Nothing Here is Wild, Everything is Open by Tania Hershman

Reviewed by Angela Topping

I first encountered Hershman’s work as a short story writer published by Salt. She has now extended into poetry: Nothing Here is Wild, Everything is Open was published through the Fool for Poetry chapbook competition, and was a runner-up in this year’s Saboteur Awards. It’s an elegant 20-poem pamphlet, which I have heard Hershman read from at Poets and Players, so I first enjoyed these poems by ear, an excellent way to discover a book. On the page, it is possible to appreciate some of the open field poems and more experimental layouts, for instance in ‘Insomnia’. This poem uses lunar imagery, and the layout resembles both the moon itself – in a combination of full and crescent – and the scattered sleep and strange dreams of the insomniac. In ‘Jigsawed’, the layout is used to contrast the choices in the poem, which makes an interesting love poem. For the first choice, of entering a relationship, words are scattered to show the jigsaw pieces drifting together, and the second choice, of refusing a relationship, contains tightly bound words to make a whole. It’s fun.

It is possible to see that Hershman’s story writing has influenced her poetry style: many of these poems are small vignettes, tiny narratives, like ‘The Biologist and the Birds’, but these are pared down and sometimes enigmatic or allegorical. Several themes emerge. Science is often used metaphorically, the sea comes and goes tidally, and many of the pieces can be read as love and friendship poems, though this is always obliquely done. Characters and people are important to Hershman, as one might expect from an accomplished writer of fiction. ‘Pulled’ is a small amusing lyric which might or might not be from personal experience (I admit I am a fan of personal experience in poetry, even though we all embroider a little, don’t we?) about a boy taking the speaker on to a roof to see the stars as a ploy to get her alone. ‘Dreams of a Tea Seller’ is about secret dreams: in this case the seller of elegant teas secretly wants to be a builder, and drink builder’s tea.

For me, the stand-out poem in this pamphlet is ’Lessons in Flanders Agriculture’, a highly original war poem tackling a topic which is beginning to defy original ideas:

Folding a field takes and army
one man at each corner
many down the sides

Many of the poems take this kind of surrealist slant, which often leads to surprising and quirky approaches which keep the reader entertained. Hershman is skilled at prose poems too, and a couple of these are included. On the whole this is an interesting first foray into poetry, and I hope Hershman continues to write in both genres. The pamphlet is nicely produced, with a wrap around cover and good quality cream paper, which makes it a pleasure to handle. Eileen White’s collaged cover design suits the poems perfectly.