I didn’t know quite what to expect from Trish Hopkinson’s poetry chapbook Footnote, and found myself entering into it with a somewhat dubious approach. Each of the twenty poems have a footnote, all of which inform the reader of whom the poem in question is influenced by or in tribute to; a concept I have never been particularly drawn to. At worst I expect the author might be riding a better known artists wave. At best I expect a wishy-washy tribute to the author’s favourite author; a weak and strange kind of fan-poetry. My gut reaction is, let their art be theirs and your art be yours. The lesson here, on this occasion, is that my gut didn’t know what it was talking about. Hopkinson is guilty of neither wish nor wash; while her tributes and dedications are full of applause, they are also expansive in yearning and introspect.
With their ambiguous imagery and dream-like sequences, these poems take the reader some place else, but not for the purpose of escape. In the first poem, A Way In, Hopkinson takes the reader’s hand and leads the way through glorious murals of lilies / on the wainscot / in the dollhouse. Only to let go of the reader’s hand later on in the poem when she speaks of …newborn field mice; / shivering in the nest, / until the unknowing / boot heel crushes their bones.
There is a definite theme of search here, which expresses itself in both obvious and subtle terms. The second poem, A Misplaced Man, is dedicated to Everett Ruess; a poet and artist born on March 28th 1914 and mysteriously disappeared in a remote area of Utah circa 1934. The poem, My Monkey Grammarian begins with the words, “This search”. And in Your Scarlet, …when I opened my eyes // watched the lilac ribbon fly, / I heard a waterfall of music. Again and again these poems are looking for something, there is a desire, a quest for ideas, images and provocations of thought.
There are a couple of poems which stand out for their more obvious tip-of-the-hat quality. Pearl at the Studio Mic is an unabashed tribute to Janis Joplin. More importantly, though, it also honours the intimacy of art and its ability to give a person permission to feel and be free in the moment. Then there is, Waiting Around, which is basically a rewriting of Pablo Neruda’s Walking Around. It’s a poem about a man walking around trying to do what men think they ought to do; covering up the day-to-day vulnerabilities and feigning a concentrated air of confidence. Waiting Around is a poem about a woman waiting around doing what women think they ought to do; covering up the day-to-day vulnerabilities and feigning a concentrated air of confidence. Despite my opening comments about letting their art be theirs and yours be yours, this poem is the one which struck home for me. Its honesty is as sharp as its pace and it makes me feel better about how tiresome the facade of pretending to be okay sometimes becomes. That, after all, is one of arts greatest attributes; its ability to communicate a sense of connection within the struggle, whatever that struggle might be. Hopkinson does this throughout the chapbook, in Blue Daydream where She went back to the 7th / floor apartment, hungry // or thirsty or both and still / rolled up on the bottom // shelf where she / has always been.
And in 203 Amity with its “Old-aged bricks of gloom.”
And in Broken Hearts Buried Here where “The cemetery is a treacherous place.”
Far from being dreary or depressing these drab aspects become reassuring in their conformation of a shared experience of life and, indeed, death in life.
These poems could be enjoyed for their imagery alone, but there is more here than pretty terms of phrase. Footnote, aside from its tributes, dedications and collective homage, is a complex investigation of the human experience. It highlights and calls upon the voices of giants while maintaining its own distinct voice; an accomplished, multifaceted chapbook of poems which honours the art of others while remaining true to itself.
Author: Trish Hopkinson
Publisher: Lithic Press
Publication Date: July 2017
Page Count: 42
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