Vertigo & Ghost: Poems

Norton. Jun. 2021. 112p. ISBN 9780393541861. $26.95. POETRY
Benson’s sophomore effort is a profound study in trauma: its initial infliction(s), the ways in which it lives on, and the implicit cultural directive to compartmentalize its reality. The book’s first half opens with a single presaging poem that chillingly captures the final fleeting moments of innocence: “sex wasn’t here yet, but it was coming, / and we were running towards it, / its gorgeous euphoric mist.” Benson immediately upsets these romantic notions, and those of mythological tradition, as she launches into the first half’s sequence of “Zeus” poems. But if Part 1 hits like a hurricane, Part 2 feels like living in its aftermath. It’s the haunted half of the collection, where the narrator alternates observations of small beauties and momentary peace with expressions of encroaching fear and existential fatigue: “Spring broke out but my soul did not. / It kept to sleet and inwards fog.” This section is more of a piece with Benson’s debut work, Bright Travellers, and so the first half here becomes its own creation story of sorts: a mythology of misogyny. In beautifully shaping that contrast, this work becomes a powerful howl.
VERDICT Both a punishing and delicate collection, and one that will likely resonate with poetry novices and aficionados alike.
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