Roy Fisher never became a “popular poet”, in the sense of his work being widely known and printed in the sort of anthologies that appeal to a broad public. I recall him once saying that he didn’t have a “party piece” poem, the kind that he could perform regularly and be recognised by. On the whole, his work didn’t lend itself to being quoted from to emphasise a point of view. I think his audience was largely confined to fellow-poets, a few informed readers of poetry and, after a time, various academics. One or two, like Eric Mottram, had supported him all along, but it took others some years to catch up, if they ever did. When it came to the response to Fisher’s work by the literary establishment generally, Donald Davie probably got it right when he said that he was the victim of “the blindness and condescension of the metropolis to writing which is provincial in its origins or subject matter”.
Fisher was born in 1930 in
It was Gael Turnbull who, in the early-1950s,
introduced Fisher to the work of William Carlos Williams, Creeley,
Charles Olson, and Louis Zukofsky. He also encouraged him to send
poems to Cid Corman’s magazine,
Fisher certainly learned a great deal from reading American
poets, but he was also interested in Continental art and writing,
and he always retained his own voice and concerns. Tom Pickard made
a filmed documentary about Fisher, and it was tellingly called,
Most of Fisher’s early work appeared in little magazines and small
press pamphlets, though the adventurous Fulcrum Press did publish
several books by him in the 1960s. It was only in the late-1970s
that a somewhat bigger publisher, Carcanet Press, brought out one of
his books, and this was followed by his being taken up by Oxford
University Press in 1980. It gave him some status (
He had worked in schools and colleges, and for a number of years was
a lecturer in the American Studies Department of Keele University.
Fisher was also a talented jazz pianist. He had started playing with
local jazz groups in the
I knew and liked Roy Fisher. He was a good man and a fine poet. I’m happy that, in a small way, I was able to promote his work at a time when very few other people were paying attention to it. I can’t make any great claims for what I did, which amounted to a few short reviews in Tribune and Ambit. I also used some of his poems in Move and Palantir, a couple of magazines I edited in the Sixties and Seventies. But it pleases me to think that I knew him and valued his writing.
Jim Burns June 2017
Jim Burns June 2017