steady and slow from the north, freezing
and far higher; and, with it,
rising from behind the ridge, gigantic
heads lifted and processing along it, sunset-lit,
five towering beings
looking to be miles high,
their lower parts hidden, their lineaments
almost stable in their infinitely slow
It’s worth mentioning here Fisher’s preoccupation with mental states and with altered modes of consciousness (although not at all associated with the 1960s penchant for that phrase). In his autobiography of his youth, called “Antebiography” he describes a phase of his life, as a teenager, when he, in his own words, “left the world and stayed away from it for three years”. He describes how he developed a belief that he had a terminal illness, which he had to keep secret, and which affected all his negotiations with life until the delusion suddenly disappeared at the age of nineteen. It seems likely that the preoccupation just mentioned, which surfaces in much of his writing, can be traced to this period. As for “A Furnace”, this aspect of strangeness and of altered perceptions combines with the more rational, discursive mode to create a richness and depth that marks it out from the ordinary.
Despite the complexity of some his poetry, Fisher maintains a sense that the language of speech and the language of poetry are one and the same; a fact which has ensured his readership is evenly distributed across traditional/radical divide.
Throughout this book there is a feeling of a humane presence, which balances out the more stringent and difficult aspects; the presence of an author who doesn't take himself, or the personae he invents, too seriously:
'Stranger, in your own land
how do men call you?'
'I will tell you, men call me Roy
Fisher. Women call me
Fisher is adept at "light" verse which most poets of his academic stature would shy away from. In "The Nation" for example:
"The national day had dawned... Though
festivities were constrained by the size of
the national debt, the national sport was
vigorously played all day
and the national drink drunk."
Similarly, "A Modern Story (a prophecy 1981)" is a hilarious satirical account of setting up and running a poetry competition, and “The Poetry Promise” is recommended reading for anyone familiar with corporate mission statements and the like; like much of his humorous poetry, it’s a cutting satire which manages to appear remarkably good-natured.
This is Fisher’s third Collected Poems (after Fulcrum Press in 1968, and Oxford University Press in 1980), and he has also had a New and Selected (“The Dow Low Drop”) from Bloodaxe in 1996. This book includes quite a few new poems that weren’t in “The Dow Low Drop”, and it’s the first truly complete Collected; a number of works in it haven’t been seen in print for a long time – it has the first complete version of “The Cut Pages” for example since its original publication. It is organised thematically into nine sections, which somehow seems to work better than the chronological ordering of “The Dow Low Drop”. “The Long and the Short of It” is a demonstration of the amazing variety of Fisher’s work and a confirmation of his status as one of our most distinguished poets; as such it couldn’t be more highly recommended.
1. Roy Fisher, Interviews through Time and Selected Prose. Shearsman Books, 2000. 148pp. ISBN 0 907562 26 4. £10.00
2. Nate Doward, Review of Three Critical Studies on Fisher. Jacket Magazine (http://jacketmagazine.com). July 2000.
3. Ed. John Kerrigan and Peter Robinson The Thing about Roy Fisher: Critical Studies. Liverpool: Liverpool UP, 2000. 377pp. Hardback: ISBN 085323-515-5, £34.99; paperback: ISBN: 085323-525-2, £16.99.
4. Barry, Peter “Birmingham's what I think with": Roy Fisher's Composite-Epic.
The Yale Journal of Criticism - Volume 13, Number 1, Spring 2000, pp. 87-105 pub. John Hopkins University Press.