Where I’d Watch Plastic Trees Not Grow, Hannah Hodgson
Verve Poetry Press, 2021 £7.50
There’s no point in pretending I know what Hannah Hodgson is living through.
‘A degenerative life-limiting condition’ is what we’re told and what I try to digest. She’s had a mentor, a writing group, and financial help to purchase ‘accessible equipment’ so she could finish this collection. Which has the freshness of hot-off-the-press, not overly edited, straight from the skin.
No self-pity as she records intermittent periods spent in hospitals and hospice. As she said on YouTube, she rattles off her NHS number the way most young people give out their mobile number. This is real life.
But what draws me in is this: I’m on a tour of her neighbourhood. I meet her neighbours.
In ‘The tree in outpatients was plastic, and every night I’d watch it not grow from my window’, she talks about ‘the kids from renal’ who were roasting marshmallows at a bonfire — like any other teenage gang.
In ‘Bad News’, doctors stand around her bed and ‘transform into poets as they deliver bad news’. Picturing them in their white coats, I imagine apologetic milkmen. No gold top today, only skimmed.
There’s even a homeless man ‘on a trolley in the corridor — such a busy night with ‘two car accidents, / three heart attacks and a miscarriage’.
And in ‘Crashing’, she says, ‘I’ve seen my consultant cry once. / When she couldn’t save a life, deserted by her superpower.’ Chief firefighter?
Finally last — but certainly not least — in ‘After the Curtain’, it is ‘the Porters’ who appear as the maintenance men of the hospital neighbourhood, quietly oiling the wheels.
Maybe this attraction to neighbourliness is my way of making the poems palatable.
Maybe this is her way of making the walls breathe, and if I find a touch of Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood in this collection, that’s a compliment. Hannah Hodgson wants her readers to see the light as well as the dark, and I do.