Full Scottish Breakfast by Graham Fulton
Graham Fulton is one of our most productive and inventive poets; the Dyson, you could call
him, of contemporary lyric poetry: always experimenting and refining new ways of elegantly and stylishly sucking you in Fulton’s poetry unfailingly sends you spinning round in a sort of transparent whirlpool: It might look as if nothing too clever is going on, but deep down, you know there is.
His latest full-length collection, Full Scottish Breakfast, is divided into three sections: Space Age, Rage Age and Middle Age. Wonderfully pin-pointing three characteristics of his poetry, these titles prepare the reader for Fulton’s familiar combination of far-sighted exploration, committed energy, and self-deprecating wit respectively, all of which abound in the book. While he can rage against “an iPodded boy in a Road Hog shirt” who inadvertently damages a Renaissance masterpiece, Fulton is equally adept when sketching the loss and sadness at the heart of a Dunblane coffee morning, ten years on, in 2006: “Mothers chat, remember, together/ not to look at the clock and cry.” The title poem, which falls into the last section, presents Fulton at his lyric best: a virtuoso of the mundane. His gift for immediacy, responsiveness and exquisite deflation recalls the great New York School poet Jimmy Schuyler: “On a useless morning/ pudding is cooking/ egg is scrambling/ nearby/ I think”.
One of this work’s most defining qualities is its seeming immunity to cloy, something, rather like Edwin Morgan, that makes him a sensational and original poet of love. The 30 pages of his pamphlet Upside Down Heart are a series of love poems, sex poems, or more exactly, both. They’re breezy and humorous, but the default setting is, above all, tender. Disarmingly, bewitchingly tender. ‘Biological’, for example, is a deceptively simple pair of couplets that pushes all the buttons: “You dream on the left. I dream on the right./ We make love somewhere in between.// I tug the sheets from our shagged-out bed and stuff them into the Hotpoint”. Becky Bolton’s illustrations share and perfectly complement Fulton’s erratic verve and candour. With robustness and a kind of delicate disarray, her watercolour and ink drawings seep and ardently leap across the paper.
His most recent pamphlet, Speed of Dark, has a hurtling, disintegrating energy, in poems such as ‘A Bit Twitchy’ and ‘Pixellated’, which literally pixelates, blurs and just about stays together through misspellings and typos: “make me wjole”. This chapbook also introduces one of his most compelling recent formal inventions, a list poem where each line begins “you got your”, like a Glaswegian Joe Brainard. So ‘The Story of Human Afflictions Without Having to Catch Any of Them’ is a grim and darkly comic catalogue of ailments. Similarly, ‘The Story of Mulder and Scully Without Having to Watch the Entire Nine Seasons’ delivers The X Files in capsule form: “you got your vicious baby aliens/ you got your old unhappy aliens/ you got your aliens trapped in the ice”.
This makes enthralling and compelling poetry, its repetitions crackling with drama and humour, taking a leaf out of Frank O’Hara’s tongue in cheek, personist handbook which famously claimed that only Whitman, Crane and Williams were “better than the movies.” Truth is, though, there’s more flickering excitement, emotion, ingenuity and other hard to pin down special effects in this poetry than in most movies I’ve seen recently. With its ‘down to earth’ but ‘out of this world’ energy, Fulton’s lyrics are some of the true treasures of contemporary poetry in Scotland.
Full Scottish Breakfast
Red Squirrel Press, rrp £6•99, 58pp
Upside Down Heart & Speed of Dark
Controlled Explosion Press