Nothing Here Is Wild, Everything Is Open, Tania Hershman
Southword Editions, 2016 £5.00
This collection is easy to read. Every poem has a lovely lilt, and is so lightly cast off. Despite the fact many have weighty subject matters, they don’t weigh on a reader’s mind. And yet, to me, they carry conviction. Often, I was reminded of children’s classics, or nursery rhymes (I’ve even popped some of my wilder associations in brackets).
The pamphlet starts with ‘And What We Know About Time’ (and I notice, too, the impact of initial caps for every word in titles). The poem is about the narrator’s father dismantling a clock, then putting it back together (Hickory Dickory Dock; Humpty Dumpty). It’s a wonderful children’s book scene, including the dog who ‘dreamed and snored’ (picture books like We’re Going on a Bear Hunt). It ends resoundingly with a rhyme (‘drawer’ with ‘for’).
As does ‘Hold The Baby’ – a surreal, maybe-dream prose poem. Again, that rhyme closes the poem with a satisfying click: ‘Some time had passed, maybe / minutes, and she wanted to drop the baby. Not hard, not on the / floor, just not to hold it any more.’ (Alice in Wonderland)
Or take two consecutive First World War poems: both manage to be arresting while startlingly light. The idea of ‘Folding a field’ in ‘Lessons In Flanders Agriculture’ is, to my mind, straight from a children’s book illustration: ‘one man at each corner / many down the sides’ (Mrs Pepperpot; The Grand Old Duke of York).
Or ‘Delville Wood’ with its wonderful extra emphasis of a well-placed exclamation mark. Here:
...It was/ a horse
Fire on them
Fire on them!
A horse, grazing.
And ‘Life Just Swallows You Up’ really does read like a nursery rhyme: ‘She passes // just after dessert arrives. Shame, / says the waiter, poised to whisk / away her Eton Mess. Leave it, I say // and sit there, orphaned...’ (Both this and ‘Delville Wood’ put me in mind of Belloc’s Cautionary Tales.)
I may well be over-egging my impression. But the effect on me of these poems is interesting and unusual. Is it something about carrying seriousness lightly? If so, Tania Hershman does it beautifully.