ROY FISHER
ARCHIVE


ROY  FISHER  ARCHIVE   AT THE   UNIVERSITY  OF  SHEFFIELD

                 NEWSLETTER  ISSUE 1, January 2021


Contents


Foreword – Sukey Fisher – p. 1


Introducing the Archive – Amanda Bernstein, Special Collections, University of Sheffield Library – p. 1


Roy Fisher: Propositions and Openings – Aphorisms from the Archive – Peter Robinson – p. 2


Snapshots of the City – Reading the City Manuscripts – Adam Piette – p. 7

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                                       Photo credit: Ornella Trevisan


Sukey Fisher: Foreword



On Roy Fisher’s behalf, welcome to this strand of his afterlife – he’d be entertained at the delays, beyond anyone’s control, getting his posthumous existence underway. Being late for your own funeral (he wasn’t, generally he was an excellent timekeeper) turns out to be the easy part.

Roy liked this sort of project, friendly enough to be open to whoever fancies it, not striving to belong to a mainstream but ready to take its place in the academy if that’s ever useful. He read every Powys Society newsletter, for example, in that spirit. It kept important things live and was sociable too. Roy loved gossip and was a considerable one himself. Whether he was OK to become the story is another question. Approaching the end of his life he was very comfortable with his body of work being out there on the record and was clear-eyed about what he’d done and its relative merits. Suppressions and excisions had been decided long ago. As Peter Robinson continues to discover, the same applied to his extensive notebooks and correspondence: Roy gave the impression for years that he’d burned them or shortly would, but the archive as Peter and I found it makes clear that wasn’t what he really meant. He knew we’d be the first finders. He knew what we’re like and will certainly have anticipated our delight at the treasure house on our hands. But then realise he’d got in there before us to redact, though sparingly.

Roy never to my knowledge felt he had the right to tell anyone else how to live, and though he took the piss widely wasn’t censorious. It just seems right to apply the same principle to the material he left behind and let posthumous Roy have a wander round (he called it going out for a snoop) and find his own level. In the company of good friends who don’t switch off their critical faculties feels an ideal place to start. So afterlife, begin!


Amanda Bernstein

The Roy Fisher Archive at the University of Sheffield Library: an introduction

The Roy Fisher Archive at the University of Sheffield Library consists of many hundreds of items, and was generously donated by Roy’s daughter Sukey Fisher. It was packed into the back of a car and made the scenic journey from Newcastle-under-Lyme to Sheffield on 26 January 2018. This is a brief description of the contents, which I hope will reveal the scope and importance of the archive to the study and research of Roy Fisher’s work, and to that of modern British poetry in general.


The covid19 pandemic prevented the installation of the university’s exhibition of the Roy Fisher Archive in the summer of 2020, what would have been Roy’s ninetieth birthday. The exhibition is now planned for 2022. The pandemic has also prevented me for now from completing the cataloguing of the archive. We will announce in a future edition of the Newsletter when the archive will be open to researchers.

In the years immediately after leaving university, and qualifying as a teacher, Fisher began his teaching career at the grammar school in Newton Abbott, moving to further and higher education, finally employed by Keele University for most of the 1980s before leaving to make his living by poetry and music. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2005. The archive traces Roy’s artistic life from the 1950s onwards. What becomes apparent is that he kept almost everything ever sent to him, which offers the researcher a unique well-rounded perspective on all aspects of his life.

Roy Fisher was both poet and jazz musician and was well respected in both worlds. He worked closely for many years with artists Ron King (at Circle Press) and Ian Tyson (at Tetrad Press). Roy’s long association with BBC radio generated a number of programmes recorded over a span of roughly forty years. Such programmes included: ‘Poetry Now’, ‘Words’, ‘The Living Poet’, ‘Not Now I’m Listening’, ‘Sounding Off’, ‘A Word in Edgeways’, the World Service series ’Poets on Music’; and two programmes produced by Fraser Steele, ‘Just After Four’ and ‘Take the Money and Run’. Transcripts for all of these programmes are included in the archive. Roy was also profiled on film in the documentary Birmingham Is What I Think With (1991), produced by Tom Pickard. The archive holds the script, filming schedule, drafts of the theme poem, and correspondence with Pickard. The film includes footage of Roy as jazz pianist performing with other musicians.

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Correspondence

The bulk of the collection consists of correspondence. Roy Fisher cultivated a vast network of poet friends and colleagues in the UK and the US. He was a great letter writer and corresponded with over four hundred poets, writers, artists, and academics. Occasionally correspondents included unpublished poems or drawings of their own with their letters. Roy’s long-term correspondents included Jim Burns, Richard Caddel, Andrew Crozier, Simon Cutts, Ian Hamilton-Finlay, Michael Horowitz, Tim Longville, Edwin Morgan, Jonathan Williams, Ian Tyson, Ron King, Stuart Mills, Stuart Montgomery, Eric Mottram, Tom Pickard, David Prentice, Michael Shayer, and Gael Turnbull. Roy had a long association with Gael Turnbull and Michael Shayer whose Migrant Press published Roy’s first pamphlet, City, in 1961. Roy also helped in the administrative work of Migrant, the file for which also contains mailing lists and accounts information dating from 1966 to 1969.

