‘When does a poem end?’
In this rambunctious romp of a narrative poem, John Fuller taps out the rhythms of life against the riddle of time: from his story of opportunistic art-dealer Old Billy Emerald and his fabled Shakespeare manuscript, to the ghosts of great poets and remembrances of old friends.
The Bone Flowers is a resonant celebration of the things we leave behind – in art, music and poetry – as well as a stirring memento mori to gather our rosebuds while we may.
'The only peace: to know my place
And what I now must do,
Striding with the light full in my face,
And gravel in my shoe.'
Bright, elemental and as dexterously brilliant as ever, John Fuller's latest collection takes as its subject 'our ends and our origins'. Here are songs, serenades, literary cameos, an ode to a golden anniversary, a long letter to an old friend, and two majestic sequences: one dedicated to the Welsh woman of the woods, Mary Price; the other, sun-drenched sonnets that keenly observe the natural world against 'the flavour of our own mortality'.
With wit, warmth and wisdom, Gravel in My Shoe playfully balances the light and shade of life, in full awareness of its passing but with a spring in its step nevertheless. It shows us, ultimately, that 'life is too short, but poetry's eternal'.
Jealous curses and hate poems, love lyrics and erotic dances: John Fuller has always written light verse, and Song & Dance is a boisterous and engaging collection, fizzing with intelligence and wit. There are tributes, and there are celebrations. Jokes abound in 'The Spellchecker's Guide to Poetry' and the wine is poured for 'Florio Drinking Song'. Befitting Fuller's musical ear, a host of rhythms beat time. Fans will fall on pleasingly intricate riddles and admire the high-wire gymnastics of unusual verse forms, including the inverted rhopalics of 'The Trans-sexual Circus'.
But behind the fun is some sharp criticism of literary attitudinising, and a climactic injunction, to dance while we can, preferably with each other.
‘In the dice cup, then, life becomes not a design but a wager; not an adventure but a game…’
Brimming with brio and brilliance, John Fuller’s latest collection comprises exquisite philosophical arguments, dream visions, aphorisms, precise portraits, colourful fables and tableaux of life. But here too lie shadows: in departures and deteriorations, in a life balanced delicately between the known and the unknown.
Taken together, The Dice Cup unfolds like a Chinese box of observations; wit, humour, pathos and playfulness entwine to thrilling and thought-provoking effect. It is a late, great work from one of our finest poets.
Part of the pleasure of poetry is unravelling the mysteries and difficulties it contains and solving the puzzles that lie within. Who, for instance, is Ozymandias? What is the Snark? Who is the Emperor of Ice-Cream? Or indeed, who is 'you' in a poem?
In this perceptive and playful new book, acclaimed poet John Fuller looks at some of our greatest poems and considers the number of individual puzzles at their heart, casting light on how we should approach these conundrums as readers. From riddling to double entendres, mysterious titles to red herrings, Fuller unpicks the puzzles in works that range from Browning to Bishop, Empson to Eliot, Shelley to Stevens, to help us reach the rewards and revelations that lie at the centre of some of our best-loved poems.
This rich selection of John Fuller’s poems, made by the author himself, is taken from his last eight collections and spans over twenty-five years of work.
'Everything goes back to earth,' writes Fuller, 'But first it must dance / Dance to exhaustion.' His poems, brilliant in their dexterity and virtuoso in their use of form, engage with a spectacular range of subjects, revealing a dark, haunted imagination leavened by moments of exuberant levity.
Taken together, they form an elegant, enquiring and accomplished body of work, and one that confirms John Fuller as a significant and influential figure in British poetry.
From the posing of the very first question in the opening poem, 'Fragment of a Victorian Dialogue', John Fuller's enquiring and elegiac new collection arrives with a sharp sense of mortality, marked by the passing of time.
Pebble & I responds to its own philosophical enquiries by looking to a world of vivid colour and substance. From the sun-baked pebbles and plastic ice-cream spines that bedeck the 'The Jetsam Garden', to the swallows that nest under the eaves of a farmhouse in the Cilento Hills in 'Stop', the poems take us from inky, restless seascapes to the warmth of the Mediterranean as they examine the connections between man and 'our material cousins' in nature.
Seductive, yet sometimes playfully absurd, Fuller plumbs the depths with his trademark light touch and deft technical skill. The natural and social worlds can be as cruel as they are thrilling but ultimately the voices in this collection are here to celebrate 'elements of the eternal / In the ceremony of life.'
Once upon a time in a Middle Eastern land, a fat, sweet-natured little boy grows up as the son of an important ruler. His older brother was apparently still-born and so he is the heir to his father's kingdom.
