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This article is taken from PN Review 229, Volume 42 Number 5, May - June 2016.

Roy Fisher, The Ship’s Orchestra Ian Pople
Even amid the heterogeneity of Fisher’s poetry, The Ship’s Orchestra first published in 1966, is unusual. The Orchestra occupies fifty-eight pages of prose and was first published in one of Stuart Montgomery’s elegant little Fulcrum hardbacks. Its original cover is a woodcut by David Jones of Noah and his family supervising the building of the ark. The woodcut is in Jones’s signature mixture of delicacy and strong lines; in the top left-hand corner of the woodcut, Noah appears to be having his ear bent by a female figure, perhaps Mrs Noah. A group of people just above Noah and Mrs N. are clearly casting sardonic glances at Noah and toasting, ironically perhaps, the bones of the hull of the Ark below them. In the top of the picture, a pair of stylised cranes flies from right to left.

Yet, that illustration has little or nothing to do with the book-length prose poem between the covers. The narrative of the poem, such as it is, features six characters, who are players in a ship’s orchestra which never actually plays. The orchestra consists of two female players: Joyce, who is the drummer, Amy, the trombonist, and three male players: the unnamed narrator of the piece, who is the piano player, Dougal the bassist, and Merrett, who plays a white, plastic alto saxophone, this latter, perhaps, Fisher’s nod to the avant-garde saxophonist Ornette Coleman. Towards the end, a trumpeter, Henrik, appears from the sick bay.

Fisher has stated that he got the idea for the text from Picasso’s ...

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