School of Instructions: A Poem (Hardcover)
A stunning memorial work that excavates the forgotten experience of West Indian soldiers during World War I.
Deep-dyed in language both sensuous and biblical, Ishion Hutchinson's School of Instructions memorializes the experience of West Indian soldiers volunteering in British regiments in the Middle East during World War I. The poem narrates the psychic and physical terrors of these young Black fighters in as they struggle against the colonial power they served; their story overlaps with that of Godspeed, a schoolboy living in rural Jamaica of the 1990s. This visionary collision, in which the horizontal, documentary shape of the narrative is interrupted by sudden lyric effusions, unsettles both time and event, mapping great moments of heroism onto the trials of everyday existence It reshapes grand gestures of heroism in a music of supple, vigilant intensity.
Elegiac, epochal and lyrical, School of Instructions confronts the legacy of imperial silencing and weaves shards of remembrance—"your word mass / your mix match / your jamming of elements"—into a unique form of survival. It is a masterpiece of imaginative recuperation by a poet of prodigious gifts.
Named a Best Book of 2023 by Financial Times, Library Journal, The New Statesman, The Telegraph, and The Washington Post
"Hutchinson is the most verbally gifted of the younger poets now reaching maturity. . . but the writing is charged with a passion rare since the salad days of Geoffrey Hill. . . Hutchinson can hardly write a line without charging it with gunpowder . . . I’d give up whole books by many poets for Hutchinson’s lines." —William Logan, New Criterion
"Hutchinson decolonizes the epic in this chronicle of West Indian soldiers . . . Interwoven with episodes from the life of a Jamaican schoolboy in the 1990s named Godspeed, these soldiers’ histories contribute a new chapter to the story of modern poetry." —Srikanth Reddy, The Washington Post
"One of the signature strengths of Hutchinson’s work has been his willingness to ransack literature or forms and diction . . . Drawing from the long tradition of colonists and their language to document the exploits of exploited Jamaican volunteers to the British Imperial cause, Hutchinson makes space for the people his poem memorializes. Sounding the tradition, he makes it free and remixes the elements, putting everything in service to his own shining ends." —Michael Autrey, Booklist (Starred Review)
"What Hutchinson recovers of these soldiers, then, is not some imagined specificity of their individual characters and traits, but rather the way in which their wounds, lives, and deaths persist . . . and it is Hutchinson’s caution and the respect with which he approaches his subject—never cheating, never pretending to know more than he does, while nonetheless never able to believe his subjects truly disappeared into oblivion—that allows us to feel viscerally that strange entwining of the forgotten dead and the present." —Phil Klay, Commonweal
"A virtuosic dance between memory and forgetting, distant tragedy and personal grief." —Leila Greening, The Arts Desk
"[A] potent, memorializing third collection . . . Hutchinson adeptly blends time and events to create a lexically rich, glintingly lyric set of counterpoints. . . These vigorous poems are an epitaph for overlooked combatants and a way of honoring the long shadows cast by a post-colonial inheritance." —Publishers Weekly
"Ishion Hutchinson’s School of Instructions defies category—not with philosophy or doctrine, but through illuminating imagery and pace. And, here, the reader must be ready to engage a deeper truth this work brings to light, which seems to be asking through innuendo, Were Jamaican troops fighting in the Middle East during the First World War silenced? What at first may seem symbolic and totemic grows into a profound language embodying a rhythm that is cultural and personal. The subtle details—the officers are British and the Caribbean soldiers, low-ranking fodder dying in the name of the crown—become haunting brushstrokes on a tonal canvas. This poet shows how a sense of place travels as images of home and voices in the head and heart; dreams of the Caribbean Sea become overlays upon maps of sandy battlefields. Such realities are embedded throughout School of Instructions, and in this sense the title is the first trope of irony in a masterful work." —Yusef Komunyakaa, author of Everyday Mojo Songs of Earth
"Ishion Hutchinson draws on all the conventions of epic—the proper names and epitaphs, the lists, the materiel, the violence—only to undo them. Instead he reveals the striking language and singular consciousness of his protagonists as they make their way through an ancient landscape they already know as shaped by eternity. By its end, this moving, humane, long poem floods the reader with a sense of their living presence and destiny." —Susan Stewart, author of The Ruins Lesson: Meaning and Material in Western Culture
“‘Source of echo/madman of prophecies,’ chants the over-voice in Ishion Hutchinson’s majestic School of Instructions. That’s how this lyric-epic works, picking up signals from the Bible, Blake, David Jones’s In Parenthesis, Geoffrey Hill, and Jamaican dub music. To honor the West Indian soldiers who fought for England in the Great War, Hutchinson splices the memory of the Black soldiers into the story of Godspeed, his modern Jamaican ‘boyself’ enduring thrashings at his ‘school of instructions.’ With this radical poem, Hutchinson leaps into the ranks of the visionary company.” —Rosanna Warren, author of So Forth
"School of Instructions is poetry on a larger scale than we are accustomed to, echoing the scope of David Jones’s In Parenthesis and the verbal intensity of Geoffrey Hill and Derek Walcott. Hutchinson seizes our attention with the drama a little-known campaign in the Great War and never lets go, through intimacy with an individual named Godspeed. The work unfolds in counterpoint with memories of Jamaica and allusions to classic literature and the Bible, giving us a view of cataclysmic history from ground level, in a voice that soars and repeats and advances like the finest music." —Robert Morgan, author of In the Snowbird Mountain and Other Stories