Tuesday 7 January 2020

Turning tactile, Ramona Herdman's A warm and snouting thing

For my money, Ramona Herdman is one of the best poets on the U.K. scene at reading her own work. I was lucky enough to see her read from her most recent pamphlet, A Warm and Snouting Thing (Emma Press, 2019) in London recently, and I was most struck by how she paced each line, each word to perfection, accelerating and then slowing down, as in the ending to No Better Than She Should Be Red…

…the garden tapestried
with shock-sweet little nippled sherbet candies

vigorous  sprawling  decadent  shameless.

When seeing these lines on the page, I can physically feel Herdman lingering over those last four words, relishing the physical shape of their consonants and vowels, turning her poetry tactile.

Moreover, the above-mentioned poem is representative of much of the pamphlet in thematic terms. A Warm and Snouting Thing confronts and subverts traditional roles, especially when dealing with gender and sex, sometimes explicitly, as in Comeuppance…

…And I remember the sudden novelty
of making adult men feel something.

Of stealing some of their power. Making a ripple
in the world…

Moreover, this extract provides an excellent example of Herdman’s harnessing of sentence structure so as to play further with pace, with surprise and expectation. In this example, she allows a sentence to flow according to convention before slamming the brakes on, challenging both linguistic and social conventions.

At other times, meanwhile, Herdman’s technique is more implicit. She is adept at layering descriptions. In the following extract from Nudes, she juxtaposes them, allowing them to play off each other, inviting comparison and contrast:

…Summer-comfortable just in skin,
butter baby, unselfconscious, playing
in the stained glass shadows on the parquet…

Taken in the context of her previous (also excellent) pamphlet, Bottle (HappenStance Press, 2018) it’s clear that Ramona Herdman is building an outstanding body of work. Her challenge now would seem to be the development and publication of a new full collection that would enable her to reach a wider readership and surely gain the extra recognition that her poetry so richly deserves.

However, for the moment, let’s relish her most recent offering: A Warm and Snouting Thing invites you in, challenges your pre-conceptions and takes you on a sensorial journey in the space of thirty pages. What more do you want…?!

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