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An Easily Bewildered Child: Occasional Prose 1963-2013, Roy Fisher,
edited by Peter Robinson (196pp, Shearsman)

Shearsman are helping to create a mini critical industry on Roy Fisher, and it is greatly to be welcomed. After An Unofficial Roy Fisher in 2010 and 2013's Interviews through Time, comes this, the third substantial gathering of Fisher on Fisher, Fisher on other poets and Fisher on jazz and  Birmingham. Given that the most recent collection of new Fisher poetry was Standard Midland, published by Bloodaxe in 2010, this amounts to a sudden flurry of attention for the reticent, disingenuous Mr Fisher, now over 80 and one suspects he may have mixed feelings about it, having successfully evaded critical identification for so long.

Fisher's poetic corpus has been gathered twice in the last ten years and earlier lengthy  sequences such as 'City' and 'The Cut Pages' once again feature strongly in the various commentaries and notes here. The excellent prose series 'Talks for Words' makes another reappearance, having originally been in
Interviews through Time and 'Licence my Roving Hands', a memoir of playing jazz, is here again, revised from the 2000 Stride volume News for the Ear. The 'occasional' aspect of these pieces means that several lighthearted or minimal contributions written by Fisher over the years, framing or commenting on his poetry, have been hunted down, notably the sardonic 'Roy Fisher on Roy Fisher', a self-review from a 1996 issue of The Rialto.

So what does this volume offer the Roy Fisher reader, assuming such a creature exists?  Encounters with John Cowper Powys (by letter) and critical pieces on Ezra Pound and Basil Bunting go some way toward 'placing' Fisher, his debt to the late Gael Turnbull and the Black Mountain poets is briefly touched upon, but several of the more interesting pieces approach Fisher's art sideways, as it were. A recent appreciation of the painter David Prentice, 'The Green Fuse', allows him to discuss the dimensionality of maps and interpreting landscape, a theme again found in 'Handsworth Compulsions', a Radio 4 talk from 1983 - both important pieces on how landscape is represented in his work. Additionally, 'Reply to Paul Lester' rejects some Marxist interpretations of his poetry, describing 'City' as 'impressionist pieces, without further analysis' and restating firmly his desire to stay 'on the affective surface'. This then develops into a brief but valuable discussion of how Fisher uses 'the 'I' characters' in his work  and attempts to delineate 'an oppressive material world'.

There are weaker pieces here - the essay on Joseph Brodsky seems rather thin and many of the pieces on jazz pianists would perhaps only interest enthusiasts - but there is much to stimulate the attentive, careful reader of Fisher's poetry. It only lacks a fairly straightforward biographical frame to act as a clear introduction for those intrigued but uncertain of how to begin an acquaintance with his distinctive, challenging, idiosyncratic poetry: the lengthy 'Antebiography', only takes him as far as 1961 and the publication of 'City', and much of interest happened in his poetry after this.

     Martin.Caseley 2014