Sandeep Parmar Reviews Ishion Hutchinson’s “House of Lords and Commons”

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In her exquisite review of Ishion Hutchinson’s House of Lords and Commons, Sandeep Parmar refers to his work as charting “new literary territory.” She writes, “Slavery, a dub musician as Noah and memories of a Jamaican childhood inform a collection that subverts history’s grand narratives.” Please read full review at The Guardian; here are excerpts.

In an elegiac essay on the late Caribbean poet Derek Walcott, Ishion Hutchinson recounts finding Walcott’s poem “Landfall, Grenada” in his local library at the age of 16. Reading in the half-light of evening, the budding poet is galvanised by Walcott’s forceful image of the “blown canes”. These revelatory, sharp words are loaded with the violent history of plantation slavery. Indeed, a ubiquity of cane, the sugar trade of empire and transatlantic slavery inform the landscapes of Hutchinson’s second collection, House of Lords and Commons. But they do not define his subject.

Like his first, more autobiographical collection, Far District, published by Peepal Tree, Hutchinson’s second book expands on experiences from his Jamaican childhood. In the opening poem, “Station”, an absent “stranger, father” is greeted by his son, the “Cerberus”-voiced speaker.

I have never found him, wandering

the almond

trees’ shadows, since a virus

disheartened

the palms’ blossoms and mother

gave me the sheaves

in her purse so he would remember

her

and then shaved her head to a nut.

Subverting this quasi-Homeric scene of father-son recognition, the poem poses a set of tantalising questions. What constitutes kin, community and, more broadly, the great and the remembered? How might the nomad, cut loose from home by itinerancy and migration, differ from the returning hero?

As the book’s title suggests, the poems here concern themselves with major and marginal figures, often drawn together in a map of western cultural dominance. From the dub musician and producer, Lee “Scratch” Perry, to Jamaican environmentalist and journalist John Maxwell, to a besieged rum shopkeeper, Fitzy, or a boy entrusted with a prized schoolhouse atlas, these dramatic lyric portraits divert our attention from individual lives to the structural power that frames them.

“The Ark by ‘Scratch’” recasts the musician as Noah whose “genie says build a studio”. In the poem, Perry’s 1970s studio the Black Ark is a site for the re-cataloguing of creation. The politics of race and resistance reify the “I” who upends the order of god’s kingdom. [. . .]

For full review, see https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/dec/09/house-lords-commons-ishion-hutchinson-review

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