Nationality: British. Born: Handsworth, Birmingham, Warwickshire, 11 June 1930. Education: Wattville Road Elementary School; Handsworth Grammar School; Birmingham University, B.A. in English 1951, M.A. 1970. Family: Married 1) Barbara Venables in 1953 (divorced 1987), two sons; 2) Joyce Holliday in 1987. Career: Pianist with jazz groups since 1946. Lecturer, then senior lecturer, Dudley College of Education, 1958–63; principal lecturer and head of the department of English and drama, Bordesley College of Education, Birmingham, 1963–71; lecturer, then senior lecturer in American studies, University of Keele, 1972–82. Since 1982 freelance writer and musician. Director, Migrant Press, Worcester. Awards: Kelus prize, 1970; Cholmondeley award, 1981; Arts Council bursary, 1983; Hamlyn Foundation poetry award, 1997. D.Litt.: Keele, 1999. Address: Four Ways, Earl Sterndale, Near Buxton, Derbyshire SK17 OEP, England.
City. Worcester, Migrant Press, 1961.
Ten Interiors with Various Figures. Nottingham, Tarasque Press, 1966.
The Memorial Fountain. Newcastle upon Tyne, Northern House, 1967.
Collected Poems 1968: The Ghost of a Paper Bag. London, Fulcrum Press, 1969.
Correspondence, with Tom Phillips. London, Tetrad Press, 1970.
Matrix. London, Fulcrum Press. 1971.
Three Early Pieces. London, Transgravity Advertiser, 1971.
Also There, with Derrick Greaves. London, Tetrad Press, 1972.
Bluebeard's Castle, with Ronald King. Guildford, Surrey, Circle Press, 1973.
Cultures, with Ian Tyson. London, Tetrad Press, 1975.
Nineteen Poems and an Interview. Pensnett, Staffordshire, Grosseteste, 1975.
Neighbours—We'll Not Part Tonight! Guildford, Surrey, Circle Press, 1976.
Four Poems. Newcastle upon Tyne, Pig Press, 1976.
Widening Circles: Five Black Country Poets, with others, edited by Edward Lowbury. Stafford, West Midland Arts, 1976.
Barnardine's Reply. Knotting, Bedfordshire, Sceptre Press, 1977.
Scenes from the Alphabet. Guildford, Surrey, Circle Press, 1978.
The Thing about Joe Sullivan: Poems 1971–1977. Manchester, Carcanet, 1978.
Comedies. Newcastle upon Tyne, Pig Press, 1979.
Wonders of Obligation. Bretenoux, France, Braad, 1979.
Poems 1955–1980. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1980.
Consolidated Comedies. Durham, Pig Press, 1981.
Running Changes. Colchester, Essex, Ampersand Press, 1983.
A Furnace. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1986.
Poems 1955–1987. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1988.
Near Garmsley Camp. Madley, Hereford, Five Seasons Press, 1988.
Top Down Bottom Up. London, Circle Press, 1990.
Birmingham River. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1994.
It Follows That. Durham, Pig, 1994.
The Dow Low Drop: New and Selected Poems. Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Bloodaxe, 1996.
Roller, with Ian Tyson. London, Circle Press, 1999.
Then Hallucinations: City 2. Worcester, Migrant Press, 1962.
The Ship's Orchestra (prose poem). London, Fulcrum Press, 1966.
Titles. Nottingham, Tarasque Press, 1969.
Metamorphoses (prose poems), with Tom Phillips. London, Tetrad Press, 1970.
The Cut Pages (prose poems). London, Fulcrum Press, 1971.
Talks for Words. Cardiff, Blackweir, 1980.
The Half-Year Letters: An Alphabet Book, with Ronald King. Guildford, Surrey, Circle Press, 1983.
A Birmingham Dialogue, with Paul Lester. Birmingham, Protean, 1986.
The Left-Handed Punch, with Ronald King. Guildford, Surrey, Circle Press, 1987.
Anansi Company, with Ronald King. London, Circle Press, 1993.*
Bibliography: Roy Fisher: A Bibliography by Derek Slade, London, D. Slade, 1987.
