Placed not Cast
Hurling the frail door wide open, erupting down
from dim-lit narrow side-street three shallow steps
into the dark, small, quiet pub the raw young marine
in the dark blue blared
‘Is there nobody here?’ (from Saturnino by Pearse Hutchinson)
Following the marine back out onto the street, publican Saturnino cried Are we nobody? and back in the bar, Are we not people? not once nor twice but three times at least. This declaration of the most basic human right: to be recognized as a person, occurring in a circumstance most of us would probably file under forgettable, is a recurrent theme in Pearse Hutchinson’s writing.
The poems are frequently anecdotal. In the telling, he relates an incident, a minute event, the sort most of us think nothing of; and in the light he throws, we see the metal strip, the watermark. So much that passes as mundane transactions between people carries within them the watermarks we’re born with. Hutchinson recognises this; his anecdotes carry within them the universal truths about humankind.
His regard for people, the downtrodden, small, voiceless people is apparent time and time again. The narrowing of his focus from the Vatican-voluptuous, higher than God’s own sky ceiling in York minster to the timber model of Barnsley Main Seam....... nestling modest into the minster wall exemplifies this perfectly. The grandeur merits myriad cold, lavish adjectives. By contrast, the small model made by miners receives a distinct lack of adjectives, but the warmth in (and when was ‘w’ more effectively used) the phrase he chooses, well worked in wood, is palpable. It is not primarily a statement on the relative merits of the craftsmanship on display, but the honest endeavour of those who do not have the means to be loud. When he contemplates what would be revolutionary, it’s not of the ‘pull the palaces and parliaments down’ variety, but universal courtesy that comes to his mind. He is right; though not often referred to nowadays, courtesy between all would indeed eliminate most of the injustices we live with.
Another seldom mentioned virtue, gentleness, appears regularly in his poetry; a virtue that manifests itself in the daily transactions between individuals.
If love is the greatest reality
and I believe it is,
the gentle are more real
than the violent or than
those like me who
long for gentleness,
but never in our own act
achieve true gentleness.
We fall in love with people
we consider gentle,
we love them violently
for their gentleness” (from Into their true gentleness)
His gentle spirit suffuses not only the subject matter of many of his poems e.g. regarding the raw-looking hand in All The Old Gems but also in the expression of his subject matter as in Legend:
The Russian word for beautiful
is the Russian word for red.
The Chinese word for silk
is the Chinese word for love.
Beautiful red silk love.
Silk isn’t always red -
is love always beautiful?
When you are with me,
even in his choice of writing style e.g. the softness of the prose style adopted in A True Story of Art and Friendship.
His eye for the small detail: a snowflake in a web, a dandelion recalling a yellow fire, a wooden stile, enables him to reach the heart of poetry as a listener for the bass line in music reaches into the middle of the tune. Who else would ask,
Would unspent matches
lightly driven against
the handle of a silver spoon
make a different sound?
This after hearing the sound of spent matches touching the handle of a silver spoon in the poem Koan.
The last poem in Pearse Hutchinson’s Collected Poems is River. A girl plucks a flower and walks to the river outside the town,
She stood for a minute, watching the water move,
Then bending down she placed - not cast -
The flower on the water.
This last image might well be his poetry.