Friday 5 April 2024

Review by Rennie Parker of "The Point of the Stick" by Neil Fulwood

Here is one of those unclassifiable pamphlets which makes perfect sense when you think about it. Why hasn't anyone thought of this before? Take any number of conductors - magnetic figures all - encapsulate their style, their motivation or their hallmark, and present them as a sequence where the reader can guess who it is. Art as an enigma, much like the alchemy of conducting itself. You can read the unnamed stanzas in Neil Fulwood's nifty little collection, and check your answers at the back of the book, like any good test paper. I scored four and I'm disgusted with myself; maybe I am listening to the wrong recordings, but I enjoyed the guessing game nevertheless.

Of course we do not learn overmuch about the conductors as they march past - the poems are between eight and twelve lines, so the poet has to hit the ground running with a bijou design of those dimensions. What we have are lightning sketches, illuminating without becoming cartoonish. Judging by the correct four guesses, the pictures are accurate too: for instance, there are films of Adrian Boult wielding his trademark 'billiard cue,' and he was as sparing in his gestures as the poem implies, 'deployed with a slight / supple turn of the / wrist.' I like how 'wrist' is separated from the preceding line, emphasising the clean gesture. The collection is full of expert touches like this, the 'punchline' exactly situated, the felicitous phrase which brings the portrait alive.

There are references to war-torn countries, driven individuals rebuilding themselves, and the conductors as self-made people as well as media stars - familiar enough ideas when it comes to international artists, but relayed here in Fulwood's uncluttered and direct manner with not a word wasted. Each segment dovetails in with its neighbours so well that there is no 'odd one out,' which sometimes happens with a sequence. I would have welcomed a couple more lines for each conductor, because I was interested to know more about them - but it was not part of the poet's design; and anyway, that's what biographies are for.

The Point of the Stick may sound like a niche pamphlet but in fact there is a wide audience who would love this collection. Instrumentalists, concertgoers, choir members and Radio 3 listeners could all benefit from finding a copy in their birthday envelopes. Better still, it's so pocket-sized you can take it with you to a marathon recital and read it during the interval. As a concept album, it is small and perfectly formed. Go, little book! I am posting my copy to a pianist friend who will appreciate both the poetry and the subterranean references to complex lives and their overwhelming dedication to music.

About the reviewer
Rennie Parker's latest collection is Balloons and Stripey Trousers (Shoestring, 2023). She was born in Leeds but lives in south Lincolnshire, and currently works for an FE college. Blogs here, daily nonsense on Twitter @rennieparker.

You can read a review of Balloons and Stripey Trousers on Everybody's Reviewing here

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