In a 1979 review of Roy Fisher's collection of poems The Thing about Joe Sullivan, probably the most likeable collection by a not always likeable poet, John Ash wrote: 'In a better world, he would be as widely known and highly praised as Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney.' This would be a very strange world, and not necessarily a better one. Fisher has never aspired to the sort of readership that Heaney and Hughes enjoy; it's not clear he has aspired to much of a readership at all. Astringent in tone, the voice denuded of personality and with all the warmth of a lens, exploratory, restless, difficult: it is poetry almost entirely without charm. On first learning that his work was being read outside a small circle of poet friends, Fisher froze up for an extended period of time, as he would periodically throughout his writing life. There isn't much in the poetry that would provide fuel for the more significant engines of reputation. It is too heterodox in form and method, and too various to characterise or place comfortably in the context of contemporary British poetry, beyond the idiotic and self-marginalising labels of 'outsider' or 'experimental'.
LRB 20 April 2006 | PDF Download