Sandra Lynn Hutchison grew up in Toronto, Canada, and was one of five children born to psychologist parents with interests ranging from behavior modification to forensics.
She describes her family as having moderate socialist leanings, and she pursued this interest as a Killam Postdoctoral Fellow, when she researched the literary leftwing movement of the 1930s in Canada.
Hutchison herself does not embrace the communist idea of radical social change, but believes, rather, that “change should be achieved gradually, through education.”
Social transformation, she asserts, must come from “deeply imagined individual vision.”
She and her husband, Richard Hollinger, practice the Bahá'í Faith. note to editor: accents over the second a and the i] Since moving to Maine over a decade ago, they have become involved in various forms of environmental activism, including organizing a transition town movement in their home town called Sustainable Orono.
After completing her doctoral dissertation, a literary biography of Canadian poet Dorothy Livesay, at the University of Toronto, Hutchison went to China to teach English Literature. From her contact with Livesay, she learned “how to live a writing life… how to be a poet.”“If you’re going to be a writer,” she recalls Livesay telling her, “you have to have ‘experience.’”
Going to China in 1988 “was the most radical break I could make,” she says. She went to a “very remote place” where she was “one of 10 westerners in a city of four million people.” During her year in China, she witnessed the political upheaval that culminated in the Tianamen Uprising.
Her first book Chinese Brushstrokes (Turntone Press, Winnipeg, 1996 ) is a memoir of her time in China.
Soon after moving to Maine, Hutchison met poet and publisher Constance Hunting, who encouraged her to publish her poetry. In 2008, Hutchison’s first book of poetry, The Art of Nesting, (GR Books, Oxford, England) appeared .
Hutchison recalls discovering her first poem at the age of 9 or 10 when she came upon one of her mother’s college textbooks. She considers her reading at that time of “Cherry Ripe” by Thomas Campion, a 16 th century poet, her first serious introduction to poetry.
Her mother often quoted lines from the poetry of Emily Dickinson, such as “There is no frigate like a book…,” and early on Hutchison experienced “a sense of joy in the rhythm and sound of words.”
Although Hutchison has written poetry throughout her life, it was not until the last decade or so that she began to “practice the art of poetry on a daily basis.”
Hutchison has worked has a journalist, a researcher, and an editor, but for most of her career, she has taught English Literature, with a focus on modern and contemporary poetry.
“People have to be educated as readers,” she believes, “if they are to understand the literature that forms the basis of our culture.” There is a difference, she says, between “high art” and “popular art…and my training has taught me to believe in that distinction.”
The poem, according to Hutchison, is a vessel, the making of which requires skill and craft if it is to contain the substance of a poem. “Art has to come from a completely different place than politics,” she says. “One cannot use poetry as a platform.”
“Poetry,” she believes, “comes from a place of meditation -- a place where spirit and matter meet -- and is not that different from prayer.”
“I enjoy experimenting with the formal elements of lyric poetry,” she says. She is also interested in exploring the relationship between poetry and history, as in the poems she recently wrote about the children who went to sea with their parents in the days of Maine’s sailing ships. (Summer/Fall 2010 issue of Puckerbrush Review ) Much of Hutchison’s poetry is concerned with family relationships and with the natural world.
Hutchison teaches English Literature and serves as the Maine Studies Research Associate at the University of Maine. She is also the poetry editor of Puckerbrush Review, which was founded by Constance Hunting and is now edited by Sandy Phippen .
Her editorial work, she says, helps her to develop “the craft and skill to become a better poet.”
She considers the writing of poetry to be “a long apprenticeship, one that takes a lifetime.” Rather than saying “I am a poet,” Hutchison prefers, as her mentor Constance Hunting did, simply to say, “I write poetry.”
In the house, where you were very small,
a baby almost, we collapsed on the couch,
and you nursed hard as the moon rose.
Wrapped in its mute light, sweet blanket
of nothingness, we fell asleep
as it wobbled in its elliptical course
across the roof of our cape, a rented house
out in the country in Maine, the year
your father was gone so often
and alone in the house we baked stars,
drew the firmament, kept time
by heavenly bodies,
watched one stumble and fall down
on one side of our waking
then rise on the other.
Seeds are not all she is after
but the warm thrust of germination,
the heat of the push up out of the earth.
Knowledge of winter is essential,
its tidal surges of despair,
the ebb and flow of ordinary grief.
It’s not a song and the poet
knows it. The word sprouts,
is hibiscus in spring, sends out
its scent, less fragrance
than call to do or not do
the digging and planting required.
Solitary? Not in a crowd
but never alone.
The plant’s kingdom stands forever,
this exuberant body of green.
dwelling place, temple, home
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