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This review is taken from PN Review 224, Volume 41 Number 6, July - August 2015.

The Poetry Umbrella holly hopkins, Soon Every House Will Have One (Smith Doorstop) £5.00
ben wilkinson, For Real (Smith Doorstop) £5.00
robert vas dias Arrivals & Departures (Shearsman) £6.50
juli jana, ra-t (Shearsman) £6.50

‘What excellent thrift / to make your feet from old umbrellas’. The umbrella-footed ducks paddle Holly Hopkins’ confident debut pamphlet. Her arresting poems both amuse and disturb. Terse openings, as consonants and vowels echo across lines, swell into buoyant tides of sound. Nouns grow unexpectedly rich: ripe wheat is ‘a full congregation’. Verbs delight with an almost comic ease:

and because you were there and could charm a fish out of its pond […]
a saucer-faced barn owl pushed out from the stag oak,
boated into the blue for a moment, then dropped down into the corn.
                                                    (from ‘Offchurch’)

Hopkins gives a ruthlessly direct view of the body, as in the voices of teenage girls in ‘The Flayings’: ‘now we’re ready for skin. A flash-roast summer, / strappy tops and our flesh scarlet by tea time’. Her subjects, explored with passion, are edged by the bizarre. The wildest work – an inflatable ‘Bicycle Woman’ – can seem slightly strained. But in general, her comparisons feel intensely right. Her flexible lines can expand into pure shock. The archaeologist in ‘Stratigraphy’ finds, opening a lead-lined coffin, ‘the child’s face was perfect as a new bar of soap’.

I admire Hopkins’ flair for titles: ‘England, where did you go?’ I also respect the mature humility of her pamphlet’s ending, in the voice of a lamp:

you can only glean the smallest sliver of all that is,
tiny as the filament in my empty bulb.  See how it glows. ...


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