An Unofficial Roy Fisher,
ed. Peter Robinson  
(220pp, 12.95, Shearsman Book)

Roy Fisher celebrates his 80th birthday this year with a new Bloodaxe collection, Standard Midland, yet his position amongst British poets remains somewhat tangential and obscure. He is, somehow, too experimental for the anthologies and too aware of the canon to be part of any new grouping; not only that, but he has (a big black mark) historical affiliations with the American Black Mountain poets. Given his noted scepticism about such (often) media-driven acclaim, I wouldn't imagine he loses too much sleep about this. This collection of essays, uncollected poems and tributes to him illuminates several facets of his character yet leaves plenty for lovers of paradox and stubborn individualism to continue to explore.
His most famous epic, City
, originally published in 1961, traced the layers and radiant building plans in Birmingham and elsewhere, a territory he returned to later in Birmingham River (1994). Ralph Pite's essay, 'Roy Fisher's Waterways', one of the most interesting here, explores the tow-paths and brick factory-ends of this Black County network, making links between Fisher and earlier classic texts such as L T C Rolt's Narrowboat (1944), exploring the awkward persistence of such routes through Midlands suburbia. Other essays here focus on Fisher's collaborative alphabet-folding books (Richard Price), the somewhat haphazard ordering of Fisher's work in his most recent collected volume (Peter Robinson) and personal encounters with Fisher's often fugitive publications (Matthew Sperling): all are fascinating and several demand considerable familiarity with Fisher's work - not easy when much of which has historically drifted in and out of print.
Apart from the more literary essays here, several contributors discuss other aspects of Fisher the individual - his sense of humour, his letters, his interest in jazz - and the affection his peers hold for him is evident in many of the celebratory birthday poems included. Unsurprisingly, bricks, roads, urban change and other quintessential Fisher motifs lurk within contributions from R F Langley, Sian Hughes, Peter Didsbury, whilst Kelvin Corcoran produces 'The Fisher Piano' a mischievous poem linking jazz and Birmingham:
            The headline starts from the Guardian sprite -
            Sullivan Bids Bittersweet Farewell to Birmingham...
Every interested follower of Fisher's work will want to read these discussions and tributes, but they will especially want this book for the first section of  20-odd Fisher poems and pieces not
recently collected anywhere.
     M.C. Caseley 2010