When Roy Fisher told Gael Turnbull in 1960 that he had ‘started writing like mad’ and produced ‘a sententious prose book, about the length of a short novel, called the Citizen’ he was registering a sea change in his work, finding a mode to express his almost visceral connection with Birmingham in a way that drew on his sensibility and a wealth of materials that could last a lifetime. Much later in his career he would say that ‘Birmingham is what I think with.’ This ‘mélange of evocation, maundering, imagining, fiction and autobiography,’ as he called it, was written ‘so as to be able to have a look at myself & see what I think.’
All that was known of this work before Fisher’s death in 2017 is that fragments from it had been used as the prose sections in City and that – never otherwise published – it was thought not to have survived. This proved not to be the case, and in The Citizen and the Making of City, Peter Robinson, the poet’s literary executor, has edited the breakthrough fragment and placed it in conjunction with the first 1961 published version of Fisher’s signature collage of poetry and prose, along with a never published longer manuscript of it found among the poet’s archive at the University of Sheffield, and some previously unpublished poems that were considered for inclusion during the complex evolution of the work that Robinson tracks in his introduction.
By offering in a single publication the definitive 1969 text, two variant versions of City, its prose origins in The Citizen and continuation in Then Hallucinations, as well as some of the poetry left behind, this landmark publication offers a unique insight into Roy Fisher's most emblematic work. It is supplemented with an anthology of Fisher’s own comments on City and a secondary bibliography of criticism on his profound response to changes wrought upon England’s industrial cities in the middle of the 20th century.
'City's subject matter is urban, the technique a blend of the surreal, expressionist, realist and cubist, the whole thing almost cinematic in its abrupt transitions and dislocations… Most of the lineaments of Fisher's mature work are present in City…a remarkable achievement for a writer in his twenties. He sets out to write about an actual city but to "dissolve" its particulars and make them strange, until it becomes as much an inner perceptual field as a post-industrial Midlands wasteland… 'There is no poet alive whose work has challenged or interested me more.' – August Kleinzahler
'Fisher stands outside, or alongside, whatever else is happening, an English late modernist whose experiments tend to come off. He is a poet of the city – his native Birmingham, which he describes as "what I think with". He is a redeemer of the ordinary, often a great artist of the visible… His range is large: he suits both extreme brevity and book-length exploration; his seeming improvisations have a way of turning into architecture. The best place to start is The Long and the Short of It. It might look and sound like nothing on earth at first, but then it becomes indispensable.' – Sean O'Brien, The Guardian
Roy Fisher: The Long and the Short of It
Roy Fisher reads a selection of poems from The Long and the Short of It: ‘The Thing About Joe Sullivan’ (from 1965), ‘The ‘Entertainment of War’ (1957), 'The Nation’ (1984), ’Talking to Cameras’ (1991), ‘Birmingham River’ (1991), ‘For Realism’ (1965) and ‘It Is Writing’ (1974). Pamela Robertson-Pearce filmed him at his home in Earl Sterndale, Derbyshire, in October 2008. The audio of Fisher playing jazz piano is from Tom Pickard’s film, Birmingham’s What I Think With (Pallion Productions, 1991). This film is from the DVD-anthology In Person: World Poets, filmed & edited by Pamela Robertson-Pearce & Neil Astley (Bloodaxe Books, 2017).