Nationality: British. Born: Isle of Arran, Scotland, 6 May 1937. Education: Edinburgh University, M.A. 1959, Ph.D. 1972. Career: Schoolmaster in Scotland in the 1960s. From 1973 senior lecturer in English, Stavanger College, Norway. Editor, Lines Review, Edinburgh, 1967–76. Awards: Eric Gregory award, 1966; Edinburgh University writer's fellowship, 1969–71; Arts Council bursary, 1972; Swedish Authors' Fund bursary, 1973, 1976; Artur Lundkvist award, for translation, 1977; Swedish Academy award, for translation, 1978. Address: Postboks 467, N-4001 Stavanger, Norway.
A Matter of Definition. Edinburgh, Giles Gordon, 1963.
Instances. Edinburgh, Macdonald, 1967.
Inventories. Thurso, Caithness Books, 1969.
The Spaces Between the Stones. New York, New Rivers Press, 1971.
Quarters. West Linton, Peeblesshire, Castlelaw Press, 1971.
The Man with the Surbahar. Edinburgh, Macdonald, 1971.
Tree-Lines. New York, New Rivers Press, 1974.
Music and Flight. Knotting, Bedfordshire, Sceptre Press, 1975.
Between Flights: Eighteen Poems. Egham, Surrey, Interim Press, 1976.
Places to Stay In. Knotting, Bedfordshire, Sceptre Press, 1978.
Following a Mirror. London, Oasis, 1980.
Selected Poems 1963–1978. Edinburgh, Macdonald, 1980.
Fields of Focus. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1982.
Coming Down to Earth and Spring Is Soon. Plymouth, Devon, Shearsman. 1990.
Contemporary Scottish Poetry: Individuals and Context. Edinburgh, Macdonald, 1974.
The Way Words Are Taken: Selected Essays. Edinburgh, Macdonald. 1989.
Editor, Trio: New Poets from Edinburgh. New York, New Rivers Press, 1971.
Editor, Selected Poems 1955–1980, by Iain Crichton Smith. Edinburgh, Macdonald, 1982.
Editor, Complete Poetical Works, by Robert Garioch. Edinburgh, Macdonald, 1983.
Editor, A Garioch Miscellany: Selected Prose and Letters, by Robert Garioch. Edinburgh, Macdonald, 1986.
Translator, An Italian Quartet: Versions after Saba, Ungaretti, Montale, Quasimodo. London, Alan Ross, 1966.
Translator, Blok's Twelve. Preston, Lancashire, Akros, 1968.
Translator, Selected Poems, by Lars Gustafsson. New York, New Rivers Press, 1972.
Translator, Five Swedish Poets. South Orange, New Jersey, Seton Hall University Press, 1972.
Translator, They Killed Sitting Bull and Other Poems, by Gunnar Harding. London, London Magazine Editions, 1973.
Translator, Selected Poems, by Tomas Tranströmer. London, Penguin, 1974; augmented edition, Ann Arbor, Michigan, Ardis, 1980.
Translator, Citoyens, by Tomas Tranströmer. Rushden, Northamptonshire, Sceptre Press, 1974.
Translator, The Hidden Music and Other Poems, by Östen Sjöstrand. Cambridge, Oleander Press, 1975.
Translator, Selected Poems, by Werner Aspenström. London, Oasis, 1976.
Translator, Mary Poppins and Myth, by Staffan Bergsten. Stockhom, Almqvist & Wiksell, 1978.
Translator, How the Late Autumn Night Novel Begins, by Tomas Tranströmer. Knotting, Bedfordshire, Sceptre Press, 1980.
Translator, Baltics, by Tomas Tranströmer. London, Oasis, 1980.
Translator, Family Tree: Thirteen Prose Poems, by Johannes Edfelt. London, Oasis, 1981.
Translator, The Blue Whale and Other Prose Pieces, by Werner Aspenström. London, Oasis, 1981.
Translator, Starnberger See, by Gunnar Harding. London, Oasis, 1983.
Translator, The Wild Square, by Tomas Tranströmer. London, Oasis, 1984.
Translator, The Truth Barrier, by Tomas Tranströmer. London, Oasis, 1984.
Translator, Béla Bartók Against the Third Reich, by Kjell Espmark. Stockholm, Norstedts, and London, Oasis, 1985.
Translator, with James Greene and Siv Hennum, Don't Give Me the Whole Truth: Selected Poems, by Olav Hauge. London, Anvil Press Poetry, 1985; Buffalo, New York, White Pine Press, 1990.
Translator, Collected Poems, by Tomas Tranströmer. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1987.
Translator, with others, Selected Poems 1954–1986, by Tomas Tranströmer, edited by Robert Hass. New York, Ecco Press, 1987.
Translator, German Autumn, by Stig Dagerman. London, Quartet, 1988.
Translator, with others, The Stillness of the World Before Bach: New Selected Poems, by Lars Gustafsson, edited by Christopher Middleton. New York, New Directions, 1988.
