This book has an unusual premise in that it’s about something you wouldn’t want to read about. It’s about one of the most difficult subjects – child loss – and yet Hopkins’ writing allows the subject the sensitivity and accessibility that it needs. The Shape of a Tulip Bird is a collection full of stars, ships, sea life, birds, landscapes – whether geological or of the body. Again and again we are presented the image of a small boat against a vast ocean. Hopkins’ poems are extremely descriptive, some of them are almost all description.
The poems in this collection are soft, feathery – the imagery is tactile and womb-like. The shape of the poems are elegant on the page, imitating droplets of water or perhaps bodily liquids. In this collection words echo the rhythms of physical processes. Due to the sensory nature of these poems, I caught myself wondering whether parts of them could be interpreted as being from a baby’s perspective.
When reading The Shape… I got the sense that Hopkins isn’t trying to hold off the storm in these poems, if anything he wants it to come, wants it to rage, these poems are only designed as a method of weathering the storm.
Hopkins poems show the power of art to slightly console, if only by providing some small relief through expression. There is scant relief in this collection, which in my mind, is fitting. It’s good to hear a man’s perspective on the issues in these poems, we need to hear more male voices concerning child loss, its effect on relationships and post-partum depression for males. One of the other recent collections that I can think of that touches on these issues is Blank by Jake Wild Hall.
When reading these poems I got the sense of Hopkins’ desire to understand. He does this by going back to re-examine the body and what makes it up repeatedly.
There is wonderful language in this collection, seen for example when Hopkins writes unflinchingly in the opening of ‘I See Only With The Light From Fires’:
In idle moments, where I am found,
I grieve in a lesser black than you,
A witness to your love.
Hopkins’ poems don’t break their hold at all, despite being so raw and intimate. One gets the impression that even though the events of this collection were experienced in union, they were also isolating.
There is a journey presented in these poems. The reader is able to see a slight shift in mood and events in the poem ‘The First Light’, in which the poet describes the first day in which he didn’t immediately think of the name of one he lost. Something is cut loose in these poems, yearning, searching. Despite this there is a flicker of hope at the end of the collection. The Shape… reminds us that in a broken mirror, one may see momentary, beautiful reflections.
Setareh Ebrahimi is an Iranian-British poet and artist from Brighton living in Faversham, Kent. She published her first pamphlet of poetry, In My Arms, from Bad Betty Press in February 2018. Setareh has been published in numerous anthologies and journals, such as Eunoia Review, Confluence and Thanet Poetry Journal. She obtained her Master’s in English and American Literature from The University of Kent in 2016. She regularly performs her poetry in Kent and London.
The Shape of a Tulip Bird by Christopher Hopkins is published by Clare Songbirds and available here: www.claresongbirdspub.com