Fiona Benson

The Judges said:

Ephemeron impressed us with its extraordinary movement. Between the worlds of insects, myths, boarding schools and mothers; the tender, vulnerable places Benson has found, the connections she makes.

The poems in Ephemeron deal with the short-lived and transitory – whether it’s the brief, urgent lives of the first section, ‘Insect Love Songs’, the abrupt, anguished, physical and emotional changes during secondary school, as remembered in ‘Boarding-School Tales’, or parenting’s day-by-day shifts through love and fear, hurt and healing, in ‘Daughter Mother’.

Telling uncomfortable truths, going deep into male and female drives and desires, our most tender and vulnerable places, and speaking of them in frank, unshrinking ways – these poems are afraid, certainly, but also beautiful, resolute and brave.

Published by Cape Poetry

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Fiona Benson lives in Devon with her husband and their two daughters. She has published two previous collections which were both 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, and 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.


Five Questions for Fiona Benson

At what age did you know you wanted to become a writer?

I don’t think I ever imagined ‘becoming a writer’ was possible, I just needed to write.


What was your favourite childhood book? 

Part of my early childhood was spent in Denmark and I remember (very dimly) visiting Hans Christian Anderson’s house. I was given a beautiful illustrated translation of Thumbelina, in a pale green cover and my sister had The Ugly Duckling which somehow also ended up in my possession (don’t tell her). We also had Christmas in Noisy Village by Astrid Lindgren (a Danish version, from the Swedish, which my Mum translated fragmentarily into English). I adored Ilon Wikland’s illustrations, and still read the book with my own children every Christmas (though I found an English translation!).


Which is your favourite book of recent years?

Sophie Herxheimer’s Velkom to Inklandt: Poems in my Grandmother’s Inklisch really captured my imagination and heart. It’s written phonetically, so you can hear the Grandmother’s voice, and it’s gorgeously illustrated throughout with Herxheimer’s paper cut-outs. Herxheimer’s work is playful, surprising, deep-hearted and inspiring.


What three books would you take to your Desert Island?

– The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton

– Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red 

– Sharon Olds – I can’t choose a single collection, I love them all too much, so I’d have to take her Selected.


Who or what have been your most important influences?

All the writers mentioned above and hundreds more – including my darling Liz Berry, Rita Dove, Robin Robertson, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Walt Whitman, Danez Smith, Tracy K Smith, Matthew Dickman, Shakespeare, Robert Hayden, Marie Howe, H.D., Emily Dickinson John Berryman, Ntozake Shange, Elizabeth Bishop, Mark Doty, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Robert Frost, Mary Oliver, Alice Oswald, Kathleen Jamie, Daljit Nagra, etc etc etc.