(Penned In The Margins, 2022); pbk £9.99
Dead fridges, dragon-slaying horses and zombies welcome you to Holly Hopkins’ The English Summer, a wonderfully imaginative debut. Whilst remaining fantastical and playful, this collection dissects the roots of humanity and its relationship to our planet at large. Reimagining historical myths and traditions with an urbane sense of familiarity, Hopkins’ collection deracinates contemporary Englanders amidst a growing climate crisis. Reading these poems is like looking into an essential truth. Through both humour and accusation, storytelling from unique and unthinkable angles, Hopkins underscores the impending tragedy that is modern life.
At a first glance, the front cover itself boasts a paradox that is central to Hopkins’ poems. A bright red background on which a hand is drawn, peppered with a scattering of green leaves hint at the threats underlying humanity’s coexistence with the natural world. Or are we meant to simply see a loving reach towards an embracing of our coexistence instead? That is for you to decide!
Hopkins takes places of safety and comfort, examines them, and tears them to shreds poetically before our eyes. In ‘The Flayings,’ she observes how
When we wash off the day
our skin comes away in white webbing,
leaving nibbled coastlines, red islands.
We burn that night in our beds.
Enjoying the pleasures of a summer night, Hopkins unveils the self-destruction lurking underneath. Perfectly timed punctuation and enjambment allow a straightforward matter-of-factness to burn through her narrative, calling attention to our compliance. Hopkins leaves our feigned innocence with no mercy, as she lists:
river-fading grass-bleacher, ice-cream smiling
skin-killer, furze-burning forest-eater, agricide.
Through these killer compound adjectives, she renders our accountability inevitable, laying down our obliviousness towards our own ruin. ‘The English Summer’ laments human entitlement in a planet where we are ‘the invasive species.’ We are exposed as fraudulent parasites, a motif continued in ‘The City Cut From A Mountain’:
In winter, water from hot springs
was forced through drilled capillaries
until our houses shone with warmth[.]
Every line of Hopkins’ collection glowers like some disenchanting spell, removing the thin veneer of glamour from modern life to expose what lies beneath. Her language exposes the artificial nature of actions through which we seek comfort by leeching natural resources. The roads ‘opened gently as a paper flower in water’ leads us as readers to question, are we intruders and imposters in our own world? Are we trying to preserve nature, recreate our own versions of it, or destroy it completely? Hopkins reduces our discoveries and inventions into metaphorical paper flowers, making it impossible not to wonder how we’ve survived so long by such fragile means.
Human innovation continues to be brought to its knees in ‘The Death of a Fridge,’ as ‘the whole white weight crumpled / with thunks of deep struck metal’. Hopkins’ characters exist in a world where inanimate objects possess more humanity and evoke more empathy than humans – we see a narrator who ‘can’t even remember his name’ when recalling the accomplice of the fridge’s ruin, whilst the fridge ‘still thinks of rescue’ as it dies away. Interestingly, Hopkins extends her empathy and understanding more towards the dead than the living; in ‘Zombies’ she describes these creatures as ‘excellent listeners’. In these twisted fantasies, humans are more monsters, less heroes. St. George in ‘Drought,’ the mythical hero, is reimagined as
sword raised and forgotten;
he might as well be holding a balloon.
Meanwhile, the metaphorical dragon ‘squeezes electric cars / until their sunrooves pop off’. Confronting our species as gluttonous and apathetic, rather than glorifying the conventional heroism as displayed in history, blending the mythological and the modern, Hopkins uses history as a gateway to communicate our societal failings in a way that is refreshing and relevant.