Sunday Poem – Holly Hopkins


Evening folks.  On Friday afternoon I was running a poetry workshop for a group of young writers as usual in Kendal.  Esther Rutter has been developing a private wordpress blog for the use of the young writers in the group and she showed me a few more tricks on WordPress – some of which I’ve forgotten now, but it has left me with a desire to make my blog look a little more attractive – it wouldn’t kill me to put a few more photos on, for example!  So above is a picture of a murmuration of Starlings, to go with the poem by Holly Hopkins which is this week’s Sunday Poem – more on that later.  She also showed me the correct way to link to another web page without having long messy addresses all over the place – something I’ve been vaguely thinking I should learn but never quite having the time or the inclination to actually do it – so I will be trying this out later – and hoping that someone will tell me if it doesn’t work.

This week has been a bit crazy – the last week of school is usually a mix of the pressure of end of term concerts and extra free time as the schools go into end-of-term madness and cancel all the music lessons.  Although I had quite a few cancellations this week – some of them the minute I walked in through the front door and the teachers look at me blankly and realise they haven’t told me that the kids are having an end of term party/on a trip etc etc I also had a few last minute concerts and assemblies – overall I think I’ve worked harder than I normally do!

Apart from work and end of term concerts I’ve not really been up to much else.  I was gutted on Tuesday because I had to do an end of term concert which meant I couldn’t go to Grasmere to see Robert Hass and Philip Gross read.  It was a strange feeling – part of me wanted to have a huge tantrum about it – this is the reading I’ve been looking forward to all year but the other part of me knew I had to just get on with it.  And in the end, the concert was quite nice and I got a lovely message from a parent thanking me for helping her child to enjoy music – which is something I don’t really get thanked for very much actually – often parents will thank me for helping their child through an exam or to perform a solo – but it was nice to be thanked just for helping someone to enjoy music – it reminded me why I teach and stopped me sulking about the Robert Hass reading as well.

Monday evening was the Barrow Shipyard Junior Bands end-of-term concert and although at the time I didn’t have time to feel sad or emotional – I did when I got back home and it hit me that another year was over and that I wouldn’t be conducting the band again until September, but I am looking forward to the summer holidays.  I’ve got quite a few things to get done so I will need to be disciplined with my time – I’ve fallen into the old trap of putting lots of things off until the holidays, thinking I’ll have plenty of time to do them and I’ve probably got a long enough list now to fill 12 weeks not 6.

Here is a list of the things I’ll be doing over the holiday…

1.  Working on my manuscript for my first collection

I’ve started on it this week – I now have a title!  It will be called ‘The Art of Falling’ and the amazing Amy Wack, my editor at Seren has found a really beautiful painting to go on the cover.  It’s not completely confirmed yet, but the artist was positive.   I’ve been working through the feedback from a few of my poetry friends and then I’ve sent the revised 3rd draft to Amy who has sent it back with some suggestions so I’ll be working on the 4th draft this week.  I’ve got till September but it is kind of one of those endless jobs – there will probably always be something I could improve

2.  Article for Artemis about Sylvia Plath

This is due mid-August – an article about what Sylvia Plath means to me.  I’m looking forward to writing it, but I’m still looking for my gateway into it at the minute.

3.  Planning Ilkley Poet-in-Residence stuff

I’m expecting all of this to hot up in the next couple of weeks and I’ll be planning workshops and other stuff.

4.  Burmese Poetry Project for Modern Poetry in Translation

This is due in after the summer – I really need to get this started and get some momentum with it.

5.  Moving house

We’ve finally had a mortgage offer so I’m hoping all of this will start moving now.  I’m surprised though, that anybody moves house.  I haven’t found it particularly stressful so far, even though it’s taken eight weeks just to get a mortgage, more annoying and time consuming.

6.  The Flying Poets Tour

Plans are afoot for a reading tour with a difference with poets Clare Shaw and Keith Hutson – we are slowly but surely putting together an itinary for a reading tour with a difference – no walking for us – we will be running from Yorkshire to Cumbria and reading on the way.  We’re hoping to create some new work together that we will perform as part of this tour.  I’m working on the premise that talking about something as if it is real means it becomes real and now I’ve put it on here – there is no getting out of it – we will have to do it!

7.  Planning Residential Course in October at St Ives

I’m really excited about this – but due to the craziness that will be my October – residency in Ilkley and all as well as teaching, I’ll be planning my workshops over the summer holidays so that I’m ready to go.  I think the residency finishes the week before the course starts so I can’t leave anything till the last minute.

8.  Ongoing stuff- writing the blog, running the young writers workshop, reading poems, doing some writing, walking the dogs, running

And then there is all the normal stuff of course – maybe I am packing too much in to a small space of time.  I have decided I’m going to have 1 hour every day where I do nothing but read poems – so that will be nice.

