Praise and Poems
Norman Buller’s second full collection confronts the universal prism that Fools and Mirrors us. Behind the prosodic elegance beats an earthy vitalism that tussles with a disembodied, spiritual distrust of the physical – a fascinating dynamic. ‘Portraits by Francis Bacon’ captures the tortured carnality of that artist’s work, its misanthropic grotesquery provoking the poet’s Gulliverish revulsion at the animal in us. But Buller’s pessimism is more sceptical than devout, and when saying ‘we dream a sense of purpose/ …the rest is meat’, a sense of salvation triumphs in the beauty of such phrasing.
In stark contrast is an appetite for Lawrentian symbolism: ‘roadsides yellowed/ by phalluses of broom’. A poet deeply sceptical of the turn society has taken over the last three decades, Buller’s work is alert to an encroaching decadence that most pretend isn’t there. His is a humanistic politics that laments the post-War consensus, while quietly accusing capitalism of its gradual dismantling; from Aldermaston to the eerie blue skies of Manhattan 9/11.
In a more theological vein, Buller probes the spiritual life of Martin Luther, and, antithetically, Cardinal Newman, and Pope Innocent the Tenth via Velasquez. This detour through Catholicism echoes the Thomism of David Jones’s oeuvre: art as sacrament. There are portraits of Kandinsky, Klee, Chagall, and Walter Sickert via a model’s cockneyish idiom. Aphorisms flourish: ‘A church bell summons the faithful./ Something will endure’, or the sublime ‘…I wring your shadow in my hands’.
Alun Lewis and Dylan Thomas haunt ‘and night again prepares to bear/ the village away in sleep’, while ‘Dear Gerard’ ghosts Manley Hopkins uncannily. Such echoing of past voices, no mere pastiche, is almost mediumistic. The book’s core theme is mortality and the artist’s impulse to transcend it: ‘The poet aspires to the condition of art,/ a thing made which outlasts its maker’. Buller’s is a voice of endurance through self-transcendence whose historical verisimilitude makes for a more vital addressing of the present.