Friday, 1 January 2010

Poetry: Recommendations from 2009 (3 of 6) Fiona Benson 'Faber New Poets 1'

'Faber New Poets 1' by Fiona Benson

The Faber New Poets scheme has selected eight young poets - four this year, four next - to nurture through pamphlet publication and a reading tour, with a bursary and mentorship by a leading Faber poet. In Fiona's Case, this is Alice Oswald - a good choice, and not just because of their geographic proximity. Fiona has an unerring knack of finding some correspondence between the inner and outer worlds and dissecting it forensically, using language that is both precise and beautiful, as in 'Lares'.

Of the seventeen poems in this chapbook, none stray over a page and the majority fulfill their destiny in fourteen lines and under, but if this sample of her work is slim, it is far from sleight. None go beyond her own experience, but it is experience that has been hard won, and harder rendered in words; female but transcending the feminine and reaching out beyond a gender specific audience.

Some of you may have seen the episode of the Culture Show that contained a feature on the Faber four on tour. The editors of the programme were generous in giving the piece ten full minutes, but didn't always serve them well, unsure whether to give it a comic Monkees-like jauntiness, or take the poetry seriously. Fiona was best served by the latter approach, especially when they ended the footage with her reading a complete poem, the glorious Yorkshire scenery of Lumb Bank behind her.

In my recent visit to 'Shakespeare & Co' in Paris I sought out a copy, wanting it embossed with the famous 'kilometre zero' stamp. They had not only sold out of Fiona's pamphlet, they'd ordered six more that day, and were hoping to invite her there for a reading, so she is deservedly finding an audience, and no doubt the Faber imprint and well-handled publicity is helping that push; let's hope they go on to publish a full collection, and soon. I have nothing against the other three of the four - I've read and enjoyed some of their work - but was surprised to see Fiona being the only exclusion from the recent 'Voice Recognition: 21 Poets for the 21st Century' anthology published by Bloodaxe.

Surprised, and yet not so surprised. Much of the work in that book is replete with contemporary references that seem now now but will seem then later. Fiona Benson doesn't write like that. She has an understanding of, and reverence for, her predecessors. But she also has a compact with the future, and writes for those who will follow her, excluding the unnecessary or temporarily specific, until the words could be carved on stone. And some of them should be.

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