I picked up Alexander Hutchison’s collection Scales Dog because I saw he’d spent time in the seventies living and working on Vancouver Island. From 1972-1974 I was across the Georgia Strait from that island, studying with the incomparable George McWhirter in the University of British Columbia’s MFA program. And my last name, like this poet’s, proudly goes forth into the world with no “n” in the middle. Are there really better reasons for buying a book?
Among the many pleasures to be had from Alexander Hutchison’s poems is their openness to the most resonant, redolent old words, which make his language rich and strange as haggis:
The Death of Odinn
Ominnis hegri heitir*
The skerry stark, the sky
black-lead, the land’s life
buckled hard in ice
nine days then hung
nine darks hung ganched
hung deadly down
the gallows lord
horseman high in the thudding wind
the deep-tap tree a skittish ride
nine days nine darks
his own blind offering
wergild for the father fell
hovering for wits of men
nine darks swept down
howling at the root of light
rendering the deepest dark
more bitter than death
between his teeth
nine mighty songs
and the life to come
The skerry stark
the sky black-lead
word flows on word like water
heart buoyant as a bird
and each thing done
built up from seed
to deep-tap tree.
* “A bird of Unmindfulness,” from the Old Norse poem “Hávamál (The Sayings of the High One),” a poem collected in The Elder Edda (see page 65 here).
Verbal resourcefulness also serves this poet when he turns to satirical humor:
Excuse Me for Saying So
But you look like Tuesday
was payday, and Monday had never
come. Like your backside has been slung
out the window for the last half hour.
Like you just met your wife and overtime
arm in arm. Like the car keys are in your golf
bag and the golf bag’s in the river. Like your
plumber’s helper just got pulled in by the police.
Aye, and you look like your nose was stripped
and varnished by mistake. Like crowdie was called
for, and mousetrap is all there is. Like someone
put the polish to your socks and not your shoes.
Like the cat crept under your duvet and farted.
Like somebody coughed in your soup.
All in all, Alexander leaves me wishing I could write nearly as well!