Poet. An appreciation

Born: October 20, 1943;

Died: November 22, 2015

WHEN the poet Alexander Hutchison, who has died aged 72, sat his eleven plus he had the highest IQ in Banffshire that year. News of the child was sent for. As a schoolboy he ran the butcher’s round and spent a summer learning the perfect art of painting and decorating. "Preparation is the key." He received blues for winning javelin throwing championships, for Aberdeen University. In football, his creative, forward-thinking play was well received on both sides of the Atlantic, up to and beyond his 70th birthday. While he preferred to set others up, he scored frequently with his head. From distance? It wouldn’t be the first time.

His extraordinary poetry, steeped in Celtic Christianity, the sagas, the great mythologies, in astronomy, zoology and history, brought worldwide acclaim. His first collection, Deep Tap Tree, was published in 1978 by University of Massachusetts Press. It remains in print. No less a reader than Michael Oondaatje opined of Scales’ Dog, ‘I dug that dog’. “Scales dog was buried with the Pharaohs, with the Aztecs; draws social?security from 14 countries; travels with his blanket; throws up on the rug; has a galaxy named after him;”

After a short illness, on Sunday the 22nd of November 2015 as first light filled his home in Langside, Alexander’s magnificent and seemingly boundless spirit was called back. It is a miracle there was ever a body to sustain it.

As news broke, spontaneous Sandy sharing erupted, of his work, and the love he freely inspired and gave. Three poems dominated - Incantation, Everything, and Gavia Stellata. Poems which reach beyond language, beyond human life to deep truths and mysteries. To write one of these treasures could be mistaken for talent. To pen all three, more like genius.

As the shock softened, stories bubbled up, as they will for years. Richie McAffrey shared Sandy’s beloved story of his visit to London with his daughter, Lucy, and his English Lit Honours tutor from Aberdeen. They had been walking and his teacher said William Blake was buried nearby. Sandy’s response was "You are taking me to the grave of William Blake? Don't be surprised, then, if I fall on my knees and burst into tears'."

Having done so, a visitor to Defoe’s nearby grave who had never read Blake avowed he must. With Sandy and Lois’s guidance, he went off to do so.

On his return to Scotland, he married Meg Stiven, co-inventor of the vegetarian haggis, yogi, midwife, and healer - with whom he raised Max and Lucy, flourishing in international law and musical drama. One of Sandy’s final appearances was to give a eulogy for Meg’s mother, Tessa Ransford. Tessa devoted her life to Scottish poetry, and was the founder of the Scottish Poetry Library and of Scottish Pamphlet Poetry. ?As well as Deep Tap Tree, Alexander published The Moon Calf (Galliard, 1990) and Carbon Atom (Link-Light, 2006). Melodic Cells, an interview with Hutchison conducted by Andrew Duncan appears in Don't Start Me Talking: Interviews with Contemporary Poets. (Salt: Cambridge, 2006). Salt also published Scales Dog: New and Selected Poems in 2007 and Bones & Breath (2013), which won the Saltire Award for Scottish Poetry Book of the Year in 2014. Tardigrade, a letter to humanity from the near indestructible microscopic water bear, appeared from Perjink in 2013.?He held an MA in English Literature from the University of Aberdeen, a PhD from Northwestern University on Roethke and was awarded an Academy of American Poets prize in 1970. He taught English Literature for the University of Victoria between 1966 and 1984. He worked in Education and Staff Development at the University of Paisley until his well deserved retirement. Thereafter he was Royal Literary Fellow of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland between 2010 and 2012.

His poetry was translated at length into Italian by Alessandro Valenzissi, and just a few days before his death he rejoiced in copies of Gavia Stellata, a bilingual edition of his poetry translated into Spanish by Juana Adcock. His translations into Scots include Catullus, 1984 and Ernesto Cardenal, 2015. He has brought his poetry to audiences across the United Kingdom and North America, as well as Ireland, Montenegro, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Sicily, Amsterdam and Nicaragua. For St Mungo’s Mirrorball he was a Clydebuilt mentor and boy did he sail.?Today Scotland bids farewell to this greatest of sons. He leaves behind a poetry so rich we will be counting it long after we have followed him back. He lived a life full of courage, conviction and kindness. We must all find these qualities in ourselves, and those around us.

From Tardigrade: “Bring everything to bear in the white flare light and, believe me, large nothingness, what’s yours won’t go by you.”