NEW HOPE INTERNATIONAL REVIEW

An independent small press poetry review

NHI independent review
VICTORIA BENNETT: FRAGILE BODIES
Wild Women Press
10 The Common
Windermere
Cumbria
LA23 1JH
UK
ISBN 0 9536989 4 7
5

VICTORIA BENNETT: FRAGMENTS
Wild Women Press
ISBN 0 9536989 7 1
5

VICTORIA BENNETT: BYRON MAKES HIS BED
Wild Women Press
ISBN 0 9554172 0 1
5

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VICTORIA BENNETT: FRAGILE BODIES

FRAGILE BODIES is an energetic collection at once fluent and restless and the poet's raw emotions and observations about her sexuality are abundant. These are poems about relationships, isolation and desire that lead the reader through a catalogue of experience. One could quote at random. Here are two stanzas, one from EROS and the other from POEM 5:

	I am becoming body,
	all these senses, tugging
	to touch you, to wander
	the blind territories of your skin,
and
	Why is it so hard to write this?
	Your syrup skin
	against the midnight jasmine.
	How my body screams for you.
The poems frequently sound as though they were written directly from the moment to the event. Directness, indeed, is one of Bennett's salient features; virtues even, both in her confrontation of experience and the language she brings to its description. As the quotations above suggest she is a sensual poet, unashamed and accepting of her body's needs and desires.

At one level this sensuality can be seen as adventurousness, a manipulation of the confident energy and abundance of joy in giving full rein to one's feelings. But it also suggests restlessness, a physical agitation figuring a restlessness of the spiritual side of life. MIGRATION implies this as the poet wonders what might happen to the future of her relationship:

	I am learning you
	so that I can carry you with me
	when all this becomes
	a fantastic glitch
	in an otherwise imperfect life,
While Bennett's poetry is full of joie de vivre, of pleasurable immersion in the world, the body, and the senses, it is also nervous, as though at any moment the experience might slip away. It is partly a diversion from an underlying anxiety
	the way the future seems
	both clear and dangerous
It is at once celebratory and alienated. In their obsessive attention to sexuality, to minute details, and physicality, the poems reflect an implicit awareness that things may not last
	Delicate,
	such raging extravagance
	is not meant to last the summer
These two elements, the joyous and the anxious, somehow seem present simultaneously, which results in a tension between exhilaration and nervousness. Scattered through the book are some excellent sparer poems POEM 16, NIGHTINGALE, POSTCARD HOME like pools of calm. Their impact is significant.

In FOREIGN BODIES one finds a melancholy that sits oddly close to ecstasy, as in the poem DO YOU WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT? where,

	There is only space filled with dark,
	the glutinous fluid of grief that slows 
	our lives down to an almost stillness.
Loss stalks these poems, not as a bogeyman but as a constant presence one has to keep one's peace with. In THE SHAPE OF THINGS Bennett says,
	How I wish I could reach you, 
	find the way to make the sounds
	that will bring you back,
	but we are speechless 
And the poems sing back, in muffled form from LET IT COME, sounding as though the poet has come to the realisation that she will be waiting for her lover to return. The poem has a lightness that begins with a brief sweet melody
	grieve my love and let the tears flow,
where she dwells on matters of life and death, and this tone is underlined in the unsentimentality of the final stanza:
	When all has come to dust, when you can cry
	no more, when your blood has stained
	the ground on which this world of sorrows stood,
	then look to the river.  I will be waiting,
	cleansed by water, fire and earth,
	ready to love.
In spite of this fixation on loss, Bennett's poetry is far from maudlin. It has moments of whimsy; hear the comic exuberance of INAPPROPRIATE, a rare instance of Bennett's humour. Or the darker yet definitely upbeat POEM 7, in which she tells her lover that even the sky is burning with rage at his going from her:
	The fire wind
	scorches the maple trees.
	Even the sky is raging
	against your leaving.
Yet, you can be sure that the next round of exquisite melancholia is never far away.
	We hover, poised for flight,
	wishing the rain would either stop
	or else, wipe the year's footprints from the soil,
she sings in a poem so indefinably familiar that it feels as though anyone in a similar situation might have written it. The soundwaves continue to reverberate long after the book is closed.

reviewer: Patricia Prime.
VICTORIA BENNETT: FRAGMENTS

The poet (founder of Wild Women and Wild Women Press) is stated in the blurb

to have undertaken the challenge of giving up her usual wild life to spend 40 days and 40 nights in an enclosed Franciscan monastery as part of a BBC2 documentary.
Decades since the lyric Cigarees and Whuskey and Wild Wild Wummen romantically enthralled its straight and narrow audiences, a gang of the wild sex, cached in Cumbria was rustled up by Victoria Bennett (having presumably survived all things from asbo's to royal protocol inescapably embedded in documentaries on Windsor Castle, whisky being now for retired colonels and cigarettes long paralysed by the NHS nutcracker).

