I recently picked up a copy of Joseph Hutchison‘s The Rain at Midnight. The poems in this collection are divided into five sections. The first three sections are about failure, fear, and flaws. In these sections, Hutchison takes the reader on a journey of failures–realtionalt, sexual, personal, interpersonal, etc. He does a fantastic job of bringing to light the human ability to corrupt and destroy. Throughout, theres seems to be a search for some sort of catharsis, whether personal, physical, or spiritual.
The final two sections, titled “The Eye’s Reach” and “Brightness and Shadow” encompass what I believe to be Hutchison’s greatest strenght as a poet: synthesized antithesis. Antitheses are opposites, suggested in the fifth section title mentioned about. Brightness and shadows are opposites, but Hutchison unifies (synthesizes) them in his work. The title of the collection itself in anithetical, as rain can suggest cleansing, and midnight the darkest part of the day, of one’s life. The poems in this collction are indeed dark. For example, the poem “Radiance” is about a boy sitting in a treehouse flipping through a porn magazine. The boy is thrilled and amuses himself (among other things), which can coincide with the title of radiance. The antithesis settles in with the last lines of the poem where the boy “laughed in delight / because of the radiance, and wept / as well because he could feel / the bleeding in his mind.” Not only does the reader partake in the boy’s thrill, but there is also damage done, images burned into the boy’s mind, suggesting more to the story, something almost damning. So in this instance, Radiance, an assumed positive word, takes on negative and damaging conotations.
Another example is “What I Know,” a sureal poem where the speaker is both wrestling with sleep and standing outside of himself watching. The speaker, watching himself try to sleep, states:
Why, I wonder, can’t my knowledge
comfort him? After all, he is me
and suffers only because he refuses
to see me standing in the dark
with what I know
Here the antithesis is the self, knowing the truth of a situation but failing to admit it or face it. The fact that this takes place in the night suggests more suffering, and the idea of rain is infused by the lines “The pillow will be / damp and cold, but sleep will come” in the early morning.
The final example I’ll share (I don’t want to ruin or explain away the entire book. Come on, get it and read it for yourself!) is a poem titled “Palimpsest”:
He caught sight of some letters
scraped into the cottonwood’s trunk
and stopped to read. But the scars
had almost healed into the bark.
Lovers, he mused, touching them.
Blur upon blur. The savage erasures.
What is savage in this poem? Love? The pain of love? Time? Nature? There is a brief moment of joy in this poem, but then it is saddened with either time or perception (maybe both). So love here means two opposite things.
Through the course of this collection, Hutchison reveals that as humans we mess up, we are afraid, we are flawed. I sense a desire for reconciliation, for peace, for some sort of catharsis from some sort of rain in our midnights. Is life itself an elongated midnght? Is rain a reality or a pipe dream? Hutchison seems to leave those answers up to the reader.