Image by Caroline Forbes

Roy Fisher

b. 1930


...anything I have seen, I've only seen by virtue of having been very inattentive or rebellious at school, and looking at what was out of the corner of the picture, what was outside the frame. - Roy Fisher

Birmingham River

Roy Fisher

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At the Grave of Asa Benveniste

Roy Fisher

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About Roy Fisher

Roy Fisher (b. 1930) grew up in Birmingham and was educated at the local grammar school and Birmingham University. He worked as a teacher of English in schools and colleges, including latterly the University of Keele, Staffordshire. Since 1982 he has been a freelance writer and jazz musician. First published in the 1950s, Fisher's work from the beginning was outside the English poetry mainstream, looking instead towards Europe and America, and the Black Mountain poets in particular, for inspiration. Over the course of half a century, however, Fisher's elusive, skilful poems have become increasingly recognised, so much so that his 1986 book, A Furnace, was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, The Thing About Joe Sullivan a PBS Choice and the most recent editions of his collected poems have appeared from Oxford University Press and Bloodaxe.

Fisher has described himself as "a Midlander, which is a very particular sort of race. It's supposed to be nowhere at all," and in these remarks can be detected a tension that runs through his poetry. On the one hand his writing is deeply rooted - Fisher acknowledges his almost Wordsworthian attachment to the city of his birth - on the other it refuses certainty and belonging. An essential quality in Fisher's aesthetic is openness - of form, subject and meaning - an attitude celebrated in his elegy for the poet, Asa Benveniste, "your eyebrows arched/so high as to hold/nothing excluded that might want in". This dynamic is seen most clearly in the West Midlands poems, and the attention Fisher pays to the in-between places, those disregarded industrial sites he knows so well: in 'Birmingham River' the waterway turns out to be not one, but two rivers, both of which, significantly, flow underground. The world is always various in Fisher, to be looked at from more than one angle. Elsewhere, his subject is perception itself as in his oblique sequence, 'Matrix', which he describes as an ink blot, open to interpretation.

Fisher's own softly-spoken, ruminative tones suggest a mind speaking to itself, exploring an internal geography with tenacity and precision. The abiding impression is of a poet faithful to his own vision, determined to come at the world "edge on" ('Noted').

His recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 13 June 2001 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Selected bibliography

The Thing about Roy Fisher (John Kerrigan), Liverpool...

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Roy Fisher Reading from his poems, CD, The Poetry...

The Long and the Short of It: Poems 1955-2005, Bloodaxe...

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Interviews Through Time and Selected Prose (contributor...

Anthology of Twentieth-Century British and Irish Poetry...

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News for the Ear: A Homage to Roy Fisher, ed. Peter...

New Penguin Book of English Verse (contributor), ed....

Other: British and Irish Poets since 1970 (contributor...

The Harvill Book of Twentieth Century Poetry in English...

Prizes

1969 Andrew Kelus Poetry Prize

1978 Poetry Book Society Choice, The Thing About Joe Sullivan

Prize website

1981 Cholmondeley Award

Prize website

1982 West Midlands Arts Writing Bursary

Prize website

1983 Arts Council Writing Bursary

Prize website

1986 Poetry Book Society Recommendation, A Furnace

Prize website

1992 Society of Authors Travel Bursary

Prize website

1997 Hamlyn Award

2003 Honorary Poet of the City of Birmingham

2005 Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature

Prize website

Links

Recordings

Roy Fisher Reading from his poems

1At the Grave of Asa Benveniste

2The House on the Border

3Near Garmsley Camp

43rd November 1976

5They Come Home

6Hypnopaedia

7Top Down, Bottom Up

8Abstracted Water

9Birmingham River

10The Host

11Promenade On Down

12The Collection of Things

13The Lesson in Composition

14Butterton Ford

15The Burning Graves at Netherton

16Matrix

17The Six Deliberate Acts

18Three Ceremonial Poems

19Handsworth Liberties

20Staffordshire Red

21The Trace

22The Sidings at Drebkau

23Discovering the Form

24You Should Have Been There

25Processional

26Noted

A tour of the Archive with Mark Grist

Over the years I’ve become increasingly interested in the lyrical nature of poetry. I find that the more I’ve taken...

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