It is thus, by change of tack of the BBC, that we are faced with 40 poems written during her stay at the Convent of Poor Clares, Arundel. She wrote a poem each day.

The reader should be suspicious of contrivance for maximal publicity of the poems, but probably like myself, having never seen the documentary, would be advised to simply take the poems at face value,truly influenced by the unworldly environment. I don't think any gimbals were fitted to aid 'poetry for the occasion', the overall effect of these 40 short poems being one of a natural blend.

Maybe a receptive atmosphere drew forth poetic qualities of which Bennett was unaware. or some temporary relief from married pressure was active. The poems often contain components of 'everlasting soul' and its destination more compatible with reincarnation than the standard post-Constantine Christian doctrine of judgment and bodily resurrection. 'Soul' is mentioned in poems DAY 7, DAY 15, DAY 19, DAY 25, DAY 34, DAY 35,and DAY 38; reincarnatory thoughts are implicit in DAY 27:

	My eye catches sight of another life,
	one in which I keep my days
	and many nights.
and in DAY 33, similar thoughts are compatible with the western interpretation of the kabbalistic Tree of Life:
	Do you want to walk this path 

	though it will mean  that you will taste
	and taste again the Fool's Portion?
Apart from poems which seem to concern eschatology, I admire most DAY 26: I indulge it full-length because its strength gains from line additions:
	The sun falls on this day,
	giving its last surrender to night,
	bright, unafraid.

	I too give in.
	At this hour I turn to meet
	the night's shade,
	the shadows lengthening
	their fingers across my body.  
 
	I wanted perpetual light,
	always midsummer.

	Instead I find Sister Night      
	has left her kiss.
	The imprint
	insists itself into my skin.

	This sun bleeds its body
	into the waiting ground
	gives itself to the soil,
	gives heat to unseen flowers.

	Even in the dark of my eyes
	this shape remains;

	light transfigured,
	the world upside-down.

reviewer: Eric Ratcliffe.
VICTORIA BENNETT: BYRON MAKES HIS BED

Some 30 years ago in Venice there was organised a fantastic swimming race. The course began on the Lido, crossed the lagoon, went up the Canal Grande, under the Rialto Bridge and finished somewhere near the Ferrovia, the railway station. The race was held in remembrance of Lord Byron's famous bet, which he won, by swimming over that same lengthy course and bedding two women all in one day.

The dreamy out of focus cover photograph had me fooled for a moment. But when I looked into the book, having anticipated a waft of perfumed lace and roses poetry, I found as I should have anticipated from a book with the words Byron and bed on its cover, that I was totally wrong. And thank goodness for that!

Reading these wonderful opening lines of the title poem, BYRON MAKES HIS BED AND LIES IN IT, I gathered my wits; after all this is the bed of a famous seducer and rake about town. Admitting to being led astray by bad-boy Byron, Victoria Bennett, now a wild woman herself, begins:

	I strip it bare, back to the horsehair,
	rip away the soiled, replace it
	with the coldness of a clean white sheet,
	slide my hands around the corners,
	neatly fold each edge to hold
	the mass of unspent dreams.
There are 30 poems within the 48 pages of this well-produced collection from Wild Women Press, a non-profit collective, which has its home in the English Lake District. Clearly the poetry of Cumbria's wild women is a far cry from the mountain path ramblings of Wordsworth & Co.; these days in Lakeland the rhyming couplet is what's between bedsheets.

The reader will appreciate the depiction of our poetical rake's Modus Operandi in the following extract from THE WOLF THAT FOLLOWS THE SUN:

	You came, your hands already blood-stained,
	to take me, strip me, make me yours
	and when you were done,
	when you had nailed the last silver pelt to the church,
	when you had littered your language
	with tales of my obscenities,
	garbed me in the robes of your grandmother
	...
	you packed up your weapons and left.
And as for any swimming lessons? It's DOWN RIVER then:
	You lean in, eyes open, to kiss my skin:
	I take you to the water and pull you in.
Victoria Bennett is a rare talent; crazy enough to love the dark side of the clubfooted meandering genius Byron and with the poetic wherewithal to write of it with an elegant sexiness, great depth of understanding and an almost casual panache as she does here in lines from NYATAIMORI, the art of eating sushi from the body of a naked virgin:
	I take a piece of ice-chilled fish
	between finger and thumb,
	place it on your lips, and feed.
I bet Byron himself would have been delighted with Victoria Bennett's wild women poems. They may sell-out faster than ice-cold sushi so better play safe and order one today.

reviewer: Gwilym Williams.