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This review is taken from PN Review 168, Volume 32 Number 4, March - April 2006.

ALL SAID AND DONE ROY FISHER, The Long and the Short of It: Poems 1955-2005 (Bloodaxe) £12

My dictionary tells me that 'the long and the short of it' means 'all that can or need be said'. The Long and the Short of It contains almost 400 close-set pages of work composed over 50 years, with a striking variety of methods, techniques, tones and subject-matter. For those people who know Roy Fisher's work already, or own the previous (out-of-print) gatherings-together from Oxford and Bloodaxe, this will be a timely, necessary book. One of the dangers of the big retrospective (as witness the recent Faber doorstops from Lowell and Hughes) is that the work will start to seem less than the sum of its parts. The pleasing thing about this book is how much, taken together, it adds up to.

There's a sort of implied peritext or sideshow it seems necessary to despatch at the beginning. Fisher's work is often recruited by various vested interests drafting what he calls the 'idiot bipartite map' of English poetry. Even when he's being praised it's as if points are being scored. So Sean O'Brien calls him 'the modernist (and postmodernist) the non-modernists enjoy and to some extent understand', and George Szirtes uses that m-word in a similar way: 'the most original and approachable modernist poet of the post-war period'. (Which sounds a little like a ticking-off: he's fallen in with a bad crowd.) The Bloodaxe website contains a found poem which reads like one of Fisher's own burlesques on the 'minuscule dialectic' of poetic 'faction': ...


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