Review by Eileen Murphy
Is there anything after this narrow trail
of howling trees and screaming monkeys?
From “My Monkey Grammarian”
Ready to be inspired? Trish Hopkinson is known for hosting a highly successful website with ideas and tips galore to help both beginning and experienced poets (https://trishhopkinson.com); she is also a Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. Her new chapbook Footnote (her third) consists entirely of poems that have a relationship with an existing poem, film, or individual. In it, Trish Hopkinson shares her interesting, powerful visions with the reader, while she adds a new layer of meaning to the poems using footnotes to indicate whom the poem was written for or inspired by.
This book left me amazed at the power of a simple footnote, and I applaud Trish Hopkinson for coming up with such a clever idea. The poet explores form in Footnotes while taking full advantage of the options with respect to footnotes. Many of the poems in Footnote pay tribute to someone famous in the poetry or film world. For example, the poem “My Monkey Grammarian” is for Octavio Paz; other footnotes and corresponding poems in the book allude to the speaker’s admiration for Janis Joplin, David Lynch, Pablo Neruda, Emily Dickinson, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and more. One of the most well-known poems in Footnote, “Waiting Around” (which has the fantastic first line “It so happens, I am tired of being a woman”), is written “after ‘Walking Around’ by Pablo Neruda.” Poems in Footnote at times imitate or take on the rhythms and use the same poetic devices as the source poems. In addition, Hopkinson uses other poets’ poems as source texts for erasure poems. The footnoted references help create meaning in the poems always, but especially in cases where Hopkinson’s poetry is less accessible—hint: it’s more accessible if the reader takes the footnotes into account.
Trish Hopkinson’s poem “And Finished Knowing — Then —” focuses on Emily Dickinson’s famous poem “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain.” In an imaginative leap, the speaker in Hopkinson’s poem “conjured a childbirth, in the air” and continues the story of the birth’s consequences using the same meter and rhyme scheme as Dickinson. Further into the same poem, “the sun–began to reel.” This caused “all the earth [to be] deafened,” the baby “melted to the floor.” In the end, the child “took to the sky / …and burst each cloud,” and “it all began – again.” The poem mentions the speaker’s having a vision, and this is indeed a grand, visionary poem, like a poetic Theory of Everything.
“Ars Moriendi,” Hopkinson’s poem “for” Emily Dickinson, starts with a quote from William Wordsworth that asks the rhetorical question, “A SIMPLE Child /…What should it know of death?” The original Ars Moriendi (1415-1450), “The Art of Dying,” was a collection of advice on how to “die well.” The speaker in Hopkinson’s poem makes apt and appropriate word choices, such as describing the child’s death as her “slipping away,” and, further on, says, “[the baby] slipped through fields, beyond / the barn – carried by six Irishmen in infant white with violets / and a blushed cypripedium [lady’s slipper orchid].” The scene was “quiet enough to hear the buzz / of an insect’s paper wings,” referring to Dickinson’s famous buzzing “death-fly” from “I hear a Fly Buzz – when I Died.” This touching, powerful piece explains a child’s death as that child’s being “[c]alled back.” Again, Hopkinson takes on the role of visionary; the poem ends with the richly nuanced sentence: “[T]he dying eye saw an act of light.” The phrase “an act of light” echoes a collection of Dickinson’s work entitled Acts of Light, which is a connection the reader should know or look up.
In this chapbook where all the poems were inspired by others while at the same time holding on to her own visions, Trish Hopkinson took a creative risk. It can be interesting to read poems that are as layered as some of these are since deconstructing the layers may challenge a reader to go look up information about a person or poem cited in the footnote and think a while about the connection. But if the reader’s willing to give it a chance, willing to be open to it—Footnote will dazzle, please, and inspire with the beauty and wonder of its visions.
Footnote by Trish Hopkinson can be purchased and is available here.
Eileen Murphy lives near Tampa with husband and two dogs. She teaches literature/English at Polk State College. Her recent book reviews are published in Tinderbox Journal, Rain Taxi, Cultural Weekly, BLARB, Glass, Crab Fat, and other journals.