“A veritable feast” – Terms & Conditions by Tania Hershman

As a reader with no tertiary qualifications in language or literature I was, for many years, reluctant to pass comment on poetry. It is a form that requires more than simple reading of words to be appreciated and I feared ridicule for my unscholarly interpretations. These days I read for pleasure making no claim on any ability to knowledgeably parse or critique. Much like music, if it feeds my soul I will rate it.

On this basis, Terms and Conditions is a veritable feast. It offers a literary dégustation to be dipped into and savoured. So many of the offerings left me sated it is a challenge to select just a few for special mention here.

The book opens with ‘Baby’, in which a child is being carried (or are they directing?), gathering data as they travel by train. Baby’s thoughts are on absorbing the now, but they also look forward to what could be with curiosity, hope and anticipation.

In ‘What do we do when the water rises?’, the subject is the behaviour of fire ants, how they survive as a colony – a lesson for humans:

“How do they know

How hard to hold, and when

To let each other go?”

‘Insist on it’ entreats the reader not to give in to the persuasion of others who are older, who believe they know better, perhaps because they still see a child to be schooled. Knowledge and experience require a past. Life is worth exploring in other directions.

As one who eschews pigeonholing I was particularly drawn to ‘No, I do not Tango’. This notes the names people are given by others, labels widely assigned. The narrator will not be owned by such limitations:

“You can call me anything you like. I know my name.”

‘Surplus, 1919’ was inspired by the two million women labelled as such due to the lack of marriageable men after World War I. At the time the women’s worth was often judged by marriage. It was not they who sent the men to die.

“how now to live: alone

Or worse, with parents; how

To earn, with what to occupy

Those hours emptied of expected

Spouse and children.”

‘How to be fully-grown’ explores the stamping out of impropriety in children, the quashing of fun. Adults look on as the adults-in-training enjoy sliding across a brilliantly-shined museum floor on their knees. How long before they cease considering such pleasures as possibilities?

‘Where once Mercury had winged feet’ offers the nostalgia and excitement of a passionate kiss, emotions generated floating above whatever else weighs down the kissed.

Any Cop?: This entire work, the author’s debut poetry collection, pulses emotion, speaking softly, powerfully in the silences after reading. The poems explore existence, love and ‘the uncertain business of our daily lives’. There is nothing difficult to understand, although it takes more than these few words to eloquently convey the depth of sensation. The appreciation is in how the reader is made to feel.


Jackie Law

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