Open Plan

Open Plan is the neat title for a volume of poems by Graham Fulton, which distills with wit and precision the strange reality of being an office-worker. Published by Smokestack Books in 2011, Open Plan is a thoroughly rewarding read, belying what at first may sound like unpromising material – the daily grind in an open plan office. But the poems are full of quirky observation, and peopled with characters such as Alan the endangered himp, Nostrildamus and the Huge Head. The poem remote control begins ‘giving someone/a name/without their knowledge/creates a sense/of power’, and this is one of the many poems in which Fulton  explores the small psychic survival strategies employed by millions of office-workers. There’s a lot of humour in the book, and I found myself grinning reading poems such as multi tasking where ‘John the fount of knowledge’ ‘tells a joke/the length of/Crime and Punishment/only not as funny/as we double click/our mice/and remember/to laugh’. Grinning, and yet the poem twists at the end, there’s a note of pathos in that remembering to laugh. Another poem, hot desking, sparked by the familiar ritual of the fire drill, also moves from an amused take on the proceedings to a darker tone, as the workers wait for the sign to return to their desks ‘and recommence/our relationship with/the coffee or custard/creams or/preferably just/remain in our pods and burn’. set menu captures the quiet desperation of celebratory office lunches. In private sector I discovered that male office-workers hide in the cubicles in the Gents, just as females do in the Ladies. The sequence works as a whole, as we begin in dark matter, then log on, and by the penultimate poem log off. Every title is spot on, and the poems themselves are humane, absurd, occasionally poignant. They read as if Fulton has lived and breathed the office reality, knows these people, and writes from a place of empathy. A book – and voice – that is definitely worth seeking out.

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3 thoughts on “Open Plan

  1. Thanks, Hilaire. This sounds refreshingly quirky and quite daring. I think there’s rich material in the rituals and psychology of office life. And I’ve heard that Smokestack Books are publishing some interesting stuff although they don’t have a strong presence on the web. How did you hear of the book and poet, I wonder?

    1. Thanks Jospehine. A friend came across the book one lunchtime while browsing a charity shop, read it in one sitting, loved it, and lent it to me. And I’m very grateful!

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