Listening to Bach


Pearse Hutchinson

Also available as an ebook





'Pearse Hutchinson’s poems have long been recognized as unique, for their lively, learned, humane framing of experience, and for their urgent and communicative language. They are redolent of his personality: of a life lived wide awake and in many places, of a mind adventurous and well equipped that engaged above all with the truth of things as they happen. The reader who knows his work will relish the characteristic clarity and vigour of the style, the range of perspectives on life from the historic to the exotic to the homely, the occasional levitation and the passionate insights.

'But Listening to Bach has a special impact. Pearse Hutchinson in this final collection places a whole era in an alternative frame, an insistently personal narrative. He looks back over a long and unconventional career to celebrate his discoveries: of places, languages, friendships, long loves, special encounters, of solitude and family, from childhood to the coming of age and illness, confronted with gallantry and an abiding delight in the world.'

— Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin


. . . This posthumous collection takes us back to [Pearse’s] tough working class childhood.
He pays tribute to his mother’s care (‘but for her, often enough, / we might have gone hungry / me an’ him’ ‘But for Her’) but also shows the relationship was not without conflict: ‘back in my early twenties / standing in the kitchen / squaring up to my mother’ (‘Anna Bligh’). His description of his first experience of love captures the innocent humanity that could be occasionally found in the forties when homosexuality was still well under wraps. He tells the rather endearing tale of his mother’s one and only accidental morning encounter with one of his lovers, Maurice in ‘What a Young Man Said to My Mother’. He notes first of all: ‘she was intelligent, she was charming, she was the best company, but she was also deeply puritanical’. From here he hears Maurice and his mother ‘amicably conversing’ before the shock mix of pleasure and horror at Maurice’s words: ‘Mrs Hutchinson, one kiss from Pearse’s mouth means more to me than all the women in the world.’ Hutchinson then undercuts the mother’s natural warmth with the stark conclusion: ‘My mother and Maurice never met again.’ The collection is filled with similar examples of the older generation’s way of seeing and not seeing what is before their eyes . . .

Throughout, Hutchinson records little moments of connection whether it be his acceptance of an apple from a ‘tinker’ in spite of his hatred of the fruit, or a man who lends him money to catch a train and then lies about where Hutchinson can pay back the debt. In the course of these stories he reveals his simple pleasure in the world that he sees, particularly that of sharply defined colours: ‘his hair the exact rich colour / of a redsetter’s coat / than which no red could be lovelier’ (‘Ruudi in Amsterdam’). This worldview finally comes full circle as in the face of long term illness he can be satisfied by simply living in the moment:

On a warm sunny day in the summer
to still be alive to look out
at the trees and grass and sky
that’s not too bad, he thought,
that’s not too far from heaven.

Hutchinson’s poetry is a faithful recording of the small acts of kindness or heroism that help sustain an optimistic world outlook.

— Belinda Cooke, The North

Year Published: 2014
Details: 72pp
ISBN PBK: 978 1 85235 596 8
ISBN HBK: 978 1 85235 597 5
ISBN ebook: 978 1 85235 617 0

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