John Foulcher’s Democracy

Even as a marriage begins in 'The Honeymoon Snaps', the title poem of John Foulcher's most recent collection, darkness is not far away. Foulcher shows us a newly-wed wife snapping photographs on a beach, but frowning as she senses 'a false abundance'. On the surface, the poem recalls one of technology's little jests - unwound film in the holiday camera, leading inevitably to 'all the still-born days' of photos that are shot but never actually taken. Foulcher's work is full of such surfaces and here, as elsewhere, there is more going on than at first meets the eye. The poem's title gestures to this doubleness of vision. It suggests not only an album of non-existent photographs, but also the active sense of a snapping, a peremptory end to a time of too brief contentment from which one is dragged back into reality and all its travails. As a way of understanding Foulcher's work as a whole, this unreliable camera reveals something of his most crucial doubt- how poetry, in an era of CD-ROMs and millennial anxiety, might still be relevant to our culture, both as a medium of heightened self-consciousness and as an interpretation of the ways in which others live their lives.

The most noticeable thing about Foulcher's work is that it is decisively social. His poems are full of people - not shadowy figures meant to represent types, but real flesh and blood whose names might be checked in the telephone book. Reviewers have sometimes overlooked this, concentrating instead on Foulcher's supposed transcendental imperatives. But that misconceives his poetic enterprise. Foulcher's sense of the sacred is various and elusive, but it is always grounded in immanence rather than transcendence. For that reason, his gaze is fixed resolutely on this world in all its rawness - the actual, the historic, the personal. Coupled with this attention to specific social situations is a commitment to write in a direct style. This seems a necessary choice, given that the task Foulcher sets himself is the examination of what he calls the 'dark and human sadness'- the complexity of ordinary, as opposed to poetic, experience.

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Published 1 October 1999 in Volume 19 No. 2. Subjects: Australian poetry, Human condition, Loss, Mortality, Photographers & photography, Poetic techniques, Use of language.

Cite as: Poacher, Jeffrey. ‘John Foulcher’s Democracy.’ Australian Literary Studies, vol. 19, no. 2, 1999, doi: 10.20314/als.17b2df78f8.