I first found out about Holly Hopkins by attending a ARTNAKED Poetry Session at Library Club in London, where she cut into the awkward silence of a tightly packed room with a mixture of chatting and poetry. For some, it would have offered an opportunity to gain an insight into her work, and for those like me, it inspired a purchase of her pamphlet Soon Every House Will Have One (smith | doorstop, 2014).
She began her reading with the first poem in the collection Offchurch, a poem that sets the scene with a sense of hope, with ‘the wheat… ready for cropping,’ until we are directly addressed in the second stanza with ‘the only time you took the walk with me.’ There is suggestion of something deeper and darker between simple lines, and Hopkins successfully uses her dry delivery to sway between these moments and the more comedic idea of making a fish ‘stand on its tail’.
explore what the day means and often how it can become lost, or refocused
Prior to going to this event, I read International Women’s Day online, which also appears in the pamphlet. Through the poem, she uses contrasting images to explore what the day means and often how it can become lost, or refocused without the full understanding of the meaning: ‘the tradition’s brought to London, / but this rose is flagging‘. Hopkins’ humour show through poems such as Bicycle Woman, with a tale of someone half-woman, half bicycle, and Explanation for those who don’t know love, with a sardonic take on having a child, who ‘centres every conversation / like a fantastic table decoration.’ Of course, there are multiple meanings to be deciphered here, and, through its apparent simplicity, the poems allow the reader to think more deeply.
This use of humour appears again with I Have Chosen to Become a Plasterer, which evokes ideas of romanticising manual labour, and mocks the middle classes, almost ending on a punch-line, stating ‘his parents got Bill the sculptor / to make their kitchen cupboard doors.’ Her desire to make you both think and laugh comes across in Hopkins’ delivery, as she would naturally give back stories to each of her poems throughout the reading.
We’d heard the fens were dying seas / pinned into their beds by reeds
One of the highlights has to be Starlings, where Hopkins acknowledged the clichéd status of such subject matters, but chose to write the poem as a challenge to do something new. This poem stands out for its ability to move away from free verse, and into a regular rhyme scheme, perhaps used to give a nod to tradition. However, its use of enjambment means that the rhymes are less obvious and this subtlety makes the poem stronger, allowing the imagery to take over from the first line — ‘We’d heard the fens were dying seas / pinned into their beds by reeds’.
Hopkins also has the ability to introduce us to new things, and in her reading, this meant we also learnt from the given context. For example, with Antonio, Duke of Milan, we have a reference to The Tempest. Yet we can still enjoy it without the context, with lines such as ‘it was like he’d eaten all that dust. / His wife died and he didn’t even notice’, as we get a sense of story and character through this, one of the longer pieces in the pamphlet. Lastly, having learnt that Anglepoise is the kind of lamp used in the Pixar logo and animations, we end on this image of a writer at a desk, a lamp shining into darkness, on to blank pages. Read it for yourself: ‘See how it glows.’