The poetry in Tania Hershman’s first full collection, Terms and Conditions (Nine Arches Press, 2017), is riddled with strong storylines. This is perhaps to be expected, bearing in mind her background as an acclaimed short story writer. So what makes her verse different from her prose?
Well, first off, there’s her control and manipulation of line length and ending, as in the following extract from “Getting away with it”:
“…I want you
to hold my hand
for slightly longer
than is necessary…"
The statement “I want you” seems clear and strong when given a line of its own, as in this case. Of course, it’s immediately undercut and weakened by the next line. This is one of many indications that Hershman understands the nuts and bolts of poetry.
Moreover, the above extract leads us into a pivotal thematic, semantic and syntactic element of Terms and Conditions: tension. Those line endings ramp up tension, the qualifying of apparent absolutes ramps up tensions, while the development of opposites – in this case weak and strong – also ramps up tension.
To what end all this tension? This next quote is enlightening on that front. It’s from “The uncertainty principle”, in which the speaker waits for wanted/unwanted post to come through the door. The poem’s title is significant. This piece homes in on human emotions yet it references a scientific principle, striking up yet another tension between the two. Hershamn raises doubts as to science’s ability to provide insight while simultaneously seeking refuge in its resources:
“…I could seal
string. But I prefer
to make friends
let it all in.”
Once more, line endings are key to an understanding of this poem. “To make friends” seems straightforward until it’s nuanced by the following line: “with uncertainty”, as the speaker becomes reconciled with apparent contradictions
In conclusion, Tania Hershman’s first full collection is characterised by the deft way she works through her relationship with life, always implicating and involving the reader in that process. By acknowledging that life is packed with tensions and opposites, by accepting and embracing their juxtaposition and coexistence, she’s able to renegotiate her own terms and conditions.