Gravity by Allen Fisher
[270pp, £13.95, Salt]

Allen Fisher is a master of carefully structured chaos. Readers fairly new (like me) to his work will find some initial solace in the clearly sequenced works, the titles with their jazz dance affinities; even the roughly alphabetical index of the whole book. There is logic to be found in the lines (perhaps 'between the lines' would be better) of the poems, but it is a dream-like, elliptical logic. You do need to be prepared to leave what you think of as the ground.

Gravity, obviously, challenges what we think is the 'right way up' of things. Fisher writes while in orbit, letting his thoughts drift on ahead of his text. This reassessment of gravity is intrinsic to the content, as well as the structure, of this book. Often Fisher's awareness of 'spacetime' evokes the variousness of gravities, and the effects this can have on the human mind/body: 'Astronauts in zero gravity develop 'spikes' on their red blood cells during their time in “space”' he writes ('disk'). Fisher's language is much the same as these morphed cells. Sometimes the writing is visually 'spiked'; fragmented textually across the page ('African Twist'; Crab Walk'), sometimes his syntax is teased and spread out over a number of consecutive sequences ('Chug'). At other times the reader (this reader, anyway) feels their own bloodstream tending towards intoxication, as a mesh of imagery springs open strange doors.

Fisher's book, although containing enough abstract food for thought to see you through until next Christmas, is also populated by characters who my or may not weave their way through the entire text. Butcher, Burglar, Analyst, Cleaner, Painter, Mathematician, tackle various landscapes and scenarios, and then frequently tackle them again, as if they are archetypal figures in a groundhog day. In addition, Coleridge and Blake often step forward in person.

And the meaning in all the avant garde textual experimentation? Hard to say, of course, without sounding dim and monochromatic. There is a sense of shifting terrestrial geographies (Brixton, Bristol) as well as of weightlessness. Some sequences seem more specifically weighted, such as 'Charleston', where a plethora of sexual/reproductive metaphors whip up a physical texture to what could also be a meditation on a self gradually emerging within structure:

     I am sensible of my crime
                              but cannot abhor it
     Duty, honour, virtue
                              no longer inform
     I am not yet a monster
                              but frail
     I am not without mutation
                              but natural

There are some wonderfully lyric lines in
Gravity; perhaps I like these best: the 'animant self-conscious pendulum' which casts its iambic swing through 'Boogie Woogie', the moments of 'hair-raising silence when alone/with the alone' ('Bugaloo', quoting Plotinus without acknowledgement). Then there are the longer pieces, such as 'Dog', which charts a vast expanse of history in a long sequence of weighty stanzas.

Not all of Fisher's text is exalted or even immutably complex, however. 'Duck-Pillow' is a case in point, playing on the visual 'duck-rabbit' conundrum through the 'multi-coloured moiré action on the screen pattern'  which repeats itself as a mutating line throughout this shaped poem. It did remind me of a similarly structured poem by Wendy Cope on poets and bananas, though.

Most intriguing is 'Work Consciousness Commodity'; where three kinds of perception are cast, playfully, as Badgers, Dears and Beavers – like a postmodern exercise in native American spirituality. Fisher definitely aligns himself with the Beavers, who 'discuss travel, polygamy, transparency... They meet the Badgers in a tired rush of words and juxtaposed ideas from tired bodies against time-rush and sleep-space in occasional lapses of absence from which they promptly emerge to resume attempted control.' They do indeed. As reader, my strategy was much the same.

Gravity is highly referenced; many of the bibliographical notes relating to the early 'Brixton Fractals' project. My favourite reference is to 'an article, now lost, giving a floral chemical analysis of perfumes used by heads of state'. This is a real Finnegan's Wake of a collection. Read it with an open mind and it will become as heady and significant as these perfumes. But do be prepared to lose your footing.

          © Sarah Law 2004