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This review is taken from PN Review 20, Volume 7 Number 6, July - August 1981.

SIMPLY THE KNOWN Roy Fisher, Poems 1955-1980 (Oxford) £7.95

The dust-wrapper of the Fulcrum Press collection of Roy Fisher's poems (so much better produced than the present enlarged edition, a pitiful comedown for Oxford) shows a Birmingham street party with the poet as a small boy somewhere in the crowd: one of his later poems makes sardonic play with the fact. The picture was appropriate, however, for Fisher is anonymous in his world. His allegiance to Modernism has been absolute: not for him the cataloguing of personal emotions or the unravelling of biographical impressions. He is a singularly selfless poet.


I would
get into a message if I could
and come complete
to where I can see
what's across the park:
and leave my own position
empty for you in its frame. (The Poet's Message')


Fisher works less through vocabulary than through syntax, to open up possibilities of apprehension; through defining modes and angles of vision his deft phrases pick open the opaque world we ordinarily inhabit.


I come quite often now upon a sort of ecstasy, a rag of light blowing among the things I know, making me feel I am not the one for whom it was intended, that I have inadvertently been looking through another's eyes and have seen what I cannot receive.


This comes from 'City', that amalgam of verse and prose which renders the urban landscape of Birmingham through an eye ...


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