DANIEL BENNETT was born in Shropshire and lives in London. His poem ‘Clickbait’ was recently commended in the National Poetry Competition 2020 and his work has been published in a variety of places, including: Wild Court, The Manchester Review, The Frogmore Papers, The Stinging Fly, Poetry Birmingham Literary Journal, and The Best New British and Irish Poets 2017. His first collection West South North, North South East was published in 2019 by The High Window Press.’
I found myself in a small copse of young birches: a damp smell of hummus and fresh rain, the sky closed and white, the onset of spring heralded in distant, waxy light. At the edges, I recognised crowds, as though I had found my way into the empty ground between two waiting armies. The trees stood barely ten feet tall, the pale bark mottled brown at the seams, fraying, tarnished, the crowns still little more than a collection of reddish reeds. The frailty of birch bark had recently become a fascination for me, its injured skin. From a young age I have experienced an allergy to birch pollen, the drizzling catkins disintegrating into pale green dust, the intolerance spreading as I grew older to trick enzymes into finding toxins in other fruits and vegetables, peach skin and cherries, raw carrot and the white flesh of apples turning to minor poisons. The ground at the centre had soaked through with water, a bog that I struggled to navigate without dampening my shoes. Escape fantasies of my middle, urban years blurred into childhood games where I lost myself in the woods for hours on end. The first time I became aware of these trees had been during a walk with my father. The birches penned off from the rest of the woods, as though caged, diseased animals kept in isolation. A feather picked from the ground, a shotgun cartridge. A switch of young wood, slapping against a palm. The shouts of a crowd, a drum beating, an occasional note on a reed instrument. The forms of these pale trees, pervaded my imagination and even memory, the fears I had for the future, as though this was the moment to define all other moments, a beat and its silence, a voice and its echo, a message buried and retrieved after years in the far fields
© Daniel Bennett
Along The Cut
The flight path from the airbase
writes streams we forget
to read. The tracks forever lulled
beneath fallen stones,
the games called out across
the emptied fields. Our funny alliances
and disputes. In this we see much
that resembles poetry
with its airs and effect
its broad acceptance of now
which, more lately, troubles us.
Write it up for later, dreamer.
Late summer, with autumn waiting
in the mulch of cuttings
and yellowed scrub, the dark juice
of blackberries already
sticky as wine. Brambles fizz
with heat and decay, white flowers
opening and filled with fruit,
time speeding up the way
we watch our young grow
quickly beyond us, scampering
towards the path along the creek
down under dogwood and underpasses
beyond our warnings of care
and the functions of the world.
These places I hold firmly
within my skull, tangible maps:
creek shadows and tones,
marshland built on before floods.
How often do I find myself
so far from home?
© Daniel Bennett
Spring on the Balcony
Clocked off, falling out
of time, as though a hero
in an end of world film,
dabbling with the lost art
of leisure, a day stolen
from work. Mostly alone
indulgent but not indulged:
a glass of Italian red
is a heady decadence
offering remnants of Tuscany
from the rain and earth
stewed inside viticulture.
A cool wind sends spring
scattering down a wide street
banked by patient buildings.
Everyone tells me how I
have been lucky to live here,
of course I have been lucky.
Walking out with a dog
is to follow the necessary
exigencies of freedom.
The light on a banking jet plane
is salmon and pink on steel.
Pigeon song, blackbirds,
the diversion of hills across
a city park: I feel the pull
of age. Our middle years
are spent accommodating
old mistakes and theories,
those myths we told ourselves
as though forever walking
to the beat of a rough music,
like explaining heat death
to a stranger’s child,
I can’t even guess her age.
© Daniel Bennett
Meanwhile, in the corridors
our journeys continue:
tumbling along the greyscale
through the balance of absolutes,
gulped across wards, atriums
and reception desks, the paths
into meaningless cul-de-sacs
offered by atrocious planning.
Doorways yawning ‘Aaaah’
open wide onto slim mortality:
an old man fiddles with his dressing;
a little girl in a neck brace
strains to hear a comic book.
In the patterns of this architecture
you can encounter a sister, son
or daughter, discover a family
reconfigured by absence,
all these people you have loved.
And the room which waits for you,
holds a chair, a chart, a screen
glowing with the body’s pathways:
a throat bunged with scar tissue,
the silver pollen of a lung.
You’ll hike the beating geography
of a heart and mind’s last longings,
the taste of gin or chocolate,
all those things you’d like to say.
© Daniel Bennett
Down By The Quay
He pictured himself beyond the town,
a sunrise banded on the horizon,
a fluid light, like the juice of an orange.
Instead, he traversed the traffic islands
across the overpass, down by the quay,
dogged by the strides of a viaduct,
the slow exhaustion of urban planning.
Recently, he fixated on the logic of cinema
of being watched at all times by a distant eye,
a presence like conscience or belief in god.
He would call old loves late at night
but hang up when they answered
or offer reading lists to ex-porn models
in the hope of attracting their attention,
or he would simply stay up late, drinking
watching the night sky above the street.
He knew his behaviour could only be justifiable
if performed by a doomed anti-hero
offered redemption by a final, epic act.
In fact, this was a small town with no cinema
and the only cameras angled down
on the empty bays of a supermarket car park
and he had been a long time here
washed up by the vagaries of bad decisions
and he was tiresome and landlocked
and no longer the hero of his own story.
© Daniel Bennett
morphrog co-editor Peter Stewart review of Daniel Bennett’s anthology West South North / North South East for the Frogmore Papers. His review is carried below:
Among many fine poems in Daniel Bennett‘s West South North / North South East (The High Window, 2018, £10), Still Life remarks on the featured delicious apples whose “green/will always remind me of pond scum/circulating in islands”. There is a dissonance in the image that takes you out of the frame and into a wider reality of change and mortality. The fruit ends up rotting and fermenting, “sad as broken alcoholics”.
I loved the attention to detail and the complex moods of these poems. Their titles often resonate in subtle ways with the lines that follow. Even the punctuation is carefully chosen. The comma in “Oh I envy you, sometimes” (from These Roots of Implacable Longing) seems deliberate and loaded with nuance. Along with delicacy there is also a vivid directness that pulls the rug from under any commonplace. The triptych poem Three Scent Bottles begins: “Those were the white days of musk/ and paraffin”.
Many of the poems are about places, but, as the quote from Julien Gracq at the front of the book says, “a vague feeling that location was irrelevant”. Like the title of the volume itself, the poems create a sense of both movement and stasis, of going somewhere and nowhere at the same time.