Roy Fisher David Zaiss - Essay

David Zaiss

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Roy Fisher's poems are dark and turbulent. One section of [Collected Poems 1968], called simply City, is exemplary; in it, a poetic conscience corresponding to modernity sets out, in visionary terms, on a journey to its own painful beginnings. With the exception of one poem, The Entertainment of War,… the section reads like an attempt, on the part of humanity, to come to terms with inhumanity, with the built-in phthisis of the urban situation. However, Fisher's tone is too reserved, and the grand undertaking he may have only felt awaits some future seer. The City poems are more vital than visionary, in at least one sense. They speak to an awareness; their dark heat raises an ordinary moment in the mind, so that the images almost crunch…. (p. 51)

In general, Fisher seems a bit over-serious, but he avoids the exaggeration and egocentricity that mar most 'serious' poetry. A minimal dependence upon irony gives his voice an unusual plausibility and integrity, if these are virtues. Most of his best delivery sounds like good prose, and throughout this book his use of prose sections is not interruptive. The City piece stands out for me, but there are other solid poems in the collection, notably, The Small Room, Toyland, Chirico for its drive and defiance, and the long antiphon (as Fisher subtitles it) at the end, At No Distance. In this last poem, a conspicuous attempt is made to voluntarize the collisions between voices, and partly due to this, partly due to a coherent sense of timing and image, the poem comes off very well. (p. 52)

David Zaiss, "Perfect Circles," in Poetry (© 1970 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), Vol. CXVI, No. 1, April, 1970, pp. 51-5.∗