Trying to Shock


The Recreation of Night,
Tamara Fulcher
(Shearsman)


I've never come across Tamara Fulcher's writing before, though as this intriguing first collection indicates, she's had quite a few hits in high profile poetry magazines. I had to read these poems several times before I started to get a 'feel' for them and what I most like about her poetry in its entirety is its oblique quality Š that and a certain darkness of subject matter which seems to pervade even the most light or, dare I say, 'throwaway' pieces.

A typical example of the above is the poem Small Irritations While Film-Watching, 1, where we get:

    A type of beetle, slim as my eyelash
    rears its head between the corn-ears
    of my finger hairs, spying
    a descent. Too late. I can
    make wind from mouth and shoot him
     ass over carapace
    back up my yellow-pink
    and knuckled mountain, no need
    to know whether or not
    he died at the end.

Seen on its own this would probably seem slight and easily forgettable but Fulcher's focus on the minutia while clearly having another agenda is a common theme in the construction of her poems which build collectively to give an overall impression Š but of what exactly?

The opening poem - O - is an (un)emotional picture of the sexual act but from the viewpoint, supposedly, of a somewhat distanced and analytical 'protagonist'. The imagery is dark and earthy, of the soil and organic and verging at times, on the abstract: 'It continues. Pale and agape/mouth dry under our silence/and the watch of the owl who mutters. ....' . The repetition of 'He wants to root himself in my earth', can feel either comic or vaguely sinister and there is never any sense of emotional connection until we reach the final lines:

    Air can turn to song
    when he is inside

    We grow
    vines
    in one another's hair.

This ending is a trifle clichˇd, I have to say and the whole poem has a certain preciousness about it, yet the effect of this is to make you reflect on the strangeness of the whole business; as many of the poems in this collection relate to matters sexual there is plenty of material to reflect on!

Fulcher has clearly been influenced by Plath and Sexton in the way she writes about relations between men and women (there's a poem entitled Photograph of
Anne Sexton) and often there are no-holds-barred even when her writing retains what I can only describe as a slightly out-of-focus vision, but there are poems here which make me feel decidedly uncomfortable. In The Influx of Poles, for example, we start with: 'When someone says 'Warsaw'/I think of uprising.' -  a neat introduction which condenses a lot of history into two brief lines. I guess there is also a play on 'pole-dancing', which is supposed to be daring and dangerous, given the darker historical connotations. Mmmmm! Then we get a narrative which describes the collection of a parcel but hints at 'dodgy dealing' via a seedy suggestiveness. The fact that there's a bracketed sub-narrative going on clouds the narrator's perspective but the closing lines throw up questions of sexual power/class and wealth and an apparent snobbishness which gets right up my nose. Fulcher's playing with the word 'swarthy' here is probably intended as being playfully assertive but comes across, I think, as being very iffy with its racial overtones and the suggestion of the narrator's superior mentality:

    It's no longer done
    to call them Fucking gypsies
    though Swarthy had those shoulders
    that could surely lift a cart,
    and that I think I'd like to breed with,
    if only I didn't have quite so much money;
    and by the river would have been
    quite OK by me,
    If only they had known
    how to ask.

Perhaps I'm being politically correct or responding - as intended? - to a provocation but I have problems with this poem on both aesthetic and 'political' grounds. Perhaps the poem simply isn't good enough to do its job properly.

This is a feeling I get again and again on re-reading this collection. There are poems with interesting ideas, well put-together lines and phrases, and intriguing obliquities but these plusses are so often spoiled by an overall lack of direction or by throwaway endings which just don't cut the mustard. Game
, for example, which plays with the nursery rhyme and intends (I think) to shock is simply a weak poem with an ineffective fade-out ending: 'Four little prostitutes/jumping on the bed/ (and the rest is history)'. Tamara Fulcher has talent but she hasn't discovered what to do with it yet. Let's hope the next collection is more focussed and less intent on trying to 'shock'.

        © Steve Spence 2008