Christopher Hopkins, The Shape of a Tulip Bird, reviewed by Shirley Bell

ISBN 978-1-947653-72-6 Clare Songbirds Publishing House

I have followed the work of Christopher Hopkins, from his first collection onwards. His work always dealt with great sensitivity with landscape, emotion and what it means to be formed from a Welsh heritage and land, and he has always shown a great gift for strong and poignant imagery.

In this new collection, however, I feel he has made a massive leap forwards, as he now deals with the trauma and heartbreak of miscarriage with such sensitivity. It is a sad irony that Hopkins’ work has grown so much from out of such loss. I had 5 babies but the first and third were stillborn, so I can understand the grief, anguish and disbelief when hopes for the future are dashed.

There’s a Fist Where the Heart Should Be, the opening poem, sets the tone of this fine collection:

“Searching for a flicker
 in the static flesh.

….the absent echoes of an unborn heart,

….You’ll say,
your body haunts you.
It haunts us both.
The tiniest muscle gave out

and broke us.”

The sea ebbs and flows through the book and it is rich with the imagery of gestation, of loss, anger and a slow reconciliation. No-one’s sorrys are enough to heal the grief-stricken parents, and friends and family are helpless onlookers as a result. Healing, of any kind, has to come from the thwarted couple.  There is rage and despair In Magpie:

I’m so in love with my dead.
My little black love.

and in The Shape of a Tulip Bird

why did you
stop        becoming you

my child,
in love,           in endings.

I despise the term that someone has been on a “journey”, it is such a glib shorthand these days along with rollercoasters and comfort zones. However, in The History of the Colour Red, there is the start of a slow looking outwards when he asks  Do you think of blame as I do.

With Away there is the slow reconciliation when loss is owned and:

we think about life outside
for the first time in months….

let the sunlight pass right through us.

While  The First Light talks of

This was first day
where you did not stir
with my limbs,
walk with my thoughts.

It is a slow progress, but Chris Hopkins starts to look at the situation from the outside and analyses what has been happening, and this is a major step in healing. Though there is always scar tissue left behind of course. However, there is a vocabulary emerging which helps to deal with the situation along with such powerful  and visceral imagery of blood and milk:

A Portrait in Starlight

my chest ached so much with the clot of loss
and the phantom smell of milk under my nose,
 from muslin shroud soaked through with it,
with false motherhood,

…..

there was     no one to blame.

Gradually there is a kind of peace which is emerging from a black and unkind place, a place which can never be left behind. The use of forgotten with remembering ourselves is masterful:


We Washed the Blood of Childhood From Our Faces

What was lost, was not replaced
or forgotten
but we were
remembering ourselves.
Our scars already loved each other

And in the end, there is a final hope for the future.

White Feather

….each star speck
 is a father ’s peck
 on a daughter ’s head

She is all the good in you,
with your cinnamon eyes
and my pear chin.

We see all the good
in the world
in our sharing dream,

and in all our celebrations
of wonder

This collection will stay with me. It is a difficult read in the sense that the emotions are so raw and fly off the page towards us as a result. But, after all, most writers know Montherlant’s Happiness writes white on the page in one form or another. I applaud Chris Hopkins for the transformation of a dark and damaging experience into such fine poetry.

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