Fresh Air, Richard Myers
Handsel Press, 2021 £5.00
Farm animals, penguins, leopard seals, country girls and sailors are all headed in one direction in Richard Myers’ precisely crafted pamphlet, which draws on his experience of working life both as a sailor and in the Highlands. It’s a persuasive, if gloomy, destination.
All of the diverse characters that populate the poems are drawn with loving realism. The sheep are ‘wild-eyed ladies of the hills’, while in ‘Thor’
November tickles the deep-hung testes
of Thor the Shetland ram
In ‘Country Girl’, a singer pulls heartstrings and lures with dilated pupils, but ‘Her brown irises are / dead as a frosted farmyard’.
There are grim poems of pitching tents on icy ground, of being lost on the moor, of humanity drowning, shaken off by the planet itself. And in ‘Gannets’, there’s a sailor swinging like a pendulum in the gale before coming in to land
amongst half a ton of gasping fish,
beneath, around me, and down my oilskins.
The skipper in the wheelhouse
threatens a thunderous storm.
In the closing poems, we hear not only that a storm is coming, but also old age and the loss of friends. Meanwhile, the sea wind is skirting the gravestones at a funeral. The struggles of animals and their human companions finally all share a common human destination, announced by ‘The Tide Bell and the Cemetery’:
Each tide, waves
swing the bell to ring,
proclaim that all of us are
one at last: head and shoulders,
hip to hip beneath one dyke-ringed slope
of cropped and stunted grass
above the sea.