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This review is taken from PN Review 147, Volume 29 Number 1, September - October 2002.

WHISTLING IN THE DARK JOHN FULLER, Now and for a Time (Chatto) £8.99

John Fuller's previous collection, the elegiac Stones & Fires (1996) is one of the best volumes by any English poet to appear in the last fifty years. From the brilliant sonnet sequence 'Europe' to the magnificent elegies 'Star-Gazing' (in memory of his father) and 'History' (in memory of the historian Angus Macintyre), throughout, everywhere you turn, Fuller's reflective, quizzical, and sad voice speaks to us with heartfelt eloquence. It never strains for effect; it is always true to itself; and it is profoundly serious, yet wisely ironic, about what in his new book he refers to as 'our vast/ Belittlement', the alien nature of our being, beneath the stars, in a warring world.

It might seem quirkily odd to yoke Fuller into the same sentence as Dylan Thomas: Thomas was so much more a dramatising poet and dramatic elegist, and Fuller's nearer poetic cousins are surely Louis MacNeice and Robert Graves. But in his 'Notes on the art of Poetry' Thomas reminds us of something Fuller seems instinctively to know. 'All that matters about poetry,' wrote Thomas, '...is the eternal movement behind it, the vast undercurrent of human grief, folly, pretension, exaltation, or ignorance, however unlofty the intention of the poem.' Thomas's idea of the 'unlofty intention' is germane here too. In Chatto's publicity for Now and for a Time Fuller is described, by Peter Porter, as the builder of 'a bridge of boats between light verse and solemn elegy with the best technique of anyone writing ...


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