‘The Testes of Lenin’, by Graham Fulton

Fulton’s collection is a kaleidoscope of snapshots, small interactions, and, ultimately, people and the many and various ways that poetry arises from moments elevated by language or stripped back to the everyday. 

To put this point into context with examples that best encapsulate it, I’ll quote a section from one poem with the whole text of another. Both poems – ‘Yoyo’ and ‘On the Bus to Glasgow at Dumbarton in the Rain’ – feature an interaction between mother and child, but in two very different ways:

                           and asking her
endless questions about
                           why everything
is everything
           which she answers
with a smile 

(from ‘Yoyo’)

mum

mum

MUM!

that bus
that bus
that bus
we just passed
it says
it says
it says

its going
ti DISNEYLAND

mum

ad rather be
on that bus

(from ‘On the Bus to Glasgow at Dumbarton in the Rain’)

Together, the poems highlight Fulton’s unerring eye for the exact moment that matters, presented in distinct yet complementary ways. 

The collection is built out of these moments, gently sliced from the world around Fulton (or, when not semi-autobiographical, written with a style that immediately feels honest and truthful). Topics covered include attendance at the COP26 Climate March, reflections on the death of luminaries such as Alasdair Gray or Queen Elizabeth II, anniversaries of The Specials or Apollo 11. This various list shows that Fulton’s poetry is less illustrative expanses of imagery, summoning something spectral into reality, but rather reality rendered into illustrative imagery. The characters depicted are every-people, not in the sense that they are universal reader inserts, but that they are people all around us – we know these characters, fitted into Fulton’s work with great eloquence. 

There is a comedic undercurrent that runs across the whole collection, be it in the titles of particular poems – ‘Incredible Belgium; or J. R. R. Tolkien’s Talking Toilet’, ‘Yoghurt of Mass Destruction’, ‘The Testes of Lenin’ – or within the poems themselves. 

In ‘The Impossibility of Perfection’, Fulton diatribes on the common woe of a writer – composing a piece, checking it infinite times, feeling confident in having caught all its mistakes, and, on its publication, immediately finding a laundry list of errors. Presented in a comic manner, the poem shows the same deft touch evident throughout the collection. When Fulton turns his attention to the more laden topics, they are still handled with a lyricism that can at times stop you in your tracks.

In the poem ‘Parcel for Tommy’, the narrative discusses a gift sent to the titular Tommy, who is unwell with an undisclosed illness. The soft, short lines that run along each other with a focused breath are playful in that they do not look directly at what they hide in the dark. In the final lines, the poem brings that to the fore as Fulton writes:

never completely dark –
just enough
to see the light

A topic common to many writers is the lingering effects of war on those sent to fight and who return to a world often unready or unwilling to recuperate them and how that consequently affects their surroundings. In ‘Rememberance’, the poem which follows ‘Parcel for Tommy’, the opening lines achieve the difficult act of saying so much with so little: ‘in a vault of sound / at Tommy’s wake’. This is the kind of transcendental experience that only great poetry can provide. We learn about a Falkland’s War survivor who now makes art, yet with the tremors of war still reverberating through:

Norman now
does paintings
of beautiful buildings and faces,
the occasional wave
crashing inside an endless sea –
San Carlos Water
or the River Cart

he tries to resist
the thousand yard stare

The Testes of Lenin showcases a poet of great standing and skill. Whether a comic run on the frustration of dealing with people blasting music from cars, the fate of a literary genius, or diversions on snowy days, Fulton presents his poetry in a manner that reaches from the page and tugs on your heart or funny bone – something we need more of in the world. To quote from the poem ‘The Secret Garden’:

I write I LOVE HELEN
in the white
with my first finger
in the secret garden

always have
always will

time is

still here

The Testes of Lenin is published by Pindrop Press

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