FORWARD ARTS FOUNDATION: When did you start writing poetry and what drew you into it?
ISHION HUTCHINSON: Throughout primary school and high school, I wrote for myself in exercise books. The act of writing, the whole primal delight of filling the ruled pages, was the reason I wrote.
But when I went to the sixth form, and around the time I became a more serious reader, I became close to an English teacher who encouraged me to show him my writing. We met often. His way was to really reread slowly to and with me what I had shown him. It was a kind of transcendental encounter, evenings in his backyard. But he also offered me books and I was drawn into the language of these various writers.
Language, then, you could say drew me into poetry; the use of language, firstly. But I believe it is more. To be a poet, is to live up to a strange calling.
FAF: Please talk about your development as a write of poems. Tell us when you first felt you were a poet and how it went from there.
IH: Development is a curious word here. It is useful when thinking about what and how one learns from craft, from the technical structuring of a poem, which is an unending development or evolution, the only way, in terms of language, to improve a poem.
The imagination is another thing entirely. Half of it is in my background, the context in which I grew up, with a significant part of that being the landscape—its elemental power as much as the force of its historical current. In that sense, I first felt I was a poet early in childhood and it became a vocation I followed in high school and ever since. The rest is devotion and luck.
FAF: What does being shortlisted for the Forward Prizes mean for you?
IH: I am immensely honoured. Sure, posterity is the final judge of strong work, but in the meantime, it is always a high privilege to have the recognition of one’s peers.
FAF: Please tell us about the genesis of your shortlisted poem. Is it part of a collection or sequence? Where can a reader find more by you?
IH: I can give you the departure, the exodus, so to speak, of the poem. Certain phrases – the cadence of images – I have been carrying for many years. But the first solid draft came last year after I read a poem called ‘That Place’, by R.S. Thomas, and something blistering and striking in the words ‘To return to after the bitter / Migrations,’ jolted me towards my poem.
The poem is not yet part of a collection and it is not part of a sequence.
FAF: Which poets do you admire most and what do you value in their work?
IH: There are as many poets, of as many languages, as there are poems that I too piously admire to name individually. R.S. Thomas, though, was just named and gives an idea of where I quarry from, work on a granite scale which is rooted in a local intensity. I would also be cautious to reduce their work to one value. All are masters of their craft, that’s for sure, and I see my position, or my duty, as a contemporary is to remember their mastery in my work; it is memory – knowing their work by instinct – which expands whatever personal capacity I have to create actual substance of my own. I would further risk calling this memory love.
FAF: What is next for you as a poet?
IH: As a poet? Composing poems.
FAF: What advice would you give to anyone starting out in poetry today?
IH: Get a great anthology, study it with a well-pointed pencil until you have covered over all the pages.