But far away from the royal palace a lonely prospector happens across a wild creature, half boy, half animal, roaming the forests. Eventually this strange child's adventures lead him to the capital and into the path of a platoon of deserters from Napoleon's army - the flashy, ultimately dangerous, face of Enlightenment thought in this isolated kingdom - with drastic consequences.
With original poems embedded like gems in the text, this is a fable for all ages, full of shivers and delights, sadness and wonder.
The Space of Joy is a sequence of poems that recounts the endless desire for love (and the failures and compromises that accompany that desire) in a number of writers and musicians who fatally prioritise their art. It begins with Petrarch, who created great lyric poetry out of an impossible infatuation, and moves through Coleridge's self-induced guilt within domestic happiness, Matthew Arnold's disbelief in mutual love, Brahm's self-delusion and the complexities of Wallace Stevens's marriage.
It so happens that both Brahms and Arnold found themselves contemplating their art and their lives in the small Swiss town of Thun, and it is Thun that provides the setting for the wonderful concluding poem of this collection in which Fuller thinks back to his own boyood and his parents' marriage.
If there is any resolution in this sequence of magnificently playful and thought-provoking poems, it is the conviction that while 'poetry may be the only heaven we have', it is life itself that must create the 'space of joy' which art wishes to celebrate.
Shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award.
Like the possible phantoms that stalk the dark passageways of its title poem, John Fuller's beautifully lucid collection explores the grey area between life and death. Full of self-deprecating wit and subtle insight, the poems contemplate the inevitability that, when one reaches a certain age, the moment of one's own passing will start to haunt one.
In 'Flea Market' there is the pathos of once-loved objects laid out, meaningless, 'on the cobbles for scavengers'. In 'Positions in the Bed', the restless search for a comfortable way to sleep leads to thoughts of the morning when 'we find/ Ourselves absconded from the body's/ Weary roll-call'. And yet, out of this sense of mortality, grows a determination to take delight in the moment, to appreciate fully 'the business of living'.
These poems are not only intimate, domestic and often funny, they are uncompromising in the way they confront the huge and unanswerable questions of life. The movement of thought is rendered beautifully concrete in the intricate music of their langauge, and melancholy co-exists with a lightness of touch that builds a moving and humane barricade against 'life's brevity/ And it's insignificance'.
Shortlisted for the Whitbread Award for Poetry.
John Fuller is one of the most accomplished, prolific and popular of contemporary poets. His Collected Poems brings together most of his poems, from his first collection, Fairground Music (1961) to Stones and Fires (winner of the 1996 Forward Poetry Prize), and enables us to appreciate the full extent of his remarkable talents. From his strikingly assured early poems - dramatic monologues and playful rewritings of myth and fairytale - to his more complex, discursive later work, Fuller displays his virtuosity with a wide variety of subjects, moods and forms.
Here are fantasies, poems about nature, riddles and nonsense poems; tender love poems and philosophical meditations; sombre, wistful sonnets and the lightest, most charming songs. But there are consistent themes: romantic love, a potent sense of the physical world, and a constant shifting between exuberant irreverence and the yearning for moral and metaphysical truths. Throughout, the poems are steeped in humour and learning, and display Fuller's easy command of the of the whole scope and richness of the English language.
Throughout his long and prolific career, John Fuller has been admired for the way in which he melds levity with serious reflection. In this beautiful new collection of twenty-one poems he proves himself, once again, a true master of this art.
They take us from birth to death: from a baby's first delightful babblings, to the dignified, measured words of a man surveying his life and marriage, and looking forward into the unknown. There are moments of great joie de vivre, of pleasure in the earthy things of life; and yet, beyond, there is always a sense of a vaster, more elusive universe.
The snorting of the horses in a field in 'Dreams', the egret on the rock in 'Sentinel': these are nature's mysteries. To make sense of these, we have language and music. Celebratory, playful, reconciled to the questions that will not be answered, these poems exude a miraculous kind of peace and understanding: 'A point of closure that allows the next/Inevitable sentence to begin'.
WINNER OF THE WHITBREAD PRIZE AND SHORTLISTED FOR THE BOOKER PRIZE.
John Fuller's first novel opens with the arrival of church agent Vane on a remote Welsh island where he is to investigate the disappearance of pilgrims visiting its sacred well. While Vane looks for clues and corpses the local Abbot seaches for the location of the soul. Magical and poetic, Flying to Nowhere awakens our secret hopes and fears and our need to believe in miracles.
John Fuller is an acclaimed poet and novelist. He has written eighteen collections of poetry, most recently Pebble & I and Song & Dance, both chosen as Poetry Book Society Recommendations. His 2004 collection, Ghosts, was shortlisted for the Whitbread Award for Poetry; The Space of Joy, published in 2006, was shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award. He is an Emeritus Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford.