Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

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The yin and yang of sex appeal

From Ramona Herdman’s opening sonnet, her pamphlet oozes with what she refers to in her first poem as ‘my sex sense’. Teenage and young adult sex is by no means unusual in current poetry. What her poems do, however, is reveal its complications, probing the impact flirting has on the perpetrator as well as those on the receiving end.

An urban dictionary gives ‘snouting’ as ‘sticking the nose up vagina & butt’. This suggests explicit language, and Herdman’s first, HappenStance pamphlet led her readers to expect precision. Directness and accuracy are maintained, added to which there’s a cheeky humour.

Be it pony craze or subsequent thrill, girls (mostly the lyric ‘I’) will test the precarious edge between danger and safety. The collection starts, and closes penultimately, with an erotic situation. ‘He’ ‘sits too close....’  The perpetrator is ‘safe’ because there’s a stable partner in the background. At the same time the narrator is aware of the magnetism and can’t resist teasing (‘Tease’).

‘Shave’ zips backwards and forwards through time in which domesticity is conveyed with simple words that reveal complex feelings. The ‘mustn’t /  of reaching to touch’ in a haircutting scene spun me to Hoagy Carmichael’s titillating crooning of Robin Sarstedt’s ‘My resistance is low’.

Girls enjoy the power that flirting offers, so why not do it, the poems suggest — a liberal attitude endorsed throughout. ‘I remember the sudden novelty / of making adult men feel something’ (‘Comeuppance’). Animals, too, play risky games: ‘You can see they don’t fool / each other an inch, don’t try.’ (‘Two cats on a Valentine card’).

Blaming others for a tendency to flirt, in ‘Salad Spinner’, involves the family; while ‘Anemone’ digs deeper, acknowledging shame for this tendency to blame.

The title poem, ‘There is a thing’, embraces the whole nexus of interrelated feminine reactions. Taking liberties entails both self-knowledge and taking responsibility for oneself. The pamphlet concludes with a poem that’s moving as well as sexy.

Sally Festing