Shearsman are helping to create
a mini critical industry on Roy Fisher, and it is greatly to be welcomed.
After An Unofficial Roy Fisher in 2010
and 2013's Interviews through Time,
comes this, the third substantial gathering of Fisher on Fisher, Fisher on
other poets and Fisher on jazz and
Birmingham. Given that the most recent collection of new Fisher poetry
was Standard Midland, published
by Bloodaxe in 2010, this amounts to a sudden flurry of attention for the
reticent, disingenuous Mr Fisher, now over 80 and one suspects he may have
mixed feelings about it, having successfully evaded critical identification
for so long.
Fisher's poetic corpus has been gathered twice in the last ten years and
earlier lengthy sequences such
as 'City' and 'The Cut Pages' once again feature strongly in the various
commentaries and notes here. The excellent prose series 'Talks for Words'
makes another reappearance, having originally been in Interviews
through Time and 'Licence my Roving
Hands', a memoir of playing jazz, is here again, revised from the 2000 Stride
volume News for the Ear. The
'occasional' aspect of these pieces means that several lighthearted or
minimal contributions written by Fisher over the years, framing or commenting
on his poetry, have been hunted down, notably the sardonic 'Roy Fisher on Roy
Fisher', a self-review from a 1996 issue of The Rialto.
So what does this volume offer the Roy Fisher reader, assuming such a
creature exists? Encounters with
John Cowper Powys (by letter) and critical pieces on Ezra Pound and Basil
Bunting go some way toward 'placing' Fisher, his debt to the late Gael
Turnbull and the Black Mountain poets is briefly touched upon, but several of
the more interesting pieces approach Fisher's art sideways, as it were. A
recent appreciation of the painter David Prentice, 'The Green Fuse', allows
him to discuss the dimensionality of maps and interpreting landscape, a theme
again found in 'Handsworth Compulsions', a Radio 4 talk from 1983 - both
important pieces on how landscape is represented in his work. Additionally,
'Reply to Paul Lester' rejects some Marxist interpretations of his poetry,
describing 'City' as 'impressionist pieces, without further analysis' and
restating firmly his desire to stay 'on the affective surface'. This then
develops into a brief but valuable discussion of how Fisher uses 'the 'I'
characters' in his work and
attempts to delineate 'an oppressive material world'.
There are weaker pieces here - the essay on Joseph Brodsky seems rather thin
and many of the pieces on jazz pianists would perhaps only interest
enthusiasts - but there is much to stimulate the attentive, careful reader of
Fisher's poetry. It only lacks a fairly straightforward biographical frame to
act as a clear introduction for those intrigued but uncertain of how to begin
an acquaintance with his distinctive, challenging, idiosyncratic poetry: the
lengthy 'Antebiography', only takes him as far as 1961 and the publication of
'City', and much of interest happened in his poetry after this.