Some correspondents are represented by only a letter or two: Allen Ginsberg, the infamous Harvey Matusow (who sent Roy a life membership certificate for the International Society for the Abolition of Data Processing Machines), Bernadette Mayer, Liz Lochhead, J. H. Prynne, Tom Raworth, Barry MacSweeney, Fay Weldon, and Marguerite Harris, the founder and director of the Woodstock Poetry Festival. Roy’s jazz world correspondents included George Melly, Brian Peerless, Ken Rattenbury, John Reade, John Taylor, Derek Webster, Gerry Ellis, and a postcard from one of Roy’s heroes, Bud Freeman.

The large Ron King/Circle Press file includes King’s sketches and prototype experimentations for major works such as Bluebeard’s Castle (their first collaboration), Anansi Company, and Tabernacle. There is also a large section on the London Series, a sequence of pamphlets produced by Ron King at Circle Press, for which Roy engaged fellow poets Gael Turnbull, Libby Houston, Wendy Mulford, Kenneth White, Jeremy Hooker, and Asa Benveniste to each supply a poem.

Roy saved all the invitations he received to read at festivals, schools, colleges, and universities; and all correspondence from societies, groups, and associations such as the London Poetry Secretariat, Association of Little Presses, the Poetry Society, the Arts Council, and West Midlands Arts.

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Publications

The Roy Fisher Archive contains an eclectic collection of pamphlets and issues of magazines, school magazines, and other publications sent to Roy from his friends and colleagues at small presses. The collection includes two issues of Birmingham University’s Carnival to which Roy’s first wife, the artist Barbara Venables, contributed cartoons; the William Carlos Williams memorial issue of books u.s.a. (inscribed to Roy by Jonathan Williams); the first issue of Apple (1967), edited by David Curry in Illinois; the undated first issue of Eleventh Finger, edited by Paul Evans; early issues of Long Hair (1965), edited by Barry Miles; Loot (1979), edited by Paul Green; Open Skull (1967), edited by Douglas Blazek; and the Birmingham University student magazine, Tuppence.

Victor Coleman sent Roy many examples from his Island Press, as did Andrew Crozier from his Ferry Press; Simon Cutts and Stuart Mills from their Tarasque Press; and Ian Hamilton Finlay from his Wild Hawthorn Press. Preserved in this section are unique ephemeral pieces created for Roy personally, or inscribed to him.

Workbooks and Notebooks

The archive preserves Roy Fisher’s workbooks and notebooks—over a hundred of them—dating back to the 1950s and written in his highly legible hand. Ordered by date, they contain jottings of poems, thoughts, ideas, notes, dreams.

Manuscripts and Typescripts

The many manuscripts and typescripts in the archive include Early poems and prose 1 (1949–1961), which contains a typescript of The Memorial Fountain; and Early poems and prose 2 (1960–1972) which gathers Hallucinations, Metamorphoses, A Sort of Visitor, Homage to Joe Sullivan, ‘Three Early Pieces’ (1953–1954), and ‘Stopped Frames and Set Pieces’. Other typescripts include City, City II, The Ship’s Orchestra, and The Cut Pages. After the death of Gael Turnbull in 2004, Jill Turnbull returned to Roy the typescripts of three early collections inscribed to Gael from Roy: The Ceremonial Poems (1966), Poems 1966, and one of the four copies of The Collected Uncollected Poems (a rarity produced in December 1969).

This section also preserves original artwork by Roy Fisher, cartoons and caricatures doodled on scraps of paper, or in the margins.

Early drafts of Roy Fisher’s major published works—alternate versions, reworkings, and revisions of various poems—are present in the manuscripts and typescripts section.

Translations

The archive contains Roy Fisher’s translations (ca. 1969–1971) of Franz Schubert’s song cycles Winterreise, Swan Song, and Die schöne Müllerin, and a photocopy of a printout of Joseph Brodsky: Selected Poems, translated by Fisher and Valentina Polukhina.

Interviews and Articles

A section of interviews with Roy Fisher includes the transcription of a conversation with Eric Mottram for The Poetry Society from 1971. Among other transcripts is ‘They are all gone into the world: Roy Fisher in conversation with Peter Robinson’ (1998). Also contained in this section are copies of articles about Roy and his work. There is also the file of correspondence between Roy and Derek Slade for Slade’s Roy Fisher: A Bibliography.

Teaching

Roy Fisher was a well-liked teacher. The archive traces his progress through the education system—in correspondence, applications, and CVs—from Devon to Keele. From the mid-1970s through the late 1980s, Roy tutored at Lumb Bank, the site of the Arvon Foundation’s residential courses for adults. He also ran the course ‘Writing Poetry’ at Belstead House in Ipswich in 1983.

Jazz

The section on jazz consists of a folder of correspondence from musicians, gig organisers, and fans; plus ephemera relating to the Musicians Union dating from 1958 to 1999, flyers and posters.

                                                                                             *

The Roy Fisher Archive is a chronicle full of humour, insight, and humanity. Preserved here are glimpses of Roy’s private personality: jokes between friends, drawings, the great poem ‘I am not afraid of writing a great poem’, and finally, kindly donated by Sukey, Roy’s favourite Parker pen.

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