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This article is taken from PN Review 12, Volume 6 Number 4, March - April 1980.

2 or 3 Things about Roy Fisher Peter Robinson

The Thing About Joe Sullivan is Roy Fisher's third collection of poetry. In 1969 he published Collected Poems 1968, and in 1971, Matrix. Edward Lucie-Smith has quoted Roy Fisher's own descriptions of himself as, variously, "a cubist poet", a "1905 Russian Modernist", and a "1920s Russian Modernist". These descriptions are as accurate as such tags ever are, and they alert a reader to Fisher's curious modernism and his humour. The former shows first of all in his rhythmic and formal preferences. The statement of such preferences, and a tongue-in-cheek eloquence similar to that in his descriptions of himself, can be found in the new volume's title poem, about the playing style of a jazz pianist:

running among stock forms
that could play themselves

and moving there with such
quickness of intellect

that shapes flaw and fuse. . .

Roy Fisher's modernism resides in his desire to find small cracks, like jokes, from which the new may come. In "Suppose" from Matrix it is the poem's ability to monitor and shake the new which makes "a guttering freedom,/Just enough light to ask questions by": and this is why "Alexandr Blok, the beautiful,/Dealt out humbug,/Still made sense-". And Fisher, who by any reckoning is a second or third generation modernist, confronts the false problem of a "tradition" of "experiment" by asserting that the type of free verse he writes is not experimental at all: except in the ...

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