Forward prize winner Fiona Benson: ‘It’s still taboo to talk about rape and women’s bodies’

The poet, who wrote her winning collection in almost a single sitting, talks about motherhood, sexual violence and using poetry to process trauma

Fiona Benson’s second volume of poems, Vertigo & Ghost, which this week won the Forward prize for best collection, is so full of small, blindingly bright explosions that sometimes you almost drop the book. On the morning after winning the £10,000 prize, the author is suffering from a headache – brought on by adrenaline rather than alcohol – and is full of praise for her fellow shortlisted writers (there are Forward prizes for first collection and best poem, as well for best collection). These include Jay Bernard, Ilya Kaminsky, Raymond Antrobus and Holly Pester, “who read an amazing poem at the award ceremony, about an abortion – it was ragged and raw and beautiful”, she says. “Poetry is so rich and healthy and diverse at the moment.”

In person Benson is quietly spoken, often ending an answer to a question with an apology – “sorry for the feminist rant” – or by checking to make sure she’s been clear. She describes herself as a “private person” living in Devon with her husband and two daughters, but her poems, written “as if nobody is listening”, are exposing. They peel away at the layers of the female body and examine, tenderly yet unflinchingly, its murky chambers. There’s a poem about the “ridged outer labyrinth”, the “intimate, violet latch” of the narrator’s placenta; another called “Ruins”, which describes the worn landscape of a post-partum body, its “inflamed trenches / and lost dominions”.

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