Translator, with others, Toward the Solitary Star: Selected Poetry and Prose, by Osten Sjöstrand, edited by Steven P. Sondrup. Provo, Utah, Brigham Young University, 1988.
Translator, Guest of Reality, by Par Lagerkvist. London, Quartet, 1989.
Translator, Four Swedish Poets: Tranströmer, Ström, Sjögren, Espmark. Buffalo, New York, White Pine Press, 1990.
Translator, Selected Poems, by Olav Hauge. Buffalo, New York, White Pine Press, 1990.
Translator, One Summer Night in Sweden, radio-play by Erland Josephson, produced BBC, 1990.
Translator, Stone-Shadows, by Hermann Starheimster. Oslo, Norway, Det Norske Samlaget, 1991.
Translator, Five Swedish Poets: Kjell Espmark, Lennart Sjögren, Eva Ström, Staffan Söderblom, Werner Aspenström. Norwich, Norvik Press, 1997.
Translator, New Collected Poems, by Tomas Tranströmer. Newcastle upon Tyne, Bloodaxe, and Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, Dufour Editions, 1997.
Translator, Sorgegondolen: The Sorrow Gondola, by Tomas Tranströmer. Dublin, Dedalus Press, 1997.*
Critical Studies: By Colin Donati, in Lines Review (Edinburgh), 115, Decemeber 1990; by Mario Relich, in The Scottish Poetry Library Newsletter (Edinburgh), 21, July 1993; by Richard Price in Lines Review (Edinburgh), 131, December 1994.* * *
Robin Fulton was a fastidious craftsman early in his profession as poet, the craftsmanship showing itself not in conventional verse forms but in the controlled response to the exacting objectives of his art. In "A Lifework" he writes,
to say what you mean is hazardous
to sort out and plainly describe
one mere subdivision
of a minor species takes more
than a home made poet with a simple lens.
At his simplest he is a meticulous observer, and in the poem of this title, "A Meticulous Observer," he writes,
he watched the boys with almost pre-
hensile feet on high walls
where they risked their short lives
for reasons no-one else would appreciate
he watched girls with newly-shaped
bodies advertising themselves
without guile in the summery light
and without needing a reason to guide them
The reader is not permitted to participate in the physical sensations of these just and sensitive recordings of physiological facts. To Fulton all is seen in the mind's eye. In the progression of his poetry he uses meticulous observations as means of going beyond them, much as he can use a light, witty touch as an entry to the area of humane concern, as in "Forecast for a Quiet Night":
By dawn too a generation of mice
will have been sniped by a night-shift of owls
working separately and almost in silence
and the mild local disturbance behind the eyes
of the invalid
will have been noted by the next of kin.
Fulton's detached, inquisitorial mind allows him to make a critical scrutiny of events that generally have evoked passionate rhetoric from poets. He reports the Vietnam War as seen on the television screen:
the images are true because the actors are bad
the president knows how to raise an eyebrow and smile
but his victim burns clumsily unconvincingly
Fulton observes the reversal of natural expectation and leaves the reader with the questions, Where is truth and where is reality? The danger of this clinical approach is that the natural free response to the actual is inhibited, but Fulton's detachment does not go as far as aloofness. In his verse he puts his own self under inspection, and on his settling in Norway his poetry came to reflect the change in the symbolic statements the landscape made to him. In "In Memorian Antonius Blok," which is charged with memories of Bergman's The Seventh Seal, the Swedish scene is both threatening and beautiful:
Perched like ornaments on dim shelves
owls wait for the bewildering sky to darken
and from the wood's edge you can see the birches
silver and standing at ease before the shadowy
straight ranks …
The wood is also identified as Dante's, and, like Dante at the beginning of the Inferno, Fulton is in middle age:
It has taken you half a lifetime to reach
an understanding with the black shadow of the pine.
In the middle of life the dark wood darkens.
Fulton's poems have increasingly become concerned with identifying an elusive self that is nearly always on a journey. As early as 1976, in "Visingo" (Between Flights), he images his precariousness:
Like a blind man I hold on to railings
… my mind gropes for the next wet stepping stone.
In 1982, in "Museums and Journeys" (Fields of Focus), he says,
Our view of the present is clear
but the landscapes go on sliding past
The risk of preoccupation with the self is the loss of the independent object, but in his 1991 collection Coming Down to Earth and Spring Is Soon Fulton counterpoises his subjective perception with "the … living wood" of the tree outside his bedroom:
On good nights I saw
my hands young middle-
aged and old at once.
The still-living wood
of the sycamore that creaked
nursed me back to sleep.
His refining definitions are given new life by allowing the play of sensation that comes from "creaked," hinting at the substantiality of the tree and its continuing life. Although Fulton never deserted images from nature, earlier having used them in a light, witty way, the deepening tone of certain of his poems is now matched by their warmth.