Praise and Poems
Powder on the Wind — adumbrated by the critically praised Sleeping with Icons (2007) and Fools and Mirrors (2010) — is a thornily haunting, icily penetrating collection that casts its own distinct shadow. Buller’s authorial humility is as ever marked by a fascination with other creators’ lives — here, Gwen John, Elizabeth Bishop, Walter Sickert among them — paid tribute in figurative miniatures. These poetic portraits take shape either in appreciations of — often unmanageable — talents, or empathetic projections, as if tapping the subjects’ after-thoughts on the spiritualist
table of the page. Buller is also visited by three Russian poet-spectres: Boris Pasternak — ‘Take my life from the shelf and blow its dust away;…/ I’ll make the blank page flower if I must…’; Marina Tsvetaeva, spitting metaphors at past slanders — ‘…that I’m a harlot sprawling/ in a drunken Russia’s arms’; and Osip Mandelshtam, who feels as if ‘…rolled on [the] tongue’ of the Red Tsar ‘like a berry’. Buller’s absorption in the blasted tundra of Russian literature sets a bitingly wintry
tone. Mortality’s inescapability is sprinkled like permafrost throughout, coldly indefatigable as the mind’s tireless instinct to negotiate terms. Buller’s antidote is the holiness of the moment’s insight, defined entirely by time — the explicit territory of poetry, and love: ‘Here soul and spirit play/ the roles our bodies fix’. This Lawrentian naturalism runs through Buller’s thought and technique, but is lit by embers of metaphysical tension. A half-reconciled agnosticism cannot ignore the wires of religious legerdemain, nor shrink from imponderables, such as the possibility of an afterlife utterly unrelated to our earthly one: ‘Suppose our souls incline/ to worlds beyond this place;/ there love will play by different/ rules from ours’. Thumping down to earth are more mud-splattered portraits, of Robert Graves‘ ‘neurasthenic terror’, and Isaac Rosenberg, ambered in sublime aphorism ‘wearing/ poverty as his albatross’. Powder on the Wind firmly establishes Buller as a forceful lyric voice; one in the timbre of poets such as Bernard Spencer (whose peregrinatory qualities Buller also echoes) and the late-flowering Donald Ward.