Home Is Where & Other Poems, Cynthia Fuller
Red Squirrel Press, 2017 £6.00
I really enjoyed this row of poems — like a terrace of disparate houses, each with its own haunting character. One that won’t leave me is ‘Cliff Edge House’, presumably an orphanage:
So many children
creeping downstairs, peeping round doors,
boys with identical short-back-and-sides,
girls tidy in washed-out dresses,
they edged in closer, nearly touching.
And the child-poet-visitor, who didn’t know ‘why / the rows of their small coats and shoes / had upset her, almost as much as their eyes’.
Or the frightening ‘Landlady’, with ‘her giant hands’, and resident mice:
First back, I would count to ten,
fling the door open, snap on the light
and watch the slick grey tide of them
slip over mantelpiece, table, beds
Perhaps my very favourite poem is one that doesn’t feature one particular house, but a boy charging down a postwar street through the middle of them — and through time:
Beneath his feet, new pavement slabs,
beneath the slabs, smashed bricks and glass,
charred wood, odd bits of china.
‘He is running through the 1950s’ — this, the poem’s title, appropriately, belts straight on into its first line — ‘this boy in a pullover knitted / by his Auntie Vera’. He passes ‘ghost houses looming, / slashed open to expose their innards — // pictures askew in front rooms, / wallpaper flapping’.
The collection is full of such wonderful writing, and the houses we live in — it passes through — are all, similarly, ‘ghost houses looming’. Each reveals its own vivid personality: occasionally reassuring (like ‘the box bed’ may be, in ‘At Her Grandparents’ Cottage, Suffolk’); far more often, not.
Home is where? the whole group poses, never quite sure if these houses offer refuge, or further threat. They’re a rewarding set, a satisfying and intriguing row of blown-open poem-houses. Very worth a visit…