In memoriam: Roy Fisher

Roy Fisher. Photo: Jemimah Kuhfeld
Roy Fisher. Photo: Jemimah Kuhfeld.

Roy Fisher, among the most admired of all British poets, died on 21 March 2017, after a short illness; he was 86. In reviewing Fisher’s The Long and the Short of It: Poems 1955-2005 (Bloodaxe) for The Guardian in 2005, William Wootten noted how “poets and critics who usually swim well away from each other agree to like Roy Fisher. Indeed, Fisher has been called under-appreciated so many times that he’s long been the most appreciated under-appreciated poet we have.”

Fisher’s many collections include: City (1961), The Ship’s Orchestra (1966), Matrix (1971), The Cut Pages (1971), and The Thing About Joe Sullivan: Poems 1971-1977 – a Poetry Book Society Choice. His ambitious book-length poem A Furnace was published in 1986, followed by Birmingham River (1994), The Dow Low Drop: New & Selected Poems (1996) and Standard Midland (2010), shortlisted that year for the Costa Poetry Award. His last collection Slakki: New & Neglected Poems, edited by Peter Robinson, was published by Bloodaxe Books in 2016 and was a Poetry Book Society Special Commendation. In her review of Slakki in the spring 2017 issue of The Poetry Review, Carol Rumens writes: “The new poems have an easy precision, and totally reject any temptation to Grand Senior Statement. Temperament overarches development: Fisher remains a flexible, canny, watchful, self-mocking, imaginative chronicler of (more or less) every local thing – no hill, street or human corner is alien to his eye.”

Fisher’s publisher Bloodaxe writes of him “playing the language, pleasuring the imagination and teasing the senses”, adding: “Fisher’s witty, inventive and anarchic poetry gave lasting delight to his many dedicated readers for over half a century”. Ian McMillan picked Fisher’s The Long and the Short of It as his Desert Island Discs choice, praising Fisher as “Britain’s greatest living poet”. In his review of the same book in The Guardian, Sean O’Brien described Fisher as “an English late modernist whose experiments tend to come off… He is a redeemer of the ordinary, often a great artist of the visible”.

One of Roy Fisher's engraved inscriptions for the Locklines project.
One of Roy Fisher’s engraved inscriptions for the Locklines project.

Roy Fisher worked with many artists during his career including Tom Phillips, Ian Tyson, Derrick Greaves and, most notably, Ronald King. Their 25 years of collaboration may be seen in several artist’s books published by King’s Circle Press. In 2012, The Poetry Society commissioned Fisher to write short inscriptions for the lock gates at Hillmorton, near Rugby, as part of the Canal & River Trust’s Locklines project. His contribution was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry 2012.

August Kleinzahler, who edited Fisher’s first US Selected Poems, published by Flood Editions in 2011, said: “There is no poet alive whose work has challenged or interested me more.” For Elaine Feinstein, “the personality that emerges from Fisher’s poetry, for all his influences, is altogether English: ironic, humorous, self-deprecating and unpretentiously local”. A profile of Fisher by Katy Evans-Bush is published on Poetry International.

Fisher was born 11 June 1930 in Handsworth, Birmingham, a city and region of which he was an acclaimed celebrant. He loved jazz and played in several bands; his music features in Tom Pickard’s biographic film profile, Birmingham’s What I Think With (Pallion Productions, 1991).

Roy Fisher: 11 June 1930 – 21 March 2017.

22 March 2017