When I read a poem by Holly Hopkins, I feel as if I’m eavesdropping on the secrets of life itself – The English Summer shimmers with exquisite revelations. Whatever she writes about, whether it’s global warming, a country church, or the death of a fridge, however down-to-earth the subject, there’s a pin-sharp clarity, matched with a sleight of hand in the machinery of each poem, that gives us an original look at the world.
Unlike the holiday downpours wryly presaged by its title, nothing disappoints in this nimble, humane, and brilliantly inventive debut. The English Summer has the instincts of an archaeologist, the eye of a sell-out comic, and the soul of an itinerant philosopher. Whether leading us down history’s forgotten byways, or skewering the quirks of contemporary life, Hopkins is an enchanting guide: a poet of rare talents, who will make you chuckle, stop in your tracks, then question everything you know.
From Lady Godiva to the Green Man, Holly Hopkins takes on the stories England tells about itself. I love Hopkins' tragicomic vision: vicious snobbery coexists with great tenderness, in an England tense with 'thunderclouds of gorse'. A lacerating and truly lovely debut.
Much alive poetry is written from the margins. Holly Hopkins does write feminist poems: about, for instance, domestic labour done by women. But as a whole, this scrupulously precision-built collection (the lines shine, but in a way that pulls you up short and makes you think) doesn't speak from the margin but the missing centre - of Englishness itself. These poems are particular and humane. They show it is possible to be contemporaneous without being presentist; to be simultaneously, singingly, topical and historical; and they reconnect to a real, abiding world emotional highs and lows that have become politically untethered.
A poem by Holly Hopkins always reminds me of some sort implement, which looks to be quite practical, but – well now, just look at that, you’ve cut yourself. Tsk. Whatever this implement is, she uses it to worry the joins between all manner of polite hypocrisies: between what we say and what we mean; between the spaces we inhabit and the way they’re sold to us; between an ornamental wall and a property boundary. Yet somehow – I'm not sure how she’s pulled this off – this is a collection about hope.