Bright Travellers

Bright Travellers

Summary

Winner of the 2015 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize
Winner of the 2015 Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry Prize for First Full Collection
Shortlisted for the 2015 T. S. Eliot Prize
Shortlisted for the 2014 Forward Prize for Best First Collection

In this remarkable, intensely moving, first collection, Fiona Benson shows her fascination with human experience. The poems move on archaeological fast-forward from submerged Devonian forests and a Paleolithic cave-bear skull to the site of decommissioned submarines at HMNB Devonport, where the sea is ‘still a torpedo-path, / an Armageddon road’. She explores the shared human continuum of bodily longing – from the Prehistoric maker of a wooden fertility fetish, to a modern-day couple wading through summer pollen – and the timeless cycles of conception, birth and child-rearing.

A central sequence of dramatic monologues addressed to Van Gogh allows for a focussed exploration of depression, violence, passion and creativity. In these poems, as in all the poems in this impressive debut, we feel keenly the sense of life lived at the edge of threat – catastrophe, even – but also on the cusp of beauty and happiness. Other poems about the bewildering loss of miscarriage are hard to read and impossible to forget, moving with grace and authority through great grief to arrive at a hard-won destination of selfless, unqualified love.

‘I remember again / the corridor / of the labour ward // and that woman / sitting weeping / with her man // having given birth / to a death – / small grey face, // no breath, / something you cannot help / but love – // habibi, akushla, /I go home alone / but carry you, // courie you, / little slipped thing, / to the ends of the earth.’

Reviews

  • Solemn scrutiny, intoxicating lyricism and a dark imagination.
    Ben Wilkinson, Guardian

About the author

Fiona Benson

Fiona Benson lives in Devon with her husband and their two daughters. She has published three previous collections of poetry, all of which were shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize: Bright Travellers, which won the 2015 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry's Prize for First Full Collection, Vertigo & Ghost, which was shortlisted for the 2019 Rathbones Folio Prize and won both the Roehampton Poetry Prize and the Forward Prize for Best Collection, and Ephemeron, which was shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize and the London Hellenic Prize.
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