Postscripts: John C. Zacharis Award Winner Susan Hutton
Miscellaneous Notes—Winter 2008–09
John C. Zacharis Award Ploughshares is pleased to present Susan Hutton with the eighteenth annual John C. Zacharis First Book Award for her poetry collection On the Vanishing of Large Creatures (Carnegie-Mellon, 2007). The $1,500 award, which is named after Emerson College's former president, honors the best debut book by a Ploughshares writer, alternating annually between poetry and fiction.
This year's judge was John Skoyles, the Poetry Editor of Ploughshares. In choosing the collection, Skoyles said: "Although the speaker in one poem in this collection asserts that 'we know / so little of the lives around us,' the poems in On the Vanishing of Large Creatures, seem to have an x-ray vision, at once probing and respectful, into those lives. Throughout this book, moments, habits, relationships and objects are illuminated in such a way as to make the reader do a double-take, to reevaluate and appreciate the overlooked, the taken for granted. The accomplishment of Susan Hutton's beautifully written first volume is that it leaves the reader grateful and renewed, content to have come this far, and to recognize that we stand at the head of a trail of relics that make up our lives."
Susan Hutton's poems have appeared in many magazines, including Poetry, FIELD, Crazyhorse, DoubleTake, The New England Review, and The Alaska Quarterly Review, and have been reprinted in Poetry Daily and Verse Daily. She has received a Wallace Stegner Fellowship, and has served as the associate publisher at Autumn House Press in Pittsburgh.
Hutton was born in Buffalo, New York in December, 1969, but she spent her childhood and early adult life in and around Detroit, Michigan. After high school, Hutton attended Kalamazoo College, and later received her M.F. A. from the University of Michigan, where she studied with Linda Gregerson, David Baker, and Larry Goldstein. "My story," she says, "is the usual one for a writer. I was a dreamy, goofy kid who learned to read at a young age and started writing soon after. An embarrassing amount of that writing has survived, particularly the poems in praise of cats, which I keep locked away with my junior-high yearbooks. (The poems, not the cats.)"
Like many writers, her professional life has taken a circuitous route, from a stint at a bean sprout factory in Kalamazoo ("My boss paid us half-time to sleep between the racks of drying sprouts because she thought our sleeping states projected peaceful vibes that the sprouts then absorbed."), to working at Microsoft, and owning her own web design and marketing company in Seattle. Through it all, the city of Detroit kept a grip on her imagination. "It was a key character in my childhood," Hutton says, "and I find, in retrospect, it played a huge part in the way I learned to think. The Detroit of my childhood was massive and devastating and empty; it was obvious that something had gone terribly awry. Trees grew through burned-out houses, block after block was deserted, and drapes fluttered from the busted skyscraper windows. Because the evidence of everything that had happened was still there to observe, it seemed that with enough patience and care and thought, you might wend your way back through the spread of the shattered city and, after piecing it all together, discover something about the origins of the devastation, and in some way begin, if not to make sense of it, at least to describe it."
Eventually, this impulse to gather and catalogue became, Hutton explains, "a way of working poetically." About On the Vanishing of Large Creatures, she says: "Many of the poems are written from snippets in my journal, which is filled, like any journal, with things I've noticed or thought about or read-facts about the natural world, oddball figures or occurrences, whatever has happened to grab my attention. Most of these little snippets are just curiosities, but after they'd lived so long in my journal—for years, I mean—some of them offered themselves to me as metaphors or, as it were, ways of thinking about something else. A barn in England, the first balloonist, the Lumiere brothers, my grandfather's funny old hunting jacket—all these curiosities became so familiar to me that I began to use them as ways of looking at the more everyday world around me. It is a semi-backwards method, I guess; but it accounts for the juxtaposition of story and factoid in these poems, juxtapositions that felt very natural and clarifying, as though I had at last found uses for the old thingamabobs that had lived forever on that shelf in the basement. That's where that goes, I would think, as another poem made itself known to me. My children were very young when I was writing the poems in the book. I started marking pages with index tabs so I could see the way my ideas evolved, and I built them from post-it notes I arranged above the diaper-changing table."
After a ten-year hiatus, Hutton returned to Ann Arbor, Michigan in 2006 where she lives with her husband and their seven-year-old twins. She is the Director of Development for the Leslie Science and Nature Center, an environmental education nonprofit.
Volunteers and Trustees We would like to thank our volunteer readers and interns, who are listed on the second page of the masthead, for their generous efforts. Our thanks, too, to our trustees for their support: Marillyn Zacharis, Jacqueline Liebergott, DeWitt Henry, Helene Atwan, William H. Berman, Robert E. Courtemanche, Tim Huggins, Grafton Nunes, Janet Silver, and John Skoyles.
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