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This review is taken from PN Review 58, Volume 14 Number 2, November - December 1987.

UNDERSONGS OF ANOTHER LIFE Roy Fuller, Consolations (Secker and Warburg) £5.95

Most reasons for liking most poems are, of course, aesthetic. But there are ethical approaches to a poem as well which are, I feel, often overlooked; and which are, in fact, responsible for the lights it leaves in the memory and affection. It is easier to feel that ethical residue than to define it. But the quirky force of a host of poems - from 'Tyger Tyger' to 'Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror' - can often seem to come from intangible human choices: moralities which verge on the shape of a line or the turn of a phrase but may not converge.

I have always felt that the ethical approach to Roy Fuller's work yields interesting results. To start with, his own choices as a poet, from the very beginning, were political and societal as well as artistic. For instance, in Professors and Gods: Last Oxford Lectures on Poetry he canvasses the dilemmas which confronted a young poet at the end of the 1920s and in the 1930s: 'One was searching, hopelessly, it seems now,' he asserts, 'for a poetry with impeccable political orientation, yet as rich and free as the great English poetry of the past'.

I mention this because despite the quality of the work in volumes like Brutus's Orchard and, indeed, earlier statements like 'A Lost Season' in 1944, Fuller is so often represented as a sterile and polished craftsman, mindlessly shining his technique on the fringes of the poetic mainstream. He ...


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