Poetry review – A WARM AND SNOUTING THING: Charlie Hill reviews an engaging and intriguingly ambiguous new collection from Ramona Herdman
Ramona Herdman delights in the corporeal and this is a collection full of heart. Take the ‘warm and snouting thing’ of the title poem ‘that’s maybe me/or maybe part of me’ and ‘…snuffles round/at possibilities, that bounds/across the fields alongside my commute’:
The thing can sense a kindred thing across a crowded room, can feel potential heat in a withheld hand, can strike a flint on the look in a stranger’s eye as he returns my pen in smiling silence.
The poem is also typical in that it allows for several different interpretations of its meaning. The ‘thing’, is part awareness of – and urge to explore – both other people and – with apologies for the imprecision of the term – ‘freedom’: but is it manifest as muse, or lover, or both?
A willingness to engage with a more nuanced aspect of duality of meaning – the reconciliation of seemingly opposed elements – showcases another of Herdman’s qualities. A few of these poems celebrate the comforts and reassurances to be found within a long-term relationship:
Love, I want you clothed. I want you to yawn and stretch so I glimpse the reach of skin at the base of your back under rucked fabric. That place I feel the muscles react when we hug. Like the sway in the trunk of a tree when the wind moves its branches. [“Valentine, thirteen years in”]
Other poems look at desire and the sometimes complex challenges these relationships bring. This is from “Tease”:
we are all civilised here it’s safe to bat the entendres back return the odd glance but I watch my back walking home unlock lock the door quick slip through double-bolt like a matador feeling slow
“This is just to say” covers the same ground and is quite superb. As is “Bless email and bless boredom and bless”, about a colleague at work who causes the poet to ‘Bless not-quite invitations/not quite enough to evidence a disciplinary’ and ‘…not walking/to the shops at lunch together’ and other interactions, before finishing with ‘Bless that summer-breathed continuation/of back of the class subdued naughtiness./And bless us for stopping it.’
As well as stimulating an emotional response then, Herdman also makes the reader think. An excellent collection.