A Warm and Snouting Thing, Ramona Herdman
The Emma Press, 2019 £6.50
Delight in subtlety
I love the experience of reading and it dawning on me that I know this poet is communicating, and trusting me, the reader, to have the wherewithal to grasp layers of subtlety. I felt that strongly throughout this pamphlet, but as much as anywhere in my two favourite poems.
‘Comeuppance’ is a very simple one, in some ways: some teenage girls are moving through a train where the poet is a passenger. Here’s how the scene is set:
The girls walk down the train aisle in glittery eyeshadow
and vest tops in April. The creepy old men are watching them
and they like it. [...]
They could be fourteen. Or sixteen. How could we not
look up from our laptops? We in our suits or cardigans.
And the poet notices them, and observes people’s reactions, including her own. And she travels smoothly and easily between impressions and memories, before ending on a fascinating, subtle message:
Be aware of men’s power, even as you make them feel things.
Even as you draw them unstoppably after you.
The world is not as it should be, my loves.
It’s a wonderful poem. And immediately following comes ‘Bless email and bless boredom and bless’ – which again, above all, for me, works for its subtlety. As well as telling one particular story, it manages to be a kind of love poem to office life. Like ‘Comeuppance’, it captures the aura of a whole particular life stage and setting: young adults thrown together in the strange security of ‘nine-to-five endlessness’. It has such a gentle touch in its kind refrain of ‘bless’ this, ‘and bless’ that:
But mostly bless that ongoing precise
and dancing mental drafting
while dealing with spreadsheets,
purchase orders and all the other emails.
Bless the heart’s ping
when one arrives with your name next to it.
Again, that word ‘ping’ has innocence to it, as does the line: ‘Bless going home to our lives.’ And the situation is safe and containable, and contained as the poem’s priceless close makes clear. Bless this poem! And bless this poet’s subtlety.