School of Instructions: A Poem

Farrar. Nov. 2023. 112p. ISBN 9780374610265. $26. POETRY
Hutchinson (House of Lords and Commons) doesn’t lack for ambition with this collection-length poem detailing the dual narratives of volunteer West Indian soldiers in the British regiments in World War I’s Middle East theater and a dub-loving boy named Godspeed growing up in 1990s Jamaica. The poet weaves language that alternates between the lean and lyrical and offers a study in the cyclicity of history and the persistence of colonialism, particularly the way young men are sacrificed in service of the empire’s endurance. The immensity of the past and the finitude of the present are layered to create a haunting portrait of a specific humanity, and through it all, Hutchinson lacquers his poetry in Biblical allusion and reference, lending the text the same impression of mythic storytelling. It reflects the tragic contours of post-WWI British poetry in mourning the loss of youth, while relying on its essential dichotomy to also document the life of young people: “Archie Comics lit up by his jam jar of blinky blink fireflies.” For all its strength, this is an undeniably dense work and something of a structural pretzel, rewarding—and perhaps even requiring—multiple clear-eyed reads.
VERDICT For patient, attentive readers, Hutchinson delivers a spoil of linguistic, philosophical, and spiritual riches.
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