Image: Alexander Hutchison and August Kleinzahler in 1981 (taken from Hutchison's website: http://www.alexanderhutchison.com/)
The poetry community in Scotland and beyond was saddened and shocked to hear this week of the death of the poet Alexander Hutchison. His friend and fellow poet August Kleinzahler has penned a tribute for the SPL blog.
Alexander Hutchison was a dear friend of mine for 45 years. We first met when he was a young professor at the University of Victoria in 1971 and I was enrolled in a class he taught, something like ‘Problems in American Poetry’. I seem to remember the word ‘problems' was fashionable in academic circles around then. I'm not sure what the problems were or whether they got solved in the end but it was a lively class and young Mr Hutchison was clearly a well-trained scholar with a brilliant, original mind. I recall the class being somewhat combative at times, or at least I was, impatient with the some of the poets we were studying, but he didn't seem to mind too terribly much. In fact, as memory serves, we remained combative, on the tennis courts in Victoria, racing up Mt Tam here in the Bay Area years later, on all sorts of fronts, always sparring, and taking delight in it. And there was always a bottle of Islay Mist at the end of the day to celebrate or console. Even while still in Canada Sandy's Scottish-ness remained undiluted. He put me on to Ayrshire bacon, haggis, kippers, halibut cheeks and fish roe as much as Henryson, Montgomerie, and MacCaig. He dragged me to more than one Burns supper, but it's the first one I remember – if barely.
He played football on a regular basis until a few months before he passed away and never forgave me for a crack I made some 40-odd years ago, after attending one of his weekend games, that he ‘lingered around the goal for garbage shots’. He was a fine athlete and, I recall, a star javelin-thrower as a youth. And a brilliant poet with an incandescent word-hoard, fiercely, indelibly Scottish. I aspired in my own work to the sort of heat Sandy was able to generate in a poem, and doubtless fell short, but aspired, regardless. Most everyone did, or does. His work will survive him. It is more singular than almost anyone will know. Then again, he did win the Saltire Prize near the end of his writing life, so someone certainly figured it out. I remember when he called me with the news how considerable his pleasure was. Such recognition was long overdue but it did come in time.
Sandy had a beautiful tenor voice and would sing at occasions, very serious and rather formal in delivery, one traditional Scottish ballad or another. I recall him visiting my family in New Jersey when I wasn't there and utterly charming them, catching them completely unaware after dinner with such a performance. Sandy and my father, who took him to McSorley's in Greenwich Village for a beer or two, clearly got on.
I missed Sandy when he moved back to Scotland but we almost always managed to get together when I was that side, and he was so happy with Meg and the children that it was clearly the best decision of his life, moving back and marrying Meg. I envied his happiness with his family, as I envied much else about him. I felt somehow burnished by my every contact with him, and there were many, many, many. But now, as I grieve his passing, not nearly enough, and never to be another . . .