Roy Fisher Andrew Motion - Essay

Andrew Motion

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

It's not difficult … to see why Fisher has been denied a larger public. For one thing, there's almost no drama in his poems. He says himself, 'In my poems there's seldom / any I or you'—which means there's not only seldom any love poetry, but also seldom any individuated human beings at all. Instead, he offers what he calls the 'music of the generous eye': poems which celebrate the phenomenal world by the clarity with which they perceive it. And when people do stray across his field of vision they frequently seem neither more nor less important than the scenery in which they appear. In fact people and objects are often almost indistinguishable—so much so that their functions are sometimes exchanged….

At first glance, this approach to experience might not seem to include much human interest. But, as Fisher meticulously illustrates, his poems do not substitute purity of observation for the pleasures of action and narrative, but make the act of seeing itself dramatic. Throughout his career he has tried to create an absolutely authentic realism, consistently addressing himself to the world with a latter-day kind of wise passiveness….

Nearly all Fisher's poems adopt this distanced but compassionate poetic strategy, notably his long elegy for bombed and brutally redeveloped Birmingham, City. And although reading his work in bulk allows its methods to emerge clearly, it also emphasises his limitations. His 'gentle eye' is extraordinarily affectionate and observant, but is rather apt to tyrannise his tone of voice. Fisher obviously realises the danger, and occasionally—and often successfully—abandons his preferred mode in favour of humour or surrealism. But these excursions can't altogether dispel the threat of a rather too-rigorous self-effacement and restraint.

Andrew Motion, "Clairvoyance," in New Statesman (© 1981 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), Vol. 101, No. 2603, February 6, 1981, p. 9.∗