Fresh Air, Richard Myers
Handsel Press, 2021 £5.00
Leaving a clear view
One of the things these poems do well, is observe females, in a specific moment in a specific relationship, often with a male. In ‘Angel of the Sheep Pen’:
Such is the shepherdess this century,
no dreaming on sunny slopes
with ewes and lambs at play, no lyre,
no flirting with the farmer’s son,
but dogged surrender to the round
of dagging, dousing, nursing, weighing
The shepherdess works unaware of being observed, unlike the woman on stage in ‘Country Girl’
every note exemplary, cracks, lingers
rewardingly on self-pity,
pulling heart strings round the room.
But what the narrator really wants to draw to the reader’s attention to is that while the shepherdess’s ‘dilated pupils lure. / Her brown irises are / dead as a frosted farmyard’. This is not a judgement, just an observation, presented in a neither condemning nor condoning tone. The same dispassionate tone inhabits the comment on the woman (not the wife) who is crying in ‘A funeral’:
That woman weeping
behind his wife held him in high esteem,
and more, if words that slipped
vermillion lips were true.
And it’s not just human females that are observed. In ‘Fleecing the Ladies’:
Wild-eyed ladies of the hills
wriggle, push and jump
in the queue to the shearing board.
Similarly, in ‘Thor’, there’s the ‘chatter of hens re-sorting the pecking order’ while Agneta and Justina resisting the advances of Thor (the Shetland ram).
But for me, the most memorable relationship between female and male comes in ‘The Knacker’:
He was late, dithered at the entrance gate,
came down as far as the hard ground allowed.
She ate eagerly from a yellow bucket.
He scratched her head, tipped pail, laid gun
so gently to forehead. A crack, her life gone.
Does this man, who presumably kills often, retain a gentle reverence for this female creature’s life? Or does he just want the job done fast, with minimum fuss, so he can get paid and be gone? Once again, the narrator makes no judgement, just shows, then steps out of the way to let the reader decide.