intermission. The prizes consist of poetry books donated by Brick Books and The Ontario Poetry Society. Donations are our only source of income. We still haven't paid off our initial debt.
POST-EVENT REVELRY: Many of us will retire to the Wortley Roadhouse pub across the street for some R&R.
This event is In celebration of National Poetry Month. We acknowledge the support of Canada Council for the Arts and the League of Canadian Poets.