Footnote, Trish Hopkinson’s clever new chapbook, is a multi-layered journey through literary history and popular culture. Each poem reads well on its own, but the footnotes (represented with an appealing * at the bottom of the page rather than the usual, academic 1) add context and meaning. Hopkinson embraces the anxiety of influence and openly engages with her predecessors who include the canonical (Emily Dickinson), the avant-garde (David Lynch), and the radical (Janis Joplin). It’s as if, in these poems, Hopkinson is answering the question “Which artists would you invite to a dinner party?” and the reader has been invited to eavesdrop on the ensuing conversation.
Despite being explicitly connected to its source, each poem is Hopkinson’s own. “Waiting Around” is modeled after Pablo Neruda’s “Walking Around”, but it succeeds in creating a female speaker who thoroughly occupies the space opened up by Neruda. The speaker resists “the edges of an age/I never planned to reach” and the dullness of “workout rooms and nail salons,”/bleach-white sheets on clotheslines . . .” The poem becomes meta- commentary on the entire book:
. . . Still I would be satisfied
if I could draw from language
the banquet of poets.
Indeed, Hopkinson skillfully constructs borrowed language into poems that have to be seen to be fully appreciated. “Strange Verses*” (a set of reverse snowball poems found in the text of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll) welds form and content creating four sets of word tornadoes that whip across the page re-enacting Alice’s bewilderment:
In “Daddies*” (for Sylvia Plath) and “Whimper* (after Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”), Hopkinson engages her influences directly and dares to make comparisons. In “Daddies”, the poet speaks openly to Plath, recalling how, at fourteen, she discovered her work and the physical thrill of reciting poetry. The speaker delights in booming words; “recitation at the root—“ Plath’s poetry is raised like a shield when the speaker’s father returns:
. . . I said your poem
In my head. I said it again and again—
The brass knuckle lines banging
Hopkinson replicates the structure, music, and violence of Plath’s lines and her life, but differentiates her speaker from Plath: “I can’t write about daddies like you./ My daddy came back.”
“Whimper*” (after Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”) is a prose poem that conflates Ginsberg with god:
. . . He sacrificed the sacred, his lamb
a passion—a savior of poets
Ginsberg’s “unadulterated exposition, . . . He howls,” is juxtaposed with the speaker: “I whimper.” Hopkinson deftly switches from third person descriptions of Ginsberg (“When he cried . . . “) to first person identification with Ginsberg (“Our smallness is truth. God is an excuse”) to first person singular, separating herself from Ginsberg (“I turned thirty & left god roadside”).
“Footnote to a Footnote*” (after Allen Ginsberg’s “Footnote to Howl”) creates a hall of mirrors listing and reflecting on the ordinary objects and acts that accumulate to make up a life and the constant accounting of that life:
counting crows feet, counting yellow toenails,
counting haircuts, counting plucked whiskers,
Repetition and alliteration create a chant-like cadence to this recitation of the “holy” artifacts of contemporary life. The simple act of opening a letter becomes a meditative progression through the stages of life:
Unfolding a letter, unfolding a chair, unfolding
into downward dog, from child’s pose, into corpse pose.
Familiar religious objects (“holy word, holy water, holy book,”) seamlessly transition to “holy soap boxes, bathtubs, soap dishes—holy,/holy drains & draining, empty.” The poem celebrates the glory of mundane objects and then undoes itself, letting it all drain away, leaving the reader feeling not empty, but unencumbered, pure, and free.
Footnote may be purchased here.
Deborah Hauser is the author of Ennui: From the Diagnostic and Statistical Field Guide of Feminine Disorders (Finishing Line Press, 2011). Her work has recently appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, TAB: The Journal of Poetry & Poetics, and Carve Magazine. She has taught at Stony Brook University and Suffolk County Community College. She leads a double life on Long Island where she works in the insurance industry.
Image:GE Clock RadioJessica Brilli20 x 24 inchesoil on canvas2014