“The Shape of the Tulip Bird” Christopher Hopkins (Clare Songbirds Publishing) – poetry review

The Shape of a Tulip Bird Christopher Hopkins book cover“The Shape of the Tulip Bird” is a poetry collection that explores bereavement stemming from a miscarriage which led to a relationship breaking down and how grief gets carried with us. However, it’s not a gloomy, self-pitying collection. From the opening poem, “There’s a Fist Where the Heart Should be”

“The grain in the shape of a bay
I remember.
Searching for a flicker
in the static flesh.”

This is suggestive of an image on an ultrasound and the poem ends,

“I have an ocean of love for you
but there is no shelter on the ocean,

there’ll be no shelter from this.
You’ll say,
your body haunts you.
It haunts us both.
The tiniest muscle gave out
and broke us.”

Few relationships survive the loss of a child. The clarity and frankness of the last two lines is indicative of news that hasn’t yet sunk in or been processed. The emotional impact is a wave in the far reaches of the bay on its way to the shore. Ending the poem at that point gives space for a reader to imagine the coming devastation.

The collection’s title is an odd one: there is no tulip bird, but there are varieties of tulips named after birds which are generally lack the neat, elegant pleats of petals and have ruffled edges like the ragged mess of a wind-ruffled wing, making the flower look like a failed nest. In the title poem,

“I tasted that happy madness of love,
the flame-fretted ache,
that gentle perfection of worry
only
a mother can make.
I felt the electric join
of womb to soul,
head to heal.”

This nest too failed, but the baby was much-desired. The bounce in the rhythm of the opening two quoted lines, achieved through double consonants, gives way to the slower rhythm of the longer vowels after the pivotal “only”. This reflects the mood change from the initial joy of pregnancy to worries and what ifs. The loss is further described in “My Heart is a Failed City”, “This den of heaven’s gravity/ is a physical hole of absence.” In seeking solace from the baby’s potential grandmother, in “Inside the Tear”, a mother’s “wing was too stretched and hollow/ and the light passed right through it” when she offers one of those stock phrases suggesting an early loss is better than a later one. The mood moves to acceptance in “My Language Has Run Out of Broken Bones”, “I have asked myself if I gave love too easy,/ then pinched myself heard. To think how much/ I love this speck, this wonderful nothing.”

A note of hope surfaces in “Love / West / Atlantic”,

“The sun break is still faint.
A star un-effecting.
No rays of worth
have yet reached out
to rub a little heat
into the lavender rocks,
stir the flower heads awake,
less the light of cornsilk,
which carries these
delicate birds.”

It’s still cold, but the narrator is beginning to see beauty and birds take flight. The image of the speck from “My Language Has Run Out of Broken Bones,” is picked up again in the last poem “White Feather” “and each star speck/ is a father’s peck/ on a daughter’s head.”

“The Shape of the Tulip Bird” is a gentle, textured exploration of bereavement. It leaves self-pity out as the poems move from acceptance through heartbreak and emerge on notes of hope. Christopher Hopkins uses pared down language that gives readers chance to absorb and engage with the poems. The bird motif suggests the journey is ongoing and, although loss maybe the flipside to love, it is possible to let the buoyancy of the thermals direct the bereft back to life.

“The Shape of the Tulip Bird” is available from Clare Songbirds.


 

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