Roy Fisher Alan Brownjohn - Essay

Alan Brownjohn

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Roy Fisher's Collected Poems] made the best case I had seen for an English experimental poetry which drew something usable and interesting out of the work of the American avant-garde; his weirdly and delicately observed landscapes of urban desolation offered a slant on things which no one else was providing—at least not with the same wry wit and humanity. Matrix … was slightly disappointing; and his new volume, The Thing About Joe Sullivan, still finds him in rather uncertain form. The "difficulty" in these poems is that kind of opacity which results when every image is granted its own individual life and the poet feels inhibited from pulling them together into lumps of paraphrasable material. In "107 Poems" he has opted out, and thrown that number of images together into a lively but distinctly pointless heap of iambics. In "In the Wall", which is a virtuoso poem in its own way, carefully and even elegantly crafted, a meaning is groping about somewhere, but it refuses to come clean…. But the thing about Roy Fisher is that his best poems blend highly unusual observations and insights with a subtle control which stops very far short of banal plotting or artifice. In [The Thing About Joe Sullivan], poems like "At Once", "On the Open Side" and (in satirical vein) "Artists, Providers, Places to Go" show his bizarre and attractive imagination working to excellent effect. (p. 63)

Alan Brownjohn, "Fascination of What's Difficult," in Encounter (© 1979 by Encounter Ltd.), Vol. LII, No. 3, March, 1979, pp. 61-5.∗