Fiona Benson’s powerful second collection, Vertigo & Ghost, is divided into two not entirely distinct parts. It opens with ‘Ace of Bass’, in which she recalls the pent-up sexual longings of early adolescence: ‘and sex wasn’t here yet, but it was coming,/and we were running towards it,/its gorgeous euphoric mist’. The poem is a tender and funny prelude to the horrors recounted in a sequence devoted to the priapic antics of the polygamous Greek god Zeus, who appears in any number of guises: as an imprisoned rapist, as a convicted murderer in the electric chair, as an everyday predator and stalker of a distressingly familiar kind, and as his cheerful godlike self. He’s also there in the person of the real-life Stanford freshman Brock Turner, who received a light sentence when found guilty of raping a girl who had passed out after drinking too much (‘The judge delivers/that he is an exemplary member/of the swimming squad’), and, a bit more obviously, as the orange-hued American president in ‘HIS SHINY GOLD TOWER’. It is Zeus’s eternal right to have his pronouncements set down in capital letters.
We hear the voices of his victims, ancient and modern, but they are enfeebled and distraught by comparison. They speak, if at all, in fragments. Fear is still present in the second part of Vertigo & Ghost, but the tone is more reflective, as the poet considers what the future