Frosted Fire First Pamphlet Award winner
Ben won a Frosted Fire First Pamphlet Award in 2021. His first collection, Botanicals, is due to be published as a pamphlet by Frosted Fire in October.
Ben Verinder lives in rural Hertfordshire. In recent years his poems have been shortlisted or commended in a variety of competitions, including the Winchester, Wolverhampton, Bedford, Ver, and Cheltenham Festival prizes. He is an amateur mycologist and a wild food forager and the biographer of the adventurer and writer Mary Burkett. He runs a reputation research agency. Ben’s work has been published in a wide range of magazines. He was also longlisted for his outstanding poem in our wildfire words/ Frosted Fire Transformation single-poem competition in 2021. He started a Writing Poetry MA with Newcastle University in September 2021.
Reviews of Botanicals
Ben Verinder is a writer of extraordinary range and talent. Startling and surprising, his work takes us in unexpected and exciting directions. His Frosted-Fire award-winning pamphlet, Botanicals, is no exception. A feast of nature-inspired writing the book is one moment an acute and clear-sighted vision of a planet on fire: ‘The world is hotter than it should be and the fields are mostly moonlight and dust’, the next a lesson in mindful living: ‘Be aware of the sensation of standing beside the rhubarb./Let your mind be the space in which clouds appear’, and often a masterclass in memory recall: ‘I am back in Cyprus as we breakfast in the marble light a salty linseed-blue day’.
This is part elegy, part celebration written with evident love and reverence for nature. Ben celebrates the beauty and sustenance we can find whilst also lamenting what could be lost. In ‘L’albero spezzato’ for example, he writes about an orchestra of trees: ‘So many splintered instruments! I wonder whether, when you are older, there will be music here.’ Deeply moving and profoundly affecting, this is nature poetry of the highest order. Ben Verinder is a poet to watch out for. Anna Saunders, Founder and CEO of Cheltenham Poetry Festival
The first line of Ben Verinder’s pamphlet, ‘If I open them, next year happens’ refers to seed envelopes and sets the scene for an engaging series of poems on the magic of nature. Fern seeds that can make you invisible, flowers that contain the souls of murdered men, cornflowers that are ‘the earth dreaming of sky’.
He is not the first and will not be the last to venture into this territory but his gift is to package these old beliefs into delicately realised vignettes of modern life. Like their subjects his poems reward close attention. Arresting images – a jaw ‘unlatched like a gate in the wind’ an elegance of expression, ‘the barley has been thirsted to a maltghost’ and precise diction all make for a uniquely personal slant on our relationship with the natural world. David Lukens, Triage Judge, Frosted Fire Firsts 2021
I enjoyed all the poems in Ben Verinder’s Botanicals, for their grounded, precise, language and a deft touch with metaphor. The opening line of the pamphlet, ‘If I open them, next year happens’ (Seed Envelopes) hints as what is to come as he seeks to understand the human condition through the botanical world. Digging the knotty roots of ground elder (Rosemary, Ground Elder) shows how ‘how grief /wound tight round memory /cannot be weeded out. Fields bare of flowers (Each Day Before a Screen) reminds him ‘it is too long since / I let a thought grow raggedly and wild the colour of a summer evening’. Angela France Lead Judge, Frosted Fire Firsts 2021
Poems from Botanicals
Thyme flowers hold the souls of murdered English
but I forget and pluck a sprig
which is why the gamekeeper Puddephat’s Inverness coat and smashed-in-head
appear on the patio.
“This is awkward,” I say, “your great-great-granddaughter lives next door
and if she sees you…”
“She won’t,” he splutters. “I last only as long as this oil and lemon scent.”
Which is enough for him to describe how much he wished
if he had the time again
he had taken a gun up to the Nowers that stormy night
instead of an elder stick
and how long he had lain before puttering out
and which of the poachers did for his friend Crawley
and which for him
his jaw like a gate unlatched by the wind
socket a charcoal pit
and how the skulled and the hanged and the black-throated women
lament their children by ringing these pale pink bells.
Like plague doors, I remember Margaret said
each tree along the ridge splodged with paint.
They felled them all;
sawdust scratching your eyes when you went out with the dog.
Every block of Kerry Gold in the shop sprouted mould
but none of us took it for a sign
and Barbara said it was just the blinking fridge.
Then sweet itch among the horses in the Mason’s field;
the bay mare bit a chunk out of her own backside.
Adders, a nest, in the scrub between the tennis court and the Pyke’s.
Jenny Scattergood found them
said she bloody well knew the difference between a viper and a slow worm thank you
called the RSPCA
but by the time the man arrived they had slithered off.
Five kids on Summer Hill came out in warts.
On their faces! Can you imagine?
It was only then that Margaret cottoned on.
They had already started cutting into Sprockett’s Wood
and that, of course, is when the real trouble starts.
If you pour your voice deep into the cracks
along the footpaths down at Sterling Farm
it will be lost. The world is hotter
than it should be and the fields are mostly
moonlight and dust. Thistle tuft and
seed pods snap like spit on an anvil.
Even the barley has been thirsted
to a maltghost haunting the skillet barns.
When the rain finally arrives
it will fall like good money after bad.
The figs are ripe
and I am back in Cyprus
as we breakfast in the marble light
a salty linseed-blue day stretching over the village
its smell of thyme and ruminants
the fishing boats the quiet sea
cradling the first extraordinary fruit
of my parent’s Nottinghamshire garden
dew burnt off the yellow lawn
summer burst open and already ruining
school bags packed in the hall
back among this cottage’s bowls and baskets
figs hoarded in the stopped clocks of jars
the baking paper tarred in their collapse
skins smeared and furred in the compost bowl
beyond the common cauterising wasps the careless rain
We like to keep it among friends
be sure you’re here for good
before we say the name and mark it on a map.
Some people, naturally, never learn.
You’ll understand if and when we let you know
the way the beech trees meet the bluebells
in the crucible of wood
pure lime and indigo.
First time I saw it I was straight back in chemistry
last lesson Easter term
and tricks they only showed to those who’d stuck around –
that one with acid, blotting paper, sweets.
All poems: Copyright Ben Verinder