Kaddy Benyon was born and raised in East Anglia. Her poems have appeared in several literary magazines and websites. She won the Crashaw Prize 2012 and her first collection, Milk Fever, is published by Salt. This year she was also introduced by Gillian Clarke as a Granta New Poet and become Invited Poet at the Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge where she is writing her second collection.
“The poems in Milk Fever draw on myth, motherhood, loss and rebirth. They are so sharply observed they can leave you breathless, and with details so clear and new-minted they heighten your sense of the world. Whether they are set in the north pole, a mineshaft in Chile, Pasternak’s Russia, a tiny Italian island, ancient Greece or a volcano in Argentina, one finds the same disquiet lurking, the same poignant complexity paired with an assured, unguarded and intimate address.”
“I’m fascinated by paradoxes: by that space between fantasy and reality and what can take root, poem-shaped, and start growing there. Whether I’m playing with my children, swimming, writing or painting – I’m really thinking about that space, that synapse in thoughts and feelings that can only be expressed in a poem.
The first inklings of Milk Fever came on a flight from Texas to London in 2009. I was travelling with my four-year-old daughter and when the plane hit turbulence, without taking her eyes from the film, she clung to me with a sticky, lolly-poppy hand and was instantly soothed. I had such a strong urge to do the same to a polished lady sitting on my other side that, to distract myself, I counted all the older women who have shaped me. By the time we landed, the first draft of a tiny, tentative poem about one of my ‘other mothers’ had formed, and the collection grew and evolved from there.”
“Kaddy Benyon’s poems are physical, earthy, powered by the salt of guilt, the cadences of liturgical language, the familiar stations of the day, close family relationships. Such poetry draws on the rich ground of childhood to question the big subjects: family, love, sin. It stirs primitive fears and desires that are the spark in the steel.”
– Gillian Clarke
“Here are poems which combine dark Lawrentian fire with sparkling contemporary diction to great effect: poignant, far-reaching, reflective, elemental. A remarkable debut.”
– Penelope Shuttle
“I love the earthy, physical quality of the poems, which as they turn at their ends, renders shock and very physical astonishment in the act of reading. I keep trying to turn over their words, as it were, like stones. I love them and look forward to reading more.”
– Sean Borodale
after ‘Wave Spinning’ 2008, by Maggi Hambling
Find a museum, a bookshop, a park
when feeling mournful, all at sea.
Sit on a bench, hold tight, invite
nobody in with words or eyes or sighs,
just be – be still in the flotsam
of crashing moods, believe in the selkie
(her silk kelp skirts and impish smile),
let her slowly surface from oil-spattered
spindrifts, loop your pale fingers
through the curves of her spine, rest
your head on her shoulder while she sails
you back to life, surfing a blue-green
vein along the estuary of your wrist.
Pomegranate & Pin
I have waited for the tenth day
to tear this fruit apart,
my thumbs dig deep in its rusty skin,
get stung by its sharp, slick spill.
Just six of these gelled seeds –
swaddled embryos bursting with talent –
I’ve placed on my tongue, kept warm
as a first kiss, safe as a daughter.
Look, a globe of pale moon spins,
a darkening world turns below.
Between fair freckles of a star-blown
night and hard arthritic roots
pulsing beneath my feet, I stand alone
inside this moment, inside
this covenant I am making with you,
with her, the self I pray to find.
I push my fingers inside the two half-shells,
into unhealed flesh; live fibres
until a kind of blood weeps to my wrists,
leaks on my chest. I bury the pips
around a mountain ash, whispering
my hurts, my fears, my lusts
until the language I nursed on runs dry.
I seal my eyes, my lips, each failure
and regret as I crush the seeds, feel
a bittersweet surge of life, its prickling
rush urging me to taste, to become
and keep on becoming both
the weapon and the wound, Persephone
and Demeter; pomegranate & pin.
Holy Water (I)
Now the blessing, the readiness of Christ
be with all those who stare or fall into this river.
– Alice Oswald
River: a bleak seductress –
mussitating, black, beckoning.
She suggests answers under her silt,
inky veins: the tangled tributaries
that surge and curse the fens.
Step closer, teetering to a mutter
of tricked thoughts as they pulse
in reverse – whispers to wisps of light –
the somatic throb of ancient hurts.
Here is the slipping point, here
where chlorotic roots slacken to slime.
Lean over the river’s mutable skin
and catch a twin reflected back –
fleetingly, lovingly; the shock of
tenderness grazing the heart like water.
Feel your head tip up, your right foot
ever so slightly lift from the earth.
She’d plait my prairie-grass hair
as though weaving a baby corn doll,
I’d close my eyes, inhale pollen, resin
and woodsmoke from her skin.
She’d say: never let the embers sleep
wake them up with a stick like this –
and tickle me with sooty fingers.
Winter, she left for the kindling crop,
a hand-carved hatchet on her back.
Seven pale moons have since turned
their wounded faces and some nights,
waist-deep, I part the forest seeking
the glint edge of pulsing swamp
where she swore fireflies hatch under
the curled, peeling skins of pawpaw
trees. I tiptoe in, pinch the soft eggs
between my fingertips and study
my stolen glow. I want to tap the light
forever, treasure it in a jar on the porch,
hear the rhythmic clink of light bodies
thrown like hailstones against ice. I
dream her home: armfuls of hornbeam,
larkspur and blueberries for breakfast.
Yet each new day her bunk is empty,
logs lie brittle in their pit, her lantern
on the porch a silenced heap of ash.
Holy Water (II)
You retreat as an oarswoman sculls
the river’s wide turn, her blades churning
black waters that will thicken
to a nighttime slush. Her face is lit
with sweat and dread, her hair steams
in a rain that hints at a hazy corona.
She is crowned by the effort of bearing
both stern and bow, her vessel’s rival tides;
the tension that tugs between desire
and loss. You watch as she hauls spray –
flecked oars from the river’s ravenous drag,
glides inside a shaft of alluvial light,
to bisect a perfect symmetry of wood
and flesh quartering air. Her head dips
as if in prayer as she contemplates
knuckles blued by freezing blood, nails
split and bitten, veins swelling to a perilous,
rising tide. You urge her to warm
the font of her palms with steady, gentle
breaths, to swaddle her poor derelict hands
in her armpits, let a slow heat return.
If we long to believe that the stars rise and set for us,
that we are the reason there is a Universe,
does science do us a disservice in deflating our conceits?
– Carl Sagan
Afterward, we took Flo to the planetarium:
the three of us reclining under a copper dome,
darkening like the linea nigra of Greenwich.
Doctor Rylance battled asteroids and tongue-tie
as he led our shpace ship shafari and Flo grinned,
clinging to sleeves and knees. The dopler
had landed hard on the atlas of my belly, roamed
the noctural pocket we had made. We hunted
Sirius, the bright winking of your heart
and hoped you’d refract back, send galloping news
that you lived. The sonographer turned breach,
a contortionist in her sweaty efforts to probe
new life. She discovered a suffocated astronaut
suspended in space; a dozing night watchman,
alien head dipped. No bipolar flow, no swoosh
or suck, just a dust pillar unpulsing, your clustered
limbs extinct. You’d have been our winter son,
we your shepherd moons watching you explore
this blue marble. Maybe fifty-six days was enough,
enough to complete you, dwarf planet; new star.
from Milk Fever (Salt Publishing, 2012).
Pre-order Milk Fever.
Read Kaddy’s Crashaw Prize profile.
Visit Kaddy’s website.