Background Music by Cynthia Fuller, Flambard Press, £7.00; 64 pages

Cynthia Fuller’s writing is artistically polished but linguistically low-key, using simple syntax and vocabulary in a precise and evocative way. In the best poems the restraint of her style is a considerable strength. One such piece is “Encounter with Angels”, recounting a visit to Coventry Cathedral. It is composed in couplets formed not by rhyme but by being laid out in two-line stanzas. Here one sees very clearly how carefully achieved the restraint of Fuller’s writing is. It appears in the syntax, avoiding the drama of enjambement almost entirely, and using the coincidence of period with line or stanza to give a sense of measure and weight to her words. All sentences end at line endings. Eight of the thirteen couplets are single sentences, and all but one end in full stops. The metre shifts subtly between regular iambic pentameter and a loose approximation which preserves a sense of freedom and conversational spontaneity but never become obtrusive or emphatic in divergence from the rhythmic norm. Anything approaching full rhyme seems to be avoided as calling too much attention to itself, but there are subtle hints of rhyme to point up statements in a quieter way and to give artistic coherence. And these statements have a gentle trenchancy; from the beginning,

If God is anywhere he should be here
in this cathedral with its feet in war.

Or from later, more sharply,

The pity of war whispers in every stone
but nobody seems to be listening.

The subtlety of Fuller’s sound patterning can be seen in the way “pity”, “whispers” and “listening”, “stone” and “nobody” echo each other. I also particularly liked a short sequence called “Maisie Poems”, which presents a damaged life with self-effacing compassion; “Miss Hartley’s Deerhounds”, whose long rangy lines echo the deerhounds’ elegance, starting by evoking their physicality and ending by etherealizing them into symbols of a yearning for the grace they embody; the lovely “Looking for Shells” with its acceptance and transcendence of time and loss; and the comic “Misericords”, where a medieval woodcarver voices his resentment of the monks for whom he carves, ending up by seeming like a misericord image himself, suppressed, grubby but vividly alive. Admittedly I sometimes wished for more tonal variety, a more flaring and irreverent imagination, but I think the muted quality of Fuller’s voice and art reflects an essentially moral attitude of modesty and respectfulness in face of the lives she presents, and that it deserves our respect in turn.

I would like to thank Acumen for permission to reproduce this review, which I wrote for them and which appeared in issue 68.

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