The Poetry of
One cold evening in the winter of 1980 I drove with Roy Fisher through a landscape of abandoned factories, empty warehouses, and uncollected refuse past the ruins of the railway station in South Bend, Indiana. He was in town to give a reading at the University of Notre Dame and, as I discovered to my considerable surprise, was about to spend the first night of his life outside of England.
As we talked about cities— Birmingham, Chicago, London, Indianapolis—lines and phrases from his work surfaced in my mind that led me, partly in jest and partly with a fascinated sense of what I took to be a near identity between the setting of a poem and the scene in which we found ourselves, to label, as it were, things and places that we passed along the road by quoting bits of City.At the same time, I had the odd feeling that I was looking at familiar objects, not through the windshield of a moving car, but through the glass above some labeled trays exhibited for an ambiguous purpose in an industrial museum of the mind—one like Fisher would later, in actual fact, imagine in a section of "Diversions," where the works of a foundry patternmaker—shapes for "drains, gears, / furnace doors, [and] couplings"— mime "the comportment / of the gods in the Ethnology cases." 1 As we passed the station, coming on it just exactly as one does upon the station in City— "suddenly in its open prospect out of tangled streets of small factories" 2— I had the uncanny sense that Fisher had, on his first night out of England, fallen from the sky directly into his best-known poem.
Because the language of City seems sometimes to describe the decayed industrial topography of Studebaker Corridor in South Bend—an area where