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This review is taken from PN Review 269, Volume 49 Number 3, January - February 2023.

Cover of Ephemeron
Rebecca HurstFiona Benson, Ephemeron (Cape Poetry) £12; Zaffar Kunial, England’s Green (Faber) £10.99
Mute Love

Ephemeron (Cape Poetry, 2022), Fiona Benson’s third collection of poetry, is divided into very different parts. The first, ‘Insect Love Songs’, contains the startling, erotic and scalpel-sharp poems about insects from her 2019 Guillemot Press pamphlet, Bioluminescent Baby. The remaining three sections – ‘Boarding School Tales’, ‘Translations from the Pasiphaë’ and ‘Daughter Mother’ – are a continuation of the work Benson began in Vertigo & Ghost (2019), plunging her readers back into the poetics of myth and motherhood. The lightning storm of rage that crackles over Vertigo & Ghost is transfigured in this new collection by the eerie green light of the glow worm in ‘Love Poem, Lampyridae (Glow Worms)’, which opens Ephemeron. The ‘single, green / seducing star’ heralds the katabasis of Benson’s writing, a sinking estrangement in a world where light pollution has drowned out darkness, contributing to the decimation of insect numbers, and where the lesson mothers must pass on to their children is (still) ‘how if you are female or small, you must run’.

Newly positioned within a larger body of work, the insect poems expand their reach and potency. Benson’s combining of violent passion and heartfelt sincerity is pitch-perfect when channeled into precise, exacting descriptions of glow worms, fire flies, mosquitoes and cockroaches (among others). Her humour is also evident in these poems, as is the body horror, which evokes Annie Dillard’s excruciatingly acute observational writing in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Benson’s insect encounters are so exact they have all the heat and zing of an electric shock. In ...

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