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This article is taken from PN Review 83, Volume 18 Number 3, January - February 1992.

Signs of Identity: Roy Fisher's a Furnace Andrew Crozier

1

ROY FISHER commented with some asperity on Donald Davie's 'Appreciation' of him in Thomas Hardy and British Poetry - 'I wasn't aware that he'd exactly written about my work in that book!' - yet the chapter on Fisher is generous in its willingness to admire writing Davie does not, it is apparent, find immediately congenial.* Davie points to Fisher's descriptive power, his technical scruple, and the kind of verse in which he is most skilful and distinguished. He draws attention to an opacity in Fisher's language produced by the weight attached to particular words, 'conscience' for example, by repeated use. In what concerns the manner and procedure of Fisher's writing, and its engagement with the reader, Davie's observations remain the best introduction to Fisher's work, even though the detail and tendency of his argument provoke exasperated disagreement. Davie is surely mistaken, for instance, in the claim that in Larkin's 'Afternoons' and Fisher's 'As He Came Near Death' there are lines in which 'the act of the imagination is identical'. He is also tendentious, for the point is made in anticipation of the argument by which Fisher is seen to typify the condition of the modern British literary imagination: he opts for the social rather than the human, for pathos rather than tragedy. These categories and the argument they. serve do indeed say more about Davie, and his rueful acceptance of the condition thus diagnosed, than they say about Fisher. Fisher's recent long poem A Furnace ...


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