Critical Studies: "Resonances and Speculations upon Reading Roy Fisher's City" by Gael Turnbull, in Kulchur 7 (New York), 1962; Stuart Mills and Simon Cutts, in Tarasque 5 (Nottingham), 1967; "Roy Fisher's Work" by Eric Mottram, in Stand (Newcastle upon Tyne), xi, 1, 1969; "Roy Fisher: An Appreciation" in Thomas Hardy and British Poetry by Donald Davie, New York, Oxford University Press, 1972, London, Routledge, 1973; Preface by Jon Silkin to Poetry of the Committed Individual, London, Gollancz-Penguin, 1973; "Metal or Stone" by David Punter in Delta 62 (Ely), 1981; "A City of the Mind" by Philip Gardner, in Times Literary Supplement (London), 20 March 1981; The British Dissonance by A. Kingsley Weatherhead, Columbia, University of Missouri Press, 1983; Paul Lester and Roy Fisher: A Birmingham Dialogue by Paul Lester, Birmingham, Protean, 1986; "'Music of the Generous Eye': Roy Fisher's Poems 1955–1980" by Ian Gregson, in Bete Noire (Hull, England), 6, winter 1988; "'If I Didn't Dislike Mentioning Works of Art': Roy Fisher's Poems on Poetics" by Bert Almon, in ARIEL (Calgary, Alberta, Canada), 22(3), July 1991; "De-Anglicizing the Midlands: The European Context of Roy Fisher's City" by Robert Sheppard, in English (Leicester, England), 41(169), spring 1992; "Jazz in the Poetry of Amiri Baraka and Roy Fisher" by Mary Ellison, in Yearbook of English Studies (London), 24, 1994; The Thing about Roy Fisher: Critical Essays on the Poetry of Roy Fisher edited by Peter Robinson and John Kerrigan, Liverpool, Liverpool University Press, 2000.
Roy Fisher comments:
My work is grounded in the assumption that the human imagination creates and transacts the world and must, in view of its record, be treated with the utmost vigilance so that its operations may be intimately understood and its malfunctions predicted. As a poet, I work mostly in the zone where all the senses, with their inherent limitations, interact with the mild but tenacious restrictions of my man-made native language. Where I spot something that seems to me remarkable, I go in and follow it with language as far as I can without making unwarrantable rhetorical or metaphysical leaps. For relaxation, and to indulge the sociable side of my nature, I'm a satirist and unashamedly sarcastic.* * *
Roy Fisher's poems are a triumph of conveying without saying. There are three distinct movements in reading Fisher: first, intensely objective "language," both verbal and perceptual; second, intensely subjective awareness of a state of mind—the "meaning" of the riddle; finally, a joyful, objective recognition of the meeting of separate minds.
A good poem is a riddle whose meaning has been incarnated in the reader but eludes paraphrase. Fisher is not often explicit about his intentions: "What kind of man / comes in a message?" he muses in one verse. The source of joy in art is precisely that: following the "dry track" left by the artist, we become aware simultaneously of his and our own struggle for clean, attentive life, issuing in the success of the work as direct experience.
The core of Fisher's writing, whether in prose or verse, is in this sense positive, though never brashly optimistic. There is sadness, even bitterness, concerning the attitudes our culture induces: "What's now only disproved / was once imagined." But "a genuine poet," as Goethe said, "always feels a call to fill himself with the glory of the world," and, in his 1961 volume City, Fisher writes, "Once I wanted to prove the world was sick. Now I want to prove it healthy." He seems tempted to "go mad after the things which are not" and yet determined not to be "able to feel only vertically, like a blind wall, or thickly, like the tyres of a bus." Fisher inhabits a ground of perceptual precision made taut by a heartrending, though quiet, sense of inexplicable significance beyond. The more one reads him, the more one wants to read. As he once wrote, "If you take a poem / you must take another / and another / till you have a poet." When one does so, one's moral and aesthetic response is increasingly to a man, an approach to living, rather than to isolated utterances.
Fisher's fineness lies in the extraordinary, intimate communication he achieves. He accomplishes this through the medium of a sophisticated, well-mannered art whose illusory coldness is the sign of a real respect for his own and his reader's individuality.