THE ART OF NESTING, by Sandra Hutchison, 2008, George Ronald Publisher, Oxford, England, $19.95.
To a bird, a nest is a natural haven, a place to protect its precious offspring from the fierce onslaughts of life._ In “The Art of Nesting,” a newly released book of poetry written by Sandra Lynn Hutchison, Ph.D., of Orono, the domestic theme of nest building becomes a metaphor for incubating the creative spark within.
“This book of poems reflects almost a decade spent in the Orono area and the landscape of this place,” she said during a recent poetry reading and book signing held at Dirigo Pines Inn, an event sponsored by the Orono Public Library.
In her book’s eloquent title poem, she uses the image of a bird weaving its nest to express the art of writing and living well:
“Work your way inward like this, weaving as you go the softer
materials you may discover as you soar, vigilant, over the budding earth.
The grass must bend. Something that bends isn’t easily broken.”
To Hutchison, who teaches English at the University of Maine, the sheltering theme of a nest also extends to the modest
gray house she shares with her husband, Richard Hollinger, head of special collections at UMaine’s Fogler Library, and their young daughter, Shira.
Most of the intensely layered imagery of her poetry is woven from the living elements of nature — the song of the yellowthroat, the spring flowering of the rhodora, the whirring wings of the dragonfly.
But her celebrations of the natural world possess a different intention from, say, the works of renowned nature poet Gary Snyder, whose Zen leitmotifs and energetic walking rhythms take us into high terrain, particularly in “Mountains and Rivers Without End” (Counterpoint, 1997).
Instead, Hutchison’s exemplary art is achieved through nuanced explorations of the primordial feminine, with its urge to unify the seemingly conflicting tensions of motherhood and career, commitment and freedom. To her, gardening is an occasion to cultivate spirit; the act of giving birth, a liberation.
In “Bog Walk,” one of the strongest poems in the book, we find detailed images of the Orono nature preserve, with its songbirds, trees and wildflowers.
But here, nature is used as a foil to celebrate, gently but probingly, the mystical-instinctual bond of the human family.
“The bog sediments are like layers of primeval history,” she said while introducing the poem inspired by a real-life bog walk she took with her husband and daughter.
“This is where the woman buried her child a thousand years ago,
this is where she kept her fire alive through the night
to warm the others. This is where the man, the one
who came to her with berries and skins, lay with her.”
She warns us: Nature is not all “daffodils and spring” in a bog, “where the carnivorous pitcher plant unfolds its dark design.” Even the red sphagnum moss conjures up the “blood of birth, wine of death.”
But in the natural world, she points out, even decay is sweet, for from it sprouts hints of immortality:
“In death, intimacy abounds,
the sweet odour of peat,
the fresh scent of pine,
all evergreen, evergreen.”
Hutchison is poetry editor of Puckerbrush Review, the longest-published literary journal in Maine. The journal marked its 30th anniversary this past spring. Its primary focus is to launch new writers, but the review also has published works of luminaries such as author Mary McCarthy and poets Philip Booth, Elizabeth Hardwick and the legendary May Sarton.
In part, Hutchison owes a debt, she said, to her close friendship with the late Constance Hunting, founder and former editor of Puckerbrush Review. An Orono poet, Hunting taught creative writing at UMaine for decades and brought a vibrant literary presence to the region.
“She lived around the corner from me,” Hutchison said, as she mused on her mentor’s encouraging influence. “Constance taught me that genuine poetry is given, not made. She showed me how to let go of everything but the writing.”
Born in Toronto, Hutchison has traveled and lived all over the world — in India, China and the Middle East, where she worked as a writer and teacher.
“The transformations we move through in life are never what we expect,” she said.
“The Art of Nesting” is available online at grbooks.com or e-mail the author at email@example.com. For subscription information to Puckerbrush Review, contact: Puckerbrush Press, 76 Main St., Orono 04473, or go to puckerbrushreview.com.
Lynn Ascrizzi is a free-lance writer who lives in Freedom.