Laurence Hutchman

How did you conceive your first book?

At twenty-five I published my first chapbook, The Twilight Kingdom, in the Killaly Chapbook Series. The title was influenced by T.S. Eliot’s phrase “death’s other kingdom” from “The Hollow Men.” It contained lyrical poems in which I tried to capture the essence of certain scenes or moments. Several poems were based on my trips to Ireland, the country where I was born, as well as Holland; love poems, and an anti-Vietnam war poem. In Montreal, I visited Louis Dudek at McGill and brought him my chapbook. After reading several pages, he decided to publish my book. Explorations appeared not long afterwards. One of the poems “Lifeguard” was liked by Al Purdy so much that he decided to include it in his anthology Storm Warning 2.

In pushing your work beyond your first title, what were you most conscious of? What were you or are you trying to achieve?

I was trying to move toward a larger objective sense of reality and away from the personal lyric in hope of fully engaging with the world. In my third book Blue Riders, I wrote about the Troubles in Northern Ireland, along with the place of origin and history of my Irish family. Foreign National is concerned with my Dutch family’s experience during World War 2. With my fifth book Emery, I integrated personal poems with the history of the place where I grew up, focusing on stories of the early settlers that went back to Governor John Graves Simcoe.

What writers (or artists in other forms/media) have been formative in shaping how you write? How?

After a track injury in grade 12, I started to read more intensively. I remember that after reading Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, I decided that I wanted to become a writer. At that time, the writers influencing me were T.S. Eliot, W. B. Yeats, and Dylan Thomas. I was fascinated with the musicality of their poems. I also discovered Canadian poets like Layton, Cohen, Purdy, and Atwood. I was particularly drawn to Al Purdy’s exploration of geography and history. In addition, I started reading contemporary American poets such as Ginsberg, Duncan, and O’ Hara. I was interested in their experimentation with form and language.

What was the most satisfying aspect of your recently completed work?

My most recent book is Swimming Toward the Sun Collected Poems: 1968-2020. For this special collection, I chose poems that were epitomized in various books. Since they were written over the period of many years, they represent different stages of my life. They are also a record of the events that I witnessed and experienced. It was satisfying to see how my aesthetics slowly evolved in selecting the subject matter of my poems, as well as my approach to various styles of writing. As I developed my writing, I was able to incorporate more ideas, create a wider range of metaphors, as well as express different tonal shifts from one line to the next.

Have you ever collaborated on a writing project with another writer? Or maybe you’ve collaborated with an artist/dancer/musician/actor? Can you share your experience?

My wife, Eva, and I collaborated on our recent book of love poems, Fire and Water. This book was a different type of writing experience because the poems originated from deep personal reflections, emerging from our shared lives. These poems embody a sense of liberation and of finding forms, which synthesize emotions and the imagination. The metaphors, the rhythm of the lines, the atmosphere, are different from what we have written previously. It was a delight to see our poems complementing each other.

What emotions do you associate with writing? Or, differently put, how does writing impact your emotional state?

I have always expressed the strong emotions present in my earliest poems such as “Kaleidoscope” and “A Child’s History of Stamps,” along with the poems originating from specific events. The emotions move through you like a spring. They charge you with their own electricity and excite you during the process of writing. Significantly, emotions help you to discover a flow, a rhythm, and a dynamic movement of lines.   Sometimes this happens when you meet people and listen to their stories as I describe in the poem “The Hockey Game”, where I met a Polish man who had survived life in Siberia. Sometimes painting, a photograph, or a simple object may excite you as in my poem “Spoon”.

What elements/aspects of writing give you pleasure?

First you hear the poem and try to locate its beginning in your thought that originates with an idea and possesses certain music. You have a sense of how the sounds of words go together, feeling their resonance or dissonance, along with feeling how they embody and develop the argument. I love the place when you are aware of the words like the potential strategies of a chess game. You leave the field open–you leave the field open as Duncan and Keats suggest. In the poem anything can happen. It beckons you to listen to the oncoming lines and allow them to take you where they come to you as a feeling of surprise. Yet the greatest surprise is the right ending.

What does the craft of writing mean to you?

Writing is an exploration of the possibilities of one’s life. It’s something that you didn’t know how to access previously. Then the words appear, and you have this almost miraculous apprehension of the lines when the poem develops through the idea of the poem via a fusion of the words. It is the journey not only into the self, but also into one’s family and community. It allows you to enter places of suffering and death, but also places of joy and triumph by capturing something elemental. Yet this is only the beginning. The true shape of the poem comes through hard reworking of the words, images, and lines to give you a final form.

Can you name a source of inspiration before the age of 12 that impacted your writing in some way?

 I would say that my Uncle Herman had a great influence on me. He loved to paint. As a young boy, I would watch him as he painted scenes of Holland: windmills, canals, tulip fields, and turbulent Dutch skies. I loved how he was able to create his world on a canvas. By watching him, I developed a love for art. I was also excited by the works of Monet, Van Gogh, and Kandinsky, so their paintings found their way into my poems. Later, I took painting classes and had a solo exhibition At the Border of Writing and Painting at Galerie Colline in Edmundston, New Brunswick.

Laurence Hutchman grew up in Toronto. He received his PhD from the Université de Montreal and has taught at a number of universities. For twenty-three years he was a professor of English literature at the Université de Moncton at the Edmundston Campus. Hutchman has published 13 books of poetryand has also co-edited the anthology Coastlines: The Poetry of Atlantic Canada and edited In the Writers’ Words. His poetry has received many grants and awards, including the Alden Nowlan Award for Excellence and has been translated into numerous languages. In 2017 he was named poet laureate of Emery, north Toronto.

2 thoughts on “Laurence Hutchman

  1. A very lovely and endearing interview, Laurence. I heard your voice throughout. The warp and weft of your poetry and writing so perfectly comes through. Thanks. I enjoyed this visit with you.


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