Footnote, by Trish Hopkinson
Trish Hopkinson is a force in the poetry community with her almost-daily publication of an all-things-poetry blog that informs poets where, how, and why to submit poems; conducts interviews with editors of no-submission-fee journals; and publishes guest blogs addressing all aspects of writing, reading, submitting and publishing poetry. I’ve followed this blog avidly and very much appreciated her recent interview introducing The Poetry Café.
With such a footprint in the world of poetry, I was curious to read Hopkinson’s work. Footnote was published by Lithic Press in 2017 with the subtitle of “A Chapbook of Response Poems.” Each of the twenty poems in Footnote has either a footnote or a dedication (some as ‘for,’ others as ‘after‘), inscribed beneath the poem. Each poem embraces the spirit of its annotation, at times using found lines, erasures, or the style of another writer. While visually each poem has the familiar appearance of lines and stanzas on the page, they each possess a quirky—somewhat experimental—writing style. An example of a poem I particularly enjoyed was, “And Finished Knowing – Then –,” footnoted with a nod to Emily Dickinson, of course, but with Hopkinson’s sly imprint,
I conjured a childbirth, in the air,
and nurses all askew
stood standing – standing – till the dream
seemed real enough to chew.
I wondered how the poems in the book came together. At an interview at The Literary Librarian, Hopkinson explained the book’s origins:
“In 2015, after teaching a community poetry writing workshop on response poetry, I realized I had quite a few response poems of my own. So in this case, the collection was a surprise waiting for me in already completed work.”
These days we find a wealth of ‘Response Poems’ that foment resistance to injustice and oppression. Hopkinson’s responses come from a different tradition—emotional and spiritual responses to other artists that have affected, influenced, and secured a solid foothold in her psyche and writing. Footnote is in essence a work of conversations. Her dedications include an artist (Everett Ruess), a musician (Janice Joplin), a filmmaker (David Lynch), and a writer (James Joyce), but are mostly poets (Baraka, Paz, Rilke, Ai, Neruda, Dickinson, Plath, Rumi, Poe, Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg). As a reader, I always find myself wanting to know the poet through the poems. We get a nuanced taste of Hopkinson from her choices. While a first person voice is mostly absent in these pages, the poems are strong evidence of her appetites.
I was intrigued by Hopkinson’s use of syntax and voice. Compared with conventional sentence structure (subject … verb … adjective … noun), these poems often lack a subject. Not only are there few ‘I’ pronouns, there are relatively few pronouns of any sort, as here in the first stanza of “A Way In,”
As involved and still
as looking inward. Loudly
closing all the shutters at once.
“A Way In” reflects a speaker with a deep and full inner life, one that gazes internally for sustenance—a true introvert. The reality is a closed room where,
Sunlight will edge between cracks
& in warm strips of faith, of truth.
There are glorious murals of lilies
on the wainscot
in the dollhouse. The dolls
sit still all day.
The speaker remarks that she is satisfied with Pausing,
in this moment, staying still,
waiting to pass this old age, the
mortal pain of body; sloughed off . . .
How to describe this voice—muffled, ghost-like, echoing? Several of the poems offer hints of the speaker’s mind in response to the iconic artists she bows to. These range from “A Way In” with its atmosphere of stillness, to “We all got a secret side,” which tells us, It’s even stranger underneath, to “From Her to Eternity,” where she says, I am a mere abstraction. Yet, there is a confessional tone in her poem, “Waiting Around,” which starts with these lines:
It so happens, I am tired of being a woman.
And ends with this stanza,
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.
There is darkness in many of the poems in Footnote, a darkness that is not, however, nihilistic. I find both craft and courage in these poems. The reaching outward to connect. The love of language and art. The need to find sustenance in art, writing, music and film. Like most of us, the poet herself might feel like a footnote at times, but rather than giving in to being stuck in a predictable role, she becomes immersed in communicating with artists of enormous power. And in the process of those larger conversations, occurring in the dark cerebral places where we know ourselves best, she becomes a peer in the conversation.
In “Broken Hearts Buried Here” with its footnote, “found in Ulysses,” Hopkinson’s contributions to the conversation are broad, and very much her own, as in these lines,
Lots of them lying around—lungs and livers and old rusty pumps,
A pump after all, pumping thousands of gallons of blood
every day, every mortal day, a fresh batch courting death
like stuffed birds buried in a kitchen matchbox.
Consumptive girls with little sparrow’s breasts,
baldheaded business men, men with beards, old women, children.
The cemetery is a treacherous place.
The soil fat with corpse manure, bones, flesh, nails,
Finally in the last poem, “Footnote to a Footnote” with its own footnote, “after Allen Ginsberg’s “Footnote to Howl,” Hopkinson blesses the panoply of what is most holy to her,
Bookshelves are holy.
Missing dust covers are holy,
magicians & black & white T.V. shows,
Penn Jillette theories & Andy Griffith justice,
Uncle Walt songs & Ginsberg poems—holy, holy, holy.
Trish Hopkinson has always loved words—in fact, her mother tells everyone she was born with a pen in her hand. She has been published in several anthologies and journals, including Stirring, Pretty Owl Poetry, and The Penn Review; and her third chapbook Footnote was published by Lithic Press in 2017. Hopkinson is co-founder of a regional poetry group, Rock Canyon Poets, and Editor-in-Chief of the group’s annual poetry anthology entitled Orogeny. She also co-founded Provo Poetry and is currently the Literary Arts Coordinator for the Utah Arts Festival. You can follow Hopkinson on her blog where she shares information on how to write, publish, and participate in the greater poetry community at https://trishhopkinson.com/.
Risa Denenberg is the curator at The Poetry Cafe.
She is a co-founder and editor at Headmistress Press and has published three full length collections of poetry, most recently, “slight faith” (MoonPath Press, 2018).