Joseph Hutchison: An Imagination with Opposable Thumbs
Joe Hutchison has been Colorado’s Poet Laureate from 2014 to 2019, a role that was first established in 1919. Colorado governors select the poet to fill this position based upon nomination, review and recommendations made through a program administered by Colorado Creative Industries and Colorado Humanities & Center for the Book.
I heard Joe Hutchison read from his poetry at the Denver Women’s Press Club and later at the Denver Public Library as part of National Poetry Month occurring each April. His affable demeaner enhances his approachability as an enthusiastic advocate for poetry. He writes, “Poetry bears repeating because it bears on and bears up what we can’t bear to lose ….” (Poem Beginning with Two Lines by Tom Montag).
Born and raised in Denver, Joe attended the University of Colorado (UNC) in Greeley, planning to become a high school teacher until he took a course from Jim Doyle, whom he describes as a “chain-smoking, blue-suit-wearing man full of nervous energy” and who, unlike Joe’s other professors, did not teach from an anthology but from individual books. Joe’s change in vocation was confirmed when Robert Bly came to the UNC campus and performed his “surrealistic poems” after which, as Joe says, “I was hooked and began reading everything I could get my hand on and writing night after night, my head glowing like a jack-o-lantern at Halloween”. Joe tells his son in a poem that his love for poetry goes back to the cartoon Rocky and Bullwinkle. (from: A Poet Tenders His Apologia in Terms He Hopes His Son Will Understand).
Joe studied creative writing at the University of British Columbia. After returning to Denver, he became a professional writer; however, he always taught on the side to “finance [his] book buying habit” continuing to publish books and his writing in magazines.
He is currently the author of 19 collections of poems with Bed of Coals being the winner of the Colorado Poetry Award. His poems have appeared in over 100 journals and several anthologies. Joe has co-edited three anthologies, including Malala: Poems for Malala Yousafzai with all profits benefiting the Malala Fund for girls’ education worldwide. He currently directs two graduate programs at the University of Denver’s University College: Professional Creative Writing and Arts and Culture Management.
He lives with his wife, Iyengar yoga instructor Melody Madonna, in the mountains southwest of Denver. In his poem Yoga, he laments on the difficulty of coercing a body into a Downward Facing Dog pose, “… Those years in school, outwitting bullies, making grades, escaping into books-didn’t his body bear him like a mule on its back?”
Joe’s poetry invites the reader to notice quiet moments such as in The Books, “On the dark shelves the books are breathing. The moonlight slips between their covers, running bright hands over the yellowed pages. …”.
He has a delft hand with the poet’s tools of metaphor and imagery using straightforward vernacular and an unpretentious clarity addressing a range of emotions and events. He is unsparing when he pierces politics in The Greatest Show on Earth (“…inside the car’s a motley gaggle of eager Armageddonites, ex-CIA think tankers, talk radio megastars, flaks for Big Oil-all playing rock, paper, scissors. …”), unmerciful in eviscerating greed and hypocrisy in The Gulf (“…How sweet to sway under a golden parachute, age 54 …”) and tender when addressing human vulnerability in Good: “I might have gone on with my heart in a pouch, as a little boy hoards his favorite marble”.
In his poem Letter to a New Critic, Joe writes, “I find myself so often squatting in the tight round night of my skull, knocking noun against verb for the sudden spark. I fear my imagination’s not equipped with opposable thumbs.”
After reading his poetry, I think perhaps his imagination is.
*Quotations from Joe Hutchison’s poems are from his books: The World As It Is: New and Selected Poems 1972-2015, The NYQ Books, 2016 and The Satire Lounge, Folded Word, 2015.
On September 28, 2019, Joe Hutchison will be teaching two workshops at the Castle Rock Writers annual conference: #1 The Music of What Happens: Exploring Soundscape and #2 Let Go of What You Mean to Say.
For information on the Castle Rock Writers Conference for this and other workshops that address nonfiction, fiction and children/young adult writing, go to CastleRockWriters.com.
By Susan Rocco-McKeel, J.D., a co-founding member of Castle Rock Writers nonprofit corporation (2012), and board member for The Poetry Society of Colorado, a sponsor of the Castle Rock Writers 2019 Conference.