This week’s featured poem is “Hitchhiker” by Nicholas Hogg.
to be knocked down.
Extend your hand to indicate the direction of traffic, while being cautious not to be hit.
To become a victim of robbery, assault, or homicide.
I also use elevators. I enter vehicles such as cars, vans, and trucks. I have even taken a ride on a rocket.
fired down the M1 — a Ford Cosworth, stolen — like a sonic boom jet
driving in the far lane.
I encountered Samaritans and opportunists.
One person will discuss the teachings of Islam, while another will share insights on mathematics.
fucking lorry drivers. A fashion designer, who picks me up
from a garage forecourt, will give me a mint
As she drives, her dog growls from the back seat.
At a circular intersection located near Bedford, United Kingdom.
Another hitchhiker is waiting. He is wearing a trench coat and boots.
The crucifix was previously worn by a paratrooper. He also possesses it.
The man had a tattoo on his forehead, right beneath his mohawk. We greeted him.
He is attending a party in Leeds. I will be traveling to Leicester to visit my sister.
He is not chosen by anyone. I am not picked up by anyone.
Sometimes, he crosses my mind. The rebellious Messiah on a sacred journey.
I frequently ponder the teacher who shed tears.
remembering a trip to Scotland
with his dying son,
They accessed a loch by rowing a boat.
The fog was very dense.
The familiar world condensed into a small, white sphere.
at first faintly, and then with a growing distinctness towards the
I traveled down the road in a Vauxhall Cavalier car and initially noticed, followed by a clearer view as I got closer, towards the
through his eyes,
Reworded: The fog would dissipate and reveal a castle.
Uncover, the surprising walls covered in moss.
And then the boy in the boat
leaping ashore. Up and over the broken stone,
Happy. A royal in a story with a castle of his own.
The appeal Leicester-born novelist and screenwriter Nicholas Hogg’s enthralling collection Missing Person is hard to summarise: Hogg’s poems seem to possess a hard-edged romanticism, or, to put it slightly differently, a realism that has an uncompromising shine and excitement. Precarious beginnings on a tough housing estate are presented clean of self-pity in the first section: then the rebellious spirit goes “missing” in places exotic, cosmic, hallucinogenic or just sharply realigned “ordinary”.
Selecting a poem was a difficult task because I could not find any that did not resonate with me. Ultimately, I chose Hitchhiker because it successfully blends two elements that are typically kept separate in poetry: gripping storytelling and moments of realization. The latter can be described by the term “atemwende” coined by Paul Celan, which refers to the moment when one’s sense of self is temporarily suspended, allowing for complete openness.
A storyteller shares their experience of hitchhiking and builds suspense with a casual remark about the fear of being robbed, mugged, or murdered. As the narrator reflects on their hitchhiking life, it is safe to assume they did not meet a violent end. However, this statement piques our curiosity for what will unfold in the rest of the story.
Hogg effortlessly transitions between recounting events in the past and describing the current moment (with a preference for the latter), as well as between specific stories and broader observations. He takes us for a short ride in a fast Ford Cosworth before shifting in the second verse to different types of people who offer rides (such as Samaritans and opportunists) without losing momentum. This section plays with double meanings (“another” may discuss sexual encounters with truck drivers) and then shifts into a humorous anticlimax with the fashion designer who offers a mint to the hitchhiker and the jealous dog who growls from the back seat.
The story progresses smoothly throughout its six five-line stanzas, gradually building tension. The character known as “Punk Jesus” is introduced, similarly to the narrator, as someone who was not able to catch a ride near Bedford. However, he emerges as a figure of possible significance. Though we do not learn about his past, his appearance is described in vivid detail, hinting at past struggles that may have been resolved on the surface.
Now, however, a new character and car, (the family-sized Vauxhall Cavalier) are introduced as the hitchhiker’s more significant memory, effecting a shift of social class and mood. So where’s the narrator going with this, the reader thinks: will he get there safely through these sudden shadows of emotion and death?
Hogg’s perspective shifts our attention from “character” to the situation. We are not shown the teacher-driver or hear his personal reflections, but instead, we are completely immersed in what he has shared with the hitchhiker about his vacation with his terminally ill son. This creates the effect of watching a scene unfold on a Scottish loch, as the misty “row boat” becomes the focal point, almost as if it were captured by a camera. The white bubble could also represent the child’s unknown illness.
One interpretation of verse five is that it plays on the word “born” to represent the growing perspective of the boy’s consciousness. The use of the intransitive verb in “how the mist would clear and a castle / reveal” adds a jolt to Hogg’s shorthand techniques. The image of the castle is intriguing. It is difficult to determine if it is imaginary. However, the description of the “unexpected ramparts sealed with moss” is convincing and precise, even though the moss may also symbolize a sense of peaceful comfort, similar to the Jesus tattoo on the other hitchhiker’s forehead.
In the final scene, we may perceive the son through the father’s hopeful perspective or simply through the narrator’s storytelling and imaginative resolution. What makes the ending powerful is that the boy’s enthusiastic response remains within the realm of psychological possibility. Furthermore, as we continue reading Missing Person (now in the second section of the collection), we can envision the poet as a “prince in a fable with his own palace”. With solid structure and infused with dreams, games, and journeys, Nicholas Hogg’s poems consistently guide us “up and over the broken stone” to an invigorating and believable renewed imaginative world.