Review of A Godless Ascends by Trish Hopkinson

A Godless Ascends by Trish Hopkinson

Lithic Press, 2024

72 pages, $20

Reviewed by Kristiane Weeks-Rogers

A Godless Ascends by Trish Hopkinson (Lithic Press, March 2024) is a full-length collection of poetry which investigates themes of feminine power, familial relationships, and the search for spiritual fulfillment. The poems navigate the complexities of belief and disbelief, inviting readers to question conventional wisdom and contemplate their own levels of engagement with spirituality through a familial lens. 

The title itself, A Godless Ascends, suggests a departure from traditional notions of divinity and a journey toward a transcendent state that is unbound by conventional conceptions of godliness. By embracing the concept of “godless,” the poet opens up a space for exploration and the redefinition of one’s understanding of the divine. A primary figure throughout the collection is identified as “she-god” narrated in first-person: “there is no other divine / yes there is no spirit besides / there are no confessions / by these hips / no repentance for these breasts” from “SHE-GOD // A GODLESS CELEBRATES VERNAL EQUINOX.” The intent is not to dismiss or reject spirituality altogether, but rather to shape and reshape understanding of the divine, inviting readers to contemplate their own spiritual journeys and the complex relationship between humanity and the transcendent. 

The opening poem “SHE-GOD,” sets the tone for the entire collection, depicting the poet’s own birth and the intense experience of being brought into the world to create identity: “a whole being godless / —she birthed two / no three— / if she chooses to / count herself / & she does.” The dichotomy between the she-god being godless – with the concept of ascension in the collection – implies action towards a higher state of consciousness, an elevation of thought and perception beyond the confines of predefined belief systems. It’s an invitation to transcend the limitations imposed by conventional notions of godliness and create possibilities of ascension. 

The collection has four parts: First Birth, Ascent, Things to Tell My Daughter, and Bone Music. The first section, subtitled “First Birth”, explores the overarching themes of birth, family, identity, and the complexities of relationships. “ALMOST FAMOUS (A FAMILY ALBUM),” addresses the speaker’s family history, tracing their lineage back to their great grandfather, where the speaker “found divorce documents, too, / from 1969, with her [great grandmother’s] agreement / to bear the ongoing burden / of her children without alimony.” The exploration of family dynamics and the burden that is passed down from the women emerges as a recurring theme, where the speaker’s mother also: 

went from Methodist to Mormon,
agreed to raise their four children,
and bear the ongoing burden
of supporting my father.
I keep a photo of her, middle swollen,
glowing on the beach, visiting the Virgin Isles,
her first time on an airplane. She used to say
I’d been there, too—if only in her womb.

Here in the heavy tone, the speaker also nods to her own quest for a sense of belonging – and finds it for a moment within her mother’s womb. From this personal history, readers are invited to contemplate their own experiences of lineage and displacement – and the search for a place to call home. The poetic rivulets of “First Birth” serve as a powerful metaphor for the challenges and compromises that life presents, as well as the bittersweetness of familial relationships. This exploration of personal and familial dynamics sets the foundation for the subsequent sections. 

The second section, “Ascent,” further explores the themes of parenthood, connection, the complexities of existence, as well as the power of the feminine. In “IN MY MOTHER’S MOUTH,” the speaker identifies the intricate dynamics between mother and daughter through a surrealist landscape. The opening imagery of sandpapering calloused heels on the molars of the speaker’s mother and resting on worn taste buds evokes a sense of intimacy and connection. Again in the safe space of the mother, the speaker acknowledges the complexities of acceptance and martyrdom, where: 

Her mouth is home—acceptance despite

my disbelief, mostly, and host to her own
martyrdom. She named it that herself.

All that she is feminine, is all that’s been
taken from her. I lean in 
toward the back of her throat to listen

highlighting the sacrifices made by mothers and daughters alike. Through “all that’s been / taken,” the reader sees the fleeting nature of life and an urgency created to ensure that generational interplay creates identity. 

Likewise, the third section, “Things to Tell My Daughter,” focuses on the experiences of how parenthood shapes self-discovery and the complexities that come with motherhood. In “WAITING AROUND,” the poet reflects on the challenges and expectations that come with being a woman and a mother: 

I wait. I hold still in my form-fitting camouflage.
I put on my strong suit and war-paint lipstick
and I gamble on what’s expected.
And what to become. And how
to behave: mother, wife, brave.

Through powerful imagery and introspective language, the poet conveys the frustrations and aspirations of a woman navigating the complexities of her own identity. The speaker employs traditional tropes of womanhood to capture the emotions associated with the uncertainty of raising children and the impact they have on one’s life. Many of the poems in the section “Things to Tell My Daughter” celebrate the transformative power of witnessing a child’s growth and reflect on the struggles and aspirations of parenthood and personal identity.

The final section “Bone Music,” ends the collection with the powerful and emotionally charged themes of parental love, fear, and resilience. The poem “BONE MUSIC” examines the concept of impermanence and the fragility of life. The speaker reflects on the X-ray images:

as our shells—your healing breaks

and scar recordings—bone music
from beneath skin. The needle

skips as you lie quiet. I strain
for sounds of recovery, the next

hovering verse. If only
I could place the weight of a penny

and hear your song.

Within a hospital setting, the speaker imagines the possibility of creating music from the bones, drawing a parallel between the ephemeral nature of life and the temporary nature of music. The use of vivid imagery and lyrical language creates a space of nostalgia, inviting readers to contemplate the fleeting nature of existence – from personal identity to the identities made in relation to others. A Godless Ascends is a rich exploration of spirituality, feminine identities, and the sense of belonging. The recurrent figures of mothers and the “she-god” serve as the cornerstone of the collection, forming a robust and cohesive thread that binds all the poems together. The godless “she-god” — like the speaker throughout the collection — is not just a figurehead, but an active participant in a spiritual journey, powerfully paving a way through the labyrinth of self-discovery under the thumb of familial narratives, relationship dynamics, and spiritual awakening. The she-god, as well as the speaker, often presents transformation and growth as a challenging yet rewarding journey. This journey of ascension is marked by moments of introspection, confrontation, and ultimately, acceptance of the various facets of identity under secular pressures.

Kristiane Weeks-Rogers, a woman with fair skin and shoulder length curly hair wearing a black sweater with a ouija board design smiles slyly and stands in front of a large gilded tile mirror on the lobby floor of The Stanley hotel in Estes Park, Colorado.

Kristiane Weeks-Rogers (she/her) is a Poet-Writer living in western Colorado. She is the Managing Editor of Small Harbor Publishing. Her debut poetry collection, Self-Anointment with Lemons released in September 2021 by Finishing Line Press. She is the 2nd place winner of Casa Cultural de las Americas and University of Houston’s inaugural Poetic Bridges contest and author of the chap collection Become Skeletons published by the University of Houston in 2018. She grew up around Lake Michigan and earned her higher education degrees in Florida (Flagler College) and Indiana (Indiana University). She earned her MFA at Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in Boulder, Colorado