So that’s my summer! I’m really looking forward to it- next week I have David Tait coming to stay who is visiting from China – I’ll finally get to see his first collection as I’ve been holding off buying it so I can get a signed copy from him.  David will be reading at The Wordsworth Bookshop in Penrith on the 24th July with myself and Josephine Dickinson and at Ulverston Library on the 25th July with Gill Nicholson and Neil Curry as an extra Poem and a Pint event – please click here  for more information – it would be lovely to see you at one or even both events if you’re really keen!

So today’s Sunday Poem is by Holly Hopkins whose poetry has featured previously as a Sunday Poem.  Holly was one of the four winners of the Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition and she stayed at my house with her partner Alex on the weekend of the launch of her pamphlet.  Holly’s pamphlet, rather brilliantly is called ‘Soon Every House Will Have One’.  This pamphlet is full of cracking poems – you can find ‘Duck’ here but other favourites are ‘Offchurch’ with it’s lovely description of a ‘saucer-faced barn owl’ and the poem ‘The King’s Manor Cat’ which always makes me laugh out loud in the last three lines ‘We must raise up the banners each morning/with the pulling back of the bedlinen./We must not eat the liver.’  Perhaps my top poem in the pamphlet though is ‘Explanation for those who don’t know love’ which is a poem which starts ‘I have a child and am more important/than childless people.’  It is all very tongue in cheek and extremely funny, probably, I admit more funny for people like me who don’t have children.  The last poem in the pamphlet is called ‘Anglepoise’ and is a carefully observed study of an Anglepoise lamp that moves on to become a mediation of writing and self-worth – the pamphlet is really excellent and if you are saving your pennies for something special – treat yourself to this one.  It’s only £5 and you will be supporting a lovely poet and her fantastic publisher, The Poetry Business.  You can order the pamphlet here from Holly and she might even sign it if you ask nicely.

I’ve chosen this poem ‘Starlings’ from Holly’s pamphlet because it is that rare thing – a poem with end-rhymes that work beautifully – they don’t feel forced on to the poem but are working with the sense and rhythm of the words.  It reminds me a little of some of Don Paterson’s poems in ‘Rain’ because of the skilful way the rhymes are handled.  The poem is also saying something beautiful, describing something beautiful.  When I was looking for pictures of starlings in flight to put at the top of this post – I found the black clouds in the pictures quite disturbing and eerie – maybe because in the pictures it looked more like a swarm of insects than birds – but look at the last line of the second stanza and its description of the flock which ‘stretched itself like kneaded dough’ – I read that and thought yes, she’s nailed it, but then she does it again with her ‘hemmed within a living sack’.  There is a sense of something being not quite right in the poem right from the first line when we read ‘We’d heard the fens were dying seas/pinned into their beds by reeds;’ – that is a haunting image and the use of ‘dying’ and ‘pinned’ introduces the idea that something is wrong in the poem.  This is only ever hinted at though by language  – the ‘washed-out winter marsh’, the ‘ragged lines’ of the birds, the way the flock ‘smashed itself across the dusk’.  Really, the poem is about, I think, the ‘thread of trust’ which binds us together, and by us, I mean the birds and the couple in the poem, the poet and the reader.

Holly Hopkins lives and works in London.  Her poems have appeared in Poetry Review, The Rialto, The North, Magma and Verse Kraken.  Her work has been anthologised in ‘Dear World & Everyone In It: New Poetry In the UK (Bloodaxe Books) and Lung Jazz: Young British Poets For Oxfam (Cinnammon Press).  Holly is reading an MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway and she received an Eric Gregory Award in 2011.  She blogs at


Starlings – Holly Hopkins

We’d heard the fens were dying seas
pinned into their beds by reeds;
the sedges crowded out our path
through the washed out winter marsh.

They came in ragged lines that fell
into the budding chirping swell
of bodies caught up in a flow
that stretched itself like kneaded dough

until the churning shoal was black
and hemmed within a living sack
that smashed itself across the dusk
but could not break the thread of trust

that held each bird beside another,
and pulled the molten flock together
until they turned and plunging down
were hooked into the weedy ground.

We both stood locked inside our coats
and in the dark we neither spoke
in case our clumsy blundering
upset the other’s new-found wings.


2 comments on “Sunday Poem – Holly Hopkins

  1. Not just couplets, but half-rhymes, too. What a mate of mine calls songwriters’ rhymes, that stretch across the backing track. That third stanza is a stunner.

  2. You have been scarily busy this year!!!
    Good blog points: I’ve recently realised the piccie potential, and upped my hit rate.
    Do find it hard to read Sylvia Plath now, though; over-saturation at one point. How do you go back to something you feel you know? Tricky one, but must be done.
    Glad you are with Seren, they do some friendly, and warm; I’ve always had a warm spot for them. You should get on well together: both warm and welcoming!

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