Poetry & Geography: Space and Place in Post-War Poetry

By Neal Alexander; David Cooper | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 14
Roy Fisher’s Spatial
Prepositions and Other Little
Words

Peter Robinson

In a combined memoir and essay, Matthew Sperling proposes that Roy Fisher should not only be included in ‘discussions of ecological poetry, but central to them’ because he ‘is one of the few poets whose work puts the social and the economic back into “eco” in a genuinely cogent way’.1 Yet the poet has not expressed any particular allegiance with the green verse of recent years. If Sperling’s proposal is itself cogent, there must be qualities of Fisher’s work in profound accord with environmental ecology, below and beyond overt commitment to the new nature writing.2 Here I outline some of the characteristics of his work that allow Sperling to make this more than plausible point. The poet’s interests when a schoolboy included subjects which, evolving with the century, could combine into the raw terms of such an environmentalist and ecological art. As Fisher put it in his interview with John Kerrigan: ‘The fast stream I was in progressively shed Art, Music, History and Geography – most of my life, come to think of it.’3 His Birmingham school may have shed them, but Fisher did not, as he underlines. His inspirations in populated space and perspective, both spatial and temporal, were decisively activated when alerted by Gael Turnbull in 1956 to the then-new American poetry of place, area, geography – physical and human – and geology, which would begin to find form and voice in his City (1961).4 Fisher then set out the terms for a lifelong interest in land-use changes, processes and their implicit values, as indicated by the man ‘facing into a corner,/straddling to keep his shoes dry’ whose urine is a part of ‘what silver filth these drains have run’ in ‘For Realism’ (1965), or by the tacitly ethical contrasts between states and processes in the ‘Three Ceremonial Poems’ from 1966 where, for instance, ‘a urine-softened wall/meets an impervious hard one’.5

While earlier work was focused through a subsequently defended effort to avoid the kinds of consensual moralising to be found in charac-

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