Ishion Hutchinson was born in Port Antonio in Jamaica. He has published two collections to date: Far District (2010) and House of Lords and Commons (2016). His work has been honoured with a number of awards, including a 2017 Guggenheim Fellowship, the PEN/Joyce Osterweil Award for Poetry, a Whiting Award and the Larry Levis Prize from the Academy of American Poets. Hutchinson, who earned a BA at the University of the West Indies, an MFA at New York University, and a PhD at the University of Utah, lives in Ithaca, New York, where he is an assistant professor in the faculty of English at Cornell University.
In his poems, Hutchinson frequently returns to Jamaica, his country of origin. In the wake of the great Derek Walcott, of whom he is an admirer, he tries to "recreate his old Caribbean home" in his poetry, as he himself once put it, while making it quite clear that this is an uncomfortable and problematic place. In the poem 'After the Hurricane' he conjures up for us the misery of destitute Jamaicans who, after natural disaster struck, were then ignored by the white-helmeted inspectors who duly noted the storm's effects on nature, and that the expensive and solidly-built villas in the park remain unscathed.
It is no surprise that he is inspired by reggae, the musical tradition of the Jamaican people. The poet needs this music to survive, or at least that is the impression we get on reading the poem 'The Ark by "Scratch"' where he characterises himself as "Myself is a vanishing conch shell speeding round / a discothèque at the embassy of angels". Here the angels are most likely dead pop stars.
But Hutchinson is also an intellectual, the talented student who managed to break away from the island and obtain a position in the United States. It could be said that as an intellectual, he tries to bring his two worlds together: the world of his youth, of poor, tormented Jamaica, and the world of classical art, literature and philosophy. It is therefore no surprise that in addition to a certain narrative simplicity – the language of an obvious commitment to and honest solidarity with the outcasts of his home country – you find in his work a layered Hermeticism, the language of the university-educated professor. In some verses we see these two worlds coming together, for example in that splendid, pulsating poem 'Sibelius and Marley', in which he declares that their "music dismantles history".
Far District, Peepal Tree, Leeds, 2010
House of Lords and Commons, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2016