Remember back in November I said Nobody any good is allowed to bring out a book until the start of the next financial year!. Well, a lot of good that did me. Fortunately I’ve had a birthday, and people who know me know enough to give me book tokens, so in spite of Lynn Moir’s pamphlet coming out, and the imminent arrival of pamphlets by Geoff Cooper, Judy Taylor and Juliet Wilson, I was able to conduct a raid a couple of weeks ago on Waterstones in Glasgow. It is my impression that they seem to be trying harder with the poetry these days, and I was hard pushed to keep within my budget (failed, actually, but then I knew I would).
Among the bunch was a pamphlet in the Faber New poets series by Fiona Benson. I met Fiona at Lumb Bank last year, and though there were several interesting ’emerging’ poets there, Fiona struck me as being one who stood out for the concentrated power and physical texture of her work.
She has Scottish connections, as she completed the MLitt in Creative Writing and a PhD on Ophelia as a dramatic type at St Andrews university, where she edited The Red Wheelbarrow.
This is a small collection, only seventeen poems, but each one pulls its weight, giving the pamphlet more good poetry to the square inch than many larger works. Fiona Benson deals a lot with love, sex and death, memory and premonition, and the ‘times between’ times. Images of fertility, healing and decay are frequent – a bird skeleton, spawning fish, the Hungerford Bridge ‘the simple stitch/heals the breach of the river’, but also the outdoors, gardens, coasts and cliff-tops, references to light, sea and wind. I like the colours, the space and the ‘bodilyness’ of her work, but more than that, the ability to sidestep sentiment and self-indulgence by expressing powerful emotional experiences through her painterly creation of her settings.
Fiona Benson’s first full collection, which she is currently working on, should be something to look forward to.