Issue 12

Summer 2014


Holly Hopkins, Soon Every House Will Have One, Smith/Doorstop,28pp, £5

The Poetry Business pamphlet competition, held annually, always produces worthy collections, sometimes from four quite different poets. One may a gentle consolidation of mature skills, honed over years (as in James Caruth’s The Death of Narrative, see separate review). Another may excite with a language or a viewpoint or a choice of subject which feels new, unusual, something previously unseen. Such is Holly Hopkins’s Soon Every House Will Have One.

The title is a line taken from her poem ‘Antonio, Duke of Milan’, which I suppose we might place in the tradition of Browningian monologues. We might also see in it the fondness of contemporary poets for adopting the view of the other, the subversive or counter-perspective, whether it’s a feminist view of Leda or an excursion into the mind of Yasser Arafat. In a few lines Antonio is fully imagined. Prospero is seen as a selfish dreamer, Antonio a man more interested in the pragmatic wellbeing of his people than a liberal elevation of books or knowledge for its own sake. We can easily agree his point. Yet this is the pragmatism of the Philistine. As such, the poem gives voice to the realpolitik of the book-burner. If the reader, seduced by Prospero’s staff and books, disputes with Antonio then we’re elevating ourselves to the elite, the magician, happy to sacrifice people for knowledge.

None of this is on the page. Rather, it’s implicit in the thoroughness of Hopkins’s imagination:

      books are getting cheaper

      soon every house will have one.

Presumably this echoes the poet’s hope for her own book. Whilst I’d be surprised if she achieved that, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if very poet had one. She offers us a deftness and originality it can be thrilling to read, simply because it is so well done, and done to such marvellous effect.

At the most obvious level she chooses subjects which are rare, odd, perhaps unique: an anglepoise, selling mannequins on Ebay, the woman who is a bicycle, the erosion of skin. These could be the subjects of light poetry. Or they could be the mainstay of the competition poet, trying to make a splash with something that stands out from the scrum of poems on parents’ illnesses, the loss of loves and lovers, the deciduous seasons. They’re not subjects that seem immediately likely to prompt profundity. In this poet’s hands, they are. 'Anglepoise', which closes the volume, is probably the best example, as it illustrate many of her talents, the strikingness of her imagery, the skill with which she achieves depth and shift in very small space:

     patient as the man who stands, arm out,

     ....for marathon runners to grab at as they pass.

     It condemns me, says:

     Your head is empty as an eggshell scraped clean


Her syntax is tight, yet very natural, and she flows from idea to idea irresistibly. In this she reminds me of Frances Leviston, though their poetry is in itself quite different – a fluidity and syntactic inevitability which draws you through the poem, and consequently, when it shifts, surprises. At the end of the poem, you’re in a completely different place from where you started. Somehow her effects feel unexpectedly obvious. She’s great at finding connections we’d not normally see, most obviously in a fondness for striking similes, such as ‘a carpet perfect as water tension’ and ‘empty as a chocolate bunny’ in ‘Investing in Mannequins’.

But this synthesis of unusuals is most evident in the way her poems develop. For example, in ‘The King’s Manor Cat’, the first stanza details a broken vase smashed in the post, squeezed through a letter box:

     This is how we are born

     our skulls knit in our teens


     The problem is we risk sealing up completely.

     The ossification continues like the famous cat

     fed liver every elderly day until the vitamin A

     fused it into one chalky block.


     We must raise up the banners each morning

     with the pulling back of the bedlinen.

     We must not eat the liver.

These leaps of surprise can only really be seen by reading whole poems and I don’t want to quote entire pieces – I think you should seek out this little pamphlet and read the whole thing yourself.