On the Vanishing of Large Creatures
Susan Hutton
Carnegie Mellon University Press$14.95 (paper)

“Time passes, and this is its virtue.” This is how Susan Hutton decribes a young man in the hospital where she gave birth, his brain tumor eating away at his memory, so that he keeps forgetting he is dying. “He had never been there. He had been there all summer.” In her debut collection, Hutton focuses on the fundamental question of history—What part of now will be remembered later?—and shows how people are almost always too close to their own lives to say. In “First Glance,” the Lumi�(r)re Brothers, having made some of the earliest motion pictures, decide there’s no future in this technology, since “people . . . could see the same thing on the street.” And indeed, it’s life’s continuous wave of new experiences that haunts our answers to that question. In “My List,” Hutton notes that one’s sorrow can be “replaced by births, the smell of summer weeds, / a list of little happinesses.” Her list ends with how the Mayflower, after sailing home to Europe, “was dismantled and made into a barn. / No one remembers which barn it was.” Hutton’s poems are plain-spoken and matter-of-fact, consistently quiet, even as they register both the hushed awe of parenthood and the lingering shock of a friend’s suicide. While many poets’ first books house a menagerie of styles, forms, and concerns, Hutton’s brief poems (few stretch past half a page) are tightly unified in both tone and theme. The intensity is well sustained, though what may be missing is variety, a wider range. Still, Hutton’s best poems combine odd angles on familiar bits of history with a nuanced attention to the in-the-moment happenings of her young family. When a friend asks, after her twins’ birth, “Don’t you wonder what they’ll be like?” she answers, “No, I don’t want it to be over.” The question of what will matter, Hutton suggests, is for future generations. For the living, everything matters. Perhaps the best response is to create things that will outlive us, the way “An old man plants an olive grove knowing / it won’t bear fruit for decades.” Or the way people live on through their children, who in turn will have children. “Even at two,” Hutton points out, “my daughter’s hips turn tenderly outward.”