Tania Hershman’s second collection of poems, published by Nine Arches Press, explores the boundaries between animal and human, the worlds in which they live and the spaces they inhabit. Tania has this innate ability to find words that rest in the liminal spaces, almost like entering a Moroccan Souk, travelling through mazes of interlinking pathways, where you find intriguing treasures around each corner. It’s a journey into the unknown, the unexplored, and is a place that’s hard to leave, where the things you discover will remain in your mind long after the poem ends. It’s a magical, mystical experience.
‘What if you didn’t know what night was, landing here. What if you’d never heard of light.’
This enticing opening line, a questioning of reality, sets the tone for what is to follow. We explore time and space, the space within which and octopus can enter, remain, shape shift or escape. These poems explore the edges of mind and body, and the connections between the two in ways that will leave you resting on a particular word or phrase. She challenges our ideas of reality and meaning, our thoughts and feelings.
‘And what if the octopus could talk. And what if they turned to us and said, Enough with all the jars, and the tests of what we can get into and get through. You’ve seen what we can do.’
Each poem shifts the way an octopus changes its colour, reflecting its mood, yet there is a thread that connects many of the poems – the nature and shape of the heart, all that is hidden, the confines of space and the way that some things need to be released, or remain hidden.
‘And the body, too, has things it will never tell.’
The indefinite changes of the octopus are mirrored in the shifting of poems across the pages. There is something almost tidal about the ebb and flow of patterns. That the octopus is able to escape from a closed jar with such ease engages the reader with the idea that words can change and move within the confines of the structure of a poem. The fluidity of the words aid the journey as you travel through the pages.
‘I worry about where my heart is now, did it even reach you? Let go, whispers the octopus in my chest. These things are not in your control.’
The title poem, Still Life With Octopus, made me catch my breath, the words, ‘let go’, echoing through my mind. There is a literal and metaphorical letting go of expectations and of the boundaries you thought you understood. She creates a freedom with words and worlds where anything seems possible, exploring new possibilities and leaving the reader to ponder where the journey will take them.
A gifted writer and a wonderful short fiction teacher, her skilful mastery of words and her eye for the unseen reaches new heights in this stunning collection. With an extensive background in Science, including an MSc in Philosophy of Science, Tania’s research naturally seeps onto the page and into the words and worlds that she creates. This book is a thing of beauty; it’s a pure treasure and a collection that you will want to re-explore again and again.