Allen Fisher is a master of carefully structured chaos.
Readers fairly new (like me) to his work will find some initial solace in the
clearly sequenced works, the titles with their jazz dance affinities; even
the roughly alphabetical index of the whole book. There is logic to be found
in the lines (perhaps 'between the lines' would be better) of the poems, but
it is a dream-like, elliptical logic. You do need to be prepared to leave what
you think of as the ground.
Gravity, obviously, challenges what
we think is the 'right way up' of things. Fisher writes while in orbit, letting
his thoughts drift on ahead of his text. This reassessment of gravity is
intrinsic to the content, as well as the structure, of this book. Often
Fisher's awareness of 'spacetime' evokes the variousness of gravities, and
the effects this can have on the human mind/body: 'Astronauts in zero gravity
develop 'spikes' on their red blood cells during their time in “space”' he
writes ('disk'). Fisher's language is much the same as these morphed cells.
Sometimes the writing is visually 'spiked'; fragmented textually across the
page ('African Twist'; Crab Walk'), sometimes his syntax is teased and spread
out over a number of consecutive sequences ('Chug'). At other times the
reader (this reader, anyway) feels their own bloodstream tending towards
intoxication, as a mesh of imagery springs open strange doors.
Fisher's book, although containing enough abstract food for thought to see
you through until next Christmas, is also populated by characters who my or
may not weave their way through the entire text. Butcher, Burglar, Analyst,
Cleaner, Painter, Mathematician, tackle various landscapes and scenarios, and
then frequently tackle them again, as if they are archetypal figures in a
groundhog day. In addition, Coleridge and Blake often step forward in person.
And the meaning in all the avant garde textual experimentation? Hard to say,
of course, without sounding dim and monochromatic. There is a sense of
shifting terrestrial geographies (Brixton, Bristol) as well as of
weightlessness. Some sequences seem more specifically weighted, such as
'Charleston', where a plethora of sexual/reproductive metaphors whip up a
physical texture to what could also be a meditation on a self gradually
emerging within structure:
I am sensible
of my crime
but cannot abhor it
no longer inform
I am not yet
I am not
There are some wonderfully lyric lines in Gravity; perhaps I like these best: the 'animant
self-conscious pendulum' which casts its iambic swing through 'Boogie
Woogie', the moments of 'hair-raising silence when alone/with the alone'
('Bugaloo', quoting Plotinus without acknowledgement). Then there are the
longer pieces, such as 'Dog', which charts a vast expanse of history in a long
sequence of weighty stanzas.
Not all of Fisher's text is exalted or even immutably complex, however.
'Duck-Pillow' is a case in point, playing on the visual 'duck-rabbit'
conundrum through the 'multi-coloured moiré action on the screen
pattern' which repeats itself
as a mutating line throughout this shaped poem. It did remind me of a similarly
structured poem by Wendy Cope on poets and bananas, though.
Most intriguing is 'Work Consciousness Commodity'; where three kinds of
perception are cast, playfully, as Badgers, Dears and Beavers – like a
postmodern exercise in native American spirituality. Fisher definitely aligns
himself with the Beavers, who 'discuss travel, polygamy, transparency... They
meet the Badgers in a tired rush of words and juxtaposed ideas from tired
bodies against time-rush and sleep-space in occasional lapses of absence from
which they promptly emerge to resume attempted control.' They do indeed. As
reader, my strategy was much the same.
Gravity is highly referenced;
many of the bibliographical notes relating to the early 'Brixton Fractals'
project. My favourite reference is to 'an article, now lost, giving a floral
chemical analysis of perfumes used by heads of state'. This is a real Finnegan's
Wake of a collection. Read it with an
open mind and it will become as heady and significant as these perfumes. But
do be prepared to lose your footing.