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Review: Fiona Benson's Bright Travellers

Never mind movements, schools and styles: fundamentally, there are two types of poet – those who see spirits, and those who just drink them. As Sean O'Brien noted when reviewing her Faber New Poets pamphlet in these pages in 2009, Fiona Benson is a sober, contemplative sort. But as her first full collection Bright Travellers reveals, she is as much drawn to the metaphysical as to the mystical, treating the poem as a kind of secular prayer. The opener, "Caveat", may be a terse appraisal of the cactus, its "moist heart" and "store of water / held beneath its spines" a working model of life's resilience in the face of inevitable hurt. But, elsewhere, a poem such as "Lares" is a full-blown hymn to the "small ghost" of a bird, conjuring this "noosed spirit of the eaves" as gatekeeper of a hidden world beyond our everyday outlook. Benson often draws on personal experience in her writing – wading "thigh-deep in polle
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The NS Poem: Mam Tor

 A new poem of mine features in the New Statesman Christmas issue, alongside two short poems by Alison Brackenbury and a new short story by Lawrence Osborne.     Read it above, or on their website .

"As if, with belief, we might achieve anything": from doubters to believers

Prior to this season’s emphatic campaign, Liverpool last won a title when I was five years old. Like many, I’m still processing the complex emotions associated with season after season of hope, belief, despair, frustration, vindication and determination that now, finally, have lead to the prize that has so long eluded a club built on winning in the decades leading up to my birth. From the outside, football can be — like so many things — caricatured, misunderstood, and easily dismissed. But it remains a guiding passion for many precisely because its twists and turns, tragedies and euphorias, reflect the human dramas of our own lives. As Bill Shankly quipped: football is not a matter of life and death; it is much more important than that. No one right now will understand that more than the two Liverpool captains pictured here. Steven Gerrard is a Liverpool legend for so many reasons: his devotion to his boyhood club despite the lure of silverware at other clubs through the 2000s and

A Poet's Guide to the Lockdown

I recently wrote an article for the Boston-based running outfitters Tracksmith : As a poet who also runs, I’ve spent a fair bit of time thinking and writing about the connections between athleticism and art; how both are competitive but ultimately solitary, joyful yet defiant, demanding resolve and routine, but also reflection. So how can poetry, or simply writing creatively, help a runner right now? You can read it in full on their journal .

"Simple tokens of death": Salt by David Harsent - review

If poems are like other people’s photographs in which we recognise ourselves, David Harsent’s writing catches us at our most vulnerable, vicious and unnervingly visceral. Reading through his back catalogue gives you the measure of his oeuvre: A Violent Country, After Dark, Dreams of the Dead, Mr Punch, Night . Stalking through an often nightmarish territory of half-apprehended horror and bleakness, the narrators of his poems survey human fear and frailty against the backdrop of an elemental, unforgiving world. Like a scene from a Hitchcockian movie, the worst always seems to be held just out of shot, all the more present for its apparent absence. Redemption and absolution are rarely on offer. Harsent may have a beautiful technical facility for language, its measure, weight and texture, but the ends to which it is put are as black as a darkroom negative. Salt is Harsent’s first collection since Fire Songs , winner of the 2014 TS Eliot prize. Its poems form a strange sequence of so