A metaphysical sensibility runs like a fine thread through the heart of Kaddy Benyon’s windswept second collection. Her themes are isolation, union, and the challenges and rewards of intimacy. These strong yet undefended poems hold tenderness and desolation in a tense balance but, drawing inspiration from chronicles of female courage, they are ultimately redemptive, revealing again and again a desire to rejoin the messy throng of life – in the manner of her memorable, imagined cockle, with its “one muscled digger foot / dragging it back to the Atlantic.”
(The World’s Two Smallest Humans, Faber & Faber)
Kaddy Benyon’s The Tidal Wife will inhabit you for days, weeks, years. These poems interrogate, with eye-watering honesty, the many fractured pieces of a ‘self’ – the roles we play and chafe under, the repressions, explosions, breakdowns, and fierce moments of joy. They are songs of a gorgeous, unforced musicality and startling imagery, from “the blue carcass of a saltmarsh lamb” to the splashback “litmussing” a child’s jeans as they crouch to piss. And Benyon’s gift for simile is to die for – witness the daughter spinning through a cartwheel “like a pheasant shot from the sky”. This book leaves you scoured and salted, but also joyously enriched by the power of poems that dare to show themselves “vulnerable side up”.
(Bright Travellers, Jonathan Cape)
In The Tidal Wife Benyon navigates the territory of motherhood and marriage with a devastating frankness, whilst exploring the risk and spectacle of extreme physical terrains. Her poems take us to the far edges of visceral experience, ‘its salt-crusted brinks’ resulting in a collection that is fearless and astonishing.
(Her Birth, Carcanet: Northern House)
In The Tidal Wife Kaddy Benyon dramatises “that unruly human cycle / of pull and push”. On the one hand there’s the lure of island life and its creative potential, on the other the claims of family and home. Between the two, language ebbs and flows with restless energy through poems of formal invention and imaginative risk. Shaped by the scouring force of the elements, interspersed with pockets of shelter and calm, this is a bold, exhilarating book.
(The Wound Register, Bloodaxe)
Held on the map of my palm
I have a sense of a different ending.
Each threaded vein of it reaching
beyond the pebble’s edge
connects to the carved pink leys
and channels of my skin. Here –
a heartline not stopping at loss,
but breaking free to ramble now
in search of finer trails: scents, traces
of life unsevered by my other hand.
There – a new passage overlays
a violet twist of hate and shame, wipes
out a fatal double-helix long enough
to let your gift’s bright tributaries
reroute the past and navigate a
continent of trust. My heart’s needle
shivers and spins, settling for
a true north where this wander lust
must begin, must end, each new
territory crossed taking me further
from your touchstone: closer to myself.
Kaddy Benyon 2014
Settlers long-dead, their chattels gulped
deep inside the mire with every saline tide.
They rise; awaken that fear in you:
being held for centuries, your bonetight leathers
preserved and warped in layered darkness.
You stumble across reed sumps and sand
piles where shy birds hide and flies seek dun,
low-bellied cows hard at their indolent munching.
You stagger the sunken coast road, its salt-
crusted brinks, its mounds of broken harvests,
smatterings of shattered scapulae. You lurch
in a ditch, let a milk-haired farmer speed by
hauling a trailer of mulched peat at the back
of a clapped-out silver Maestro. You spy inside,
on the blanketed back seat: a metal detector,
samphire, the blue carcass of a saltmarsh lamb.
Imagine him bent at a kitchen table, sifting
his darkened haul through cracked black fingers,
culling out the bones of a new work – the unfastened
bones, black bones, dried and unfastened –
licking his lips as the lamb fat crackles, spits.
Kaddy Benyon 2015
(after ‘Mary’, 2016 by Miranda Boulton)
Desire: as though flesh
and bone could ever grow
here once more.
A wastepaper basket
brimful of discarded drafts:
fuel for the long night’s
fire – fuel
for a burgeoning.
Later, trying to describe
what’s imprinted itself
on my mind overnight
I glance at the pages
opening in the flames
see briefly, again, the roses.
Kaddy Benyon 2017