It is Friday, around five. He is
strolling on the rue Voltaire, flâneur
for the young century. The afternoon is crumbling,
the trees are shutting down for winter,
leaves pirouetting to the street
and cracking like small bones beneath his feet.
All around him, the streetlights are coming on,
canisters of empire, recalling days
when endings were clamorous.
He stops at a pharmacy, lingers
beneath its green neon cross
and picks up something for the season’s first flu.
Outside, the boulevardes are burning
with bars and cafés, boulangeries
lined with bright, sticky sweets like porcelain toys.
He brushes the shoulder of a blonde woman
in black, says Desolé, passes a tabac
and buys some cigarettes, thinks how quickly
the last packet went. He meets his lover
at the Café Bonne Bierre. It is still
warm enough to sit street-side and smoke.
They rattle around in their half-empty glasses.
Her eyes smoulder, a promise. They touch,
incidentally, finish their drinks
and leave to see the American band.
The hours are tumbling, but they have
plenty of time. They will hear the first, jangling notes.
The hall begins to fill. The students sit.
She sets her papers neatly on the desk
and rolls the lines around her mouth, flits
from word to word, moves her lips. The rest
is left to memory. The tests are stacked
for passing out on perfect, icy lines
of tables set in single file, tables packed
away when half-right answers whine
and plead for one mark more. She’s worked
for this. She knows the poems like friends,
she’s been to bed with them, she’s heard
their true confessions, knows their ends.
The earth moves. She turns the paper, reads it all.
She tears it into tiny bits. She leaves the hall.
John Foulcher’s 10th poetry collection A Casual Penance was launched at the Newcastle Writer’s Festival by Melinda Smith on Saturday 8th April 2017.
As Smith explains, the book is divided into three sections:
- ‘First, an astonishing sequence of poems on Toulouse-Lautrec, ‘Crachis’ (named for the spattering technique used by the painter to create mists of colour on his lithographs).
- A central section containing a variety of lyrics, meditations, elegies, a love poem and a nightmare.
- The final section, a sequence of prose poems ‘The Greater Silence’ , which could be characterised as a spiritual autobiography – a re-telling, a re-appraisal of some formative spiritual moments, from 1958 to the present day.’
You can read the full launch speech at the Rochford Street Review.
Released in 2016: 101 Poems and launched by Geoff Page in Canberra in November 2015, 101 Poems is the first in a new series of selected poems from Pitt Street Poetry which will bring together the best work of Australia’s leading poets as collectable, definitive editions.
Foulcher’s poetry is the paradigm of the poetry Pitt Street Poetry publishes: thoughtful, superbly crafted, witty, personal and profound. 101 Poems collects work published in nine collections over a thirty year period, from Light Pressure (1982) to The Sunset Assumption (2012).
“Voices have pierced the concrete,
they riddle me with memory.
She lies transfigured. I wait
and with my other hand reach up,
touch fingers wriggling from the slab.
Something is whispered. I remember tears, afternoons.
Soon there will be the night air,
the flashes of wind, cameras waiting
with my future. Though I have only this day, this moment.
I have raised my hand from black water,
I have felt the diminishing ripples
lapping at me. I have listened,
I have heard the quiet sentences.”
John Foulcher graduated from Macquarie University with a Bachelor of Arts with Honours and a Diploma of Education. He has been a teacher in NSW and the ACT.
His work has been widely anthologised and published in national newspapers and journals including The Age, The Australian, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Bulletin, Quadrant, Heat, Poetry Australia and Meanjin.
His poetry is described by the Oxford Companion to Australian Literature as ‘simple, direct and convincing’. The poet and critic, Geoff Page, however, in A Reader’s Guide to Contemporary Australian Poetry, warns against an overly simplistic view of Foulcher’s work: ‘It is tempting to classify John Foulcher as an imagist . . . When reading Foulcher’s work as a whole, however, it is soon apparent that his range is considerably broader than the imagist tag will allow.’ Robert Gray adds: ‘His theme . . . is a sceptical faith, complemented by the uneasiness of domesticity. It is the heroism of the modern, isolated individual – the man or woman who remembers to put out the garbage bin for fifty years . . . who stands on the nature strip and looks at the unbelievably violent furnaces that are the stars . . . and asks what place there is for the transcendent impulses that arise within us.’ (Poets and Perspectives: John Foulcher). Jeffrey Poacher concludes: ‘Foulcher’s work can be read as a determined effort to recover for poetry the inclusiveness that is now often associated with other art forms like fiction or cinema.’ (Australian Literary Studies Vol 19: John Foulcher’s Democracy).
From 1986 to 1994 his poetry was set for study on the NSW Higher School Certificate syllabus. He has been the poetry editor of both The Canberra Times and the Voices, the magazine of the National Library.
John’s first poetry book Light Pressure was published by Les Murray in 1983 as part of the legendary Angus & Robertson poetry series. We were proud to republish it in a new edition in 2012. It was followed by Pictures from the War (1987), Paper Weight (1991), New and Selected Poems (1993), The Honeymoon Snaps (1996), Convertible (2000), The Learning Curve (2002) and What on Earth Possessed You (2008)
In 2010, he was awarded a writer in residency in Paris at the Cité Internationale des Arts by the Literature Board of the Australia Council. His 2012 volume of poems, The Sunset Assumption, is a response to that experience and was his first collection with PSP, followed by 101 Poems (2015) and the recent A Casual Penance (2017)