May 17, 2011

Ishion Hutchinson Wins Academy of American Poets' Larry Levis Prize

Ishion Hutchinson has won the Academy of American Poets' Larry Levis Prize. Here is a poem from his debut collection, Far District.


Eyesight good for the devil, his kingdom
made out of insects’ parts in a dim room,
a curtain hitched in the window like a tombstone.
Woodworms tick shovels in the crossbeams;
coal-written signs hieroglyphed the wall; the town’s
one necromancer shuffles up and mutters
what his hand touches: a lethal science.
Outside, the house has other warnings: a ram’s
skin, its skull and horns nailed to the doorway.
Vine-choked veranda, root-split steps cut off
by a cesspool – alive and dead in it –
cricket balls and our eyes peering at this dark fortress.
This time I am to fetch it, the last leather
ball to fly over the fence like a black butterfly;
and at that age, oblivion matters, so one boy
at a time is sacrificed. The evening too early
to declare “bad light”, I push my head between
the barbwire, crossing over, laughter like goats.

"Errant" by  Ishion Hutchinson. Far District, Peepal Tree Press, 2010.

Far District explores a journey between worlds: the familiar culture of the rural village, which the poet-speaker feels ambivalent towards, and the world of western learning, the “luminous sea of myth” that the writer has felt shut out of because of physical and intellectual poverty. As the poet’s journey takes him away from home and into the world of books and learning, there comes a new vision of what “home” might offer – a vision that can be represented through memory and the literary imagination.

"In this vivid and affecting first book, Ishion Hutchinson gives us a world in which “everything was about spirits,” where a drowned husband sitting in a “spotted tree… ‘telling me when the mangoes going to fall’” is less strange than a father arriving from a distant country on an airplane. Here, “the moon ownself” is just another local character, like the woodcutter for whom “Is evil how coal burn from black/ to red and the pot of water/ hissing like the wife.” Each description, each character becomes indelible, from the librarian with “hardboiled eyes” who will eventually set fire to the modest library “smacked between the barracks and the rum bars.” to “the ruddy-bellied woman” who “bathes/ at the public stand-pipe” until “clean and black, she shines/ like a new tyre tube.”~Jacqueline Osherow

"Far District is a marvellous book of generous, giving poems. Not only does this collection travel through an abiding language and far-reaching imagery, but it also transports the reader to a complex psychological terrain through a basic honesty and truthfulness. The leap-frogging of borders is executed with an ease that never fails to engage the reader’s mind and body. There’s a playfulness here that’s contagious and, at times, even outrageous in its breathless insinuation through a biting clarity and directness that would have challenged The Great Sparrow. Hutchinson is a young poet who seems to journey wherever his poems take him, and the reader is blessed to accompany him.~Yusef Komunyakaa

About Ishion Hutchinson 

Ishion Hutchinson received his MFA in Poetry from New York University. His work has appeared in the LA Review, Callaloo, Caribbean Review of Books, Poetry International and the chapbook, Bryan’s Bay.


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