Review of Pearse Hutchinson's Watching the Morning Grow
Essay by Molly Long


In his poetry collection Watching the Morning Grow, Pearse Hutchinson accomplishes the difficult task of using sparse language to create images that are stunningly inventive and unexpected. It is a small collection, containing only thirty-one poems, but it still covers a wide span of complex emotions and ideas. These poems are also characterized by a strong bent for storytelling. Many of them are written in the past tense and contain narrative threads written in plain language calling to mind the style of folktales. He has enough range, though, to effortlessly switch between narrative poems and ones describing small moments and impressions.

The language of Hutchinsonfs poems is almost deceptively simple. In his poem gGaeltacht,h for example, he starts the poem with the lines, gBartley Costello, eighty years old / sat in his silver-grey tweeds on a kitchen chair,h bringing to mind the beginning of a narrative with its straight-forward set-up of the scene. The story stays with Bartley Costello for only two stanzas, switching to another story after he says in Gaelic, pointing to a pint of beer, gThe Gaelic is less than the water in that glass.h This quotation provides an introduction for the next images in the poem, which ultimately shows the conflict between the old, traditional Ireland and the modern one. Hutchinsonfs characterization, put in simple words, captures the characterfs alienation with a bare set of words that provides the poem with its interesting ambiguity.

He plays this trick repeatedly with simple statements, giving his socially conscious poems a spine of complex emotion instead of making them into sentimental propaganda. He deftly inserts humor into some serious, political poems, such as in gThe Jailing of Devlin,h a poem in which he characterizes the men who decided to arrest a woman as fearful and envious of her youth and freedom, and gbecause of her long hair and short skirts.h He ends the poem by barraging the reader with a small set of questions: gWhy should young women / not wear long hair / and short skirts? / Why should young women / not wear trousers? / Why should old men / in antiquated wigs / not wear short skirts?h The image is both humorous and observant; the men are fearful and envious because they choose to be despite having other options.

This kind of presentation of contradiction is one of Hutchinsonfs chief strengths. In the short poem gSometimes Feel,h he uses the image, glike a tree-stump leafing / after the shameful white has darkened over.h The image is full of tension and conflict; even the color white becomes shameful. He also turns a keen eye on himself in the poem, gInto their true gentleness,h in which he writes, gWe fall in love with people / we consider gentle, / we love them violently / for their gentlenessch This abstraction works because of the beauty in the rhythm of its repetitions, which illustrates the poignant contradictions in the type of relationship he describes. These contradictions, painted with plain words arranged perfectly together, are what make the poems in Watching the Morning Grow so startlingly, touchingly human.