Alexander Hutchison: blog tour guest post no. 2

hutchison, alexander

Continuing the run of guest posts, as the current Writing Process Blog Tour stops for a while in the halls of Baroque:

Alexander (or Sandy) Hutchison is perhaps a rather under-sung stalwart of contemporary Scottish poetry scene, writing with wit, precision, political fire, and tremendous attention to language in both English and Scots. His poem ‘Mr Scales Walks His Dog’ became a cult classic before being republished by Salt in Scales Dog: New and Selected Poems; his second Salt collection, published last year, is Bones & Breath. (Yet another of the very fine poets now without a – ) (That’s enough – Ed.)

I feel no one is likely to mind if I reproduce one tiny poem here, from Scales Dog, to give a flavour…


‘Foedum’, Tacitus said
the weather was. Well
better the weather foul
than the will
of the people.

Tagged by the estimable AB Jackson, who gave the previous contribution also in guest post form, Mr Hutchison here presents the answers to our blog tour’s four questions:

What am I working on?

I’m casting around at the moment after not doing much new since Bones & Breath came out from Salt last year. Contributed three pieces to Carcanet’s anthology on Lermontov, and little since, or not that I’ve noticed, though the Echo Room did a poem in the issue just out.

I have been trying to finish something I started in Sicily in December 2008 – when we stopped the car to shift a big dead porcupine off the road. Vivid enough event – and always a shimmer of something else going on in that especial landscape – but the final form and significance slow to emerge.

There are a couple of other prompts, one apocalyptic, one spacy and fugitive, which could shape up as poems or sequences. But from past experience, even when I have a few ideas drfiting around, there is little basis to predict what will emerge with any power to move or please. So I have been practicing some songs, keeping alert and exercised, reading a bit, organising and contributing to events.

One coming up soon has a range of musicians – electroacoustic, traditional, fusion, improvisation, some serrated edge – combining with poets and performers in the beautiful Recital Room in City Halls, Glasgow. There may be ‘gallery’ films and other interventions to add some mix, and Mr Scales Dog Band is on the programme; though who will actually turn up under that title and what they might produce is beyond speculation. Though the shade of Bill Monroe was mentioned along with some other dark horse.

How does my work differ from others in its genre? 

Not sure. I use a broad selection of forms and registers in English and Scots – so there is considerable variety, and that can sometimes work against you if people have a fixed preference for one thing or the other. I hear there is a dud or semi-dud review of my last book coming up in Magma – and there is not much you can do about that – people like what they like. Perhaps it will pup a satirical rejoinder – acrostics are very good ad hominem for something like that; but you can’t always expect similar taste, or ear or sensibility. And, as to tone, if people mistake it, or can’t imagine it, through difference in background or inclination, responses are likely to go awry. I don’t have much trouble with that at readings – especially live – but on the page it’s a different story.

Why do I write what I do? 

I write what I do because that’s what comes out of me. I rarely map out or schedule what I seek to achieve, and I don’t follow what’s in vogue – or try not to. My notion of writing poetry has more connection to metaphors like a flowering bush than it does to cupcakes or big game hunting.

‘Raising your sights’ as an injunction from someone not involved in a similar process has little impact because in this dimension I’ll entertain anything on any level that assists creation and the making of what I think is good work. I hope that as many people like it as can do – I do write for ‘everybody’ – but if I don’t write for myself too (yo, Walt Whitman!), reflecting what is truly personal, and through that touch something impersonal, abstract and timeless or absolute, then what I do won’t have any consequence.

How does my writing process work? 

Must be common enough, and maybe standard advice in writing classes, but I used to keep a hard-bound, varying-sized notebook as record and aide memoir; dressed it up with drawings and photos, copied out texts and models by hand, pasted things in, snatches, sketches, apothegms, quotes and snippets of overheard conversation, bits and pieces, just like a bower bird. Occasionally I put in journal entries – especially if travelling – dreams too from time to time.

I still keep notebooks, but much scrappier than before: for most of the early ones I took care with layout and wanted them to be attractive as well as useful. Stashed them away and then would troll through them from time to time, picking out things to prompt new stuff or trigger a fresh dynamic in work ongoing. So for phases my poems were likely to be shifting, composite ‘fields’: operating through montage or similar effects, though I wasn’t always manipulating these things consciously.

It also meant that material gathered from quite different time frames could be worked in together. Sometimes I could see possibilities I hadn’t been able to realise or complete before; sometimes I used earlier fragments as an inlay or decoration; sometimes things chimed, or there was a kinship in mood or, just as often, there was a jump or gleam or auditory switch.

I have always loved catalogue poems, especially those that drove out to the margins, and having a trove of stuff, easily accessed, as a supplement for any ongoing ideas was an obvious advantage.

These days I have been doing some longer sequences; and again have found it best to be patient and let things grow – though the final edits may need to be severe: not just to cut out segments moving too predictably, but to let in some air, lose bulk and make the thing  bud – or lift off entirely.

There is more on this kind of stuff on Alexander Hutchison’s website.

Coming up next: John McCullough.

Previous post:

Next post: