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Review: 'House Of Lords And Commons,' Ishion Hutchinson


As 2016 comes to a close, poetry reviewer Tess Taylor has been thinking about one book that's held her imagination this year, a collection by poet Ishion Hutchinson.

TESS TAYLOR, BYLINE: "House Of Lords And Commons" was one of my favorite books this year. It is ragged and fiercely beautiful. Its double-edged language is both inviting and unsettling. Tracing the landscapes of memory, childhood and his native Jamaica, Hutchinson's poems are the skeins a thinker makes of trouble, of inequality, of global travel, of lost time. Hutchinson's got a gift for syntax. Many of his poems string a single, side-winding sentence into a shimmering thread that shuttles between the present and the past, the haves and the have nots, outrage and beauty.

In a poem about cane workers called "Fitzy And The Revolution," Hutchinson writes, (reading)

Cane cutters who filed their spines against the sun bringing down great walls of cane. Every year the same men, different cane. And when different men, the same cane.

Poetry compresses witness, and soon Hutchinson turns his razor-sharp gaze on a nearby fortress where a character called the Minister of All cannot sleep.

(Reading) The flag stiffened on the embassy building but did not fall when the machine guns flared and reminded that stars were inside the decrepit towns, in shanty zinc holes, staring at the fixed constellation.

These poems are lighthouse beams that concentrate equal parts fervor and anger. It's a kind of concentration we might all wish for as we each try to name the world we come from and look for the world we want to see next.

I became a thicket of ears, Hutchinson writes. And listening to him, we do, too.

SHAPIRO: That was poetry reviewer Tess Taylor on the book "House Of Lords And